on 29 December 2015, coach Oscar Garcia took charge of FC Red Bull Salzburg and guided the team to their third double in a row last spring. after a mixed start to the league season and a disappointing champions league play-off exit to Dinamo Zagreb, our spanish coach has been able to lead the side back to form in impressive style.
The magnificent Europa League group stage win against OGC Nice saw the team back at their best, much to the delight of our coach, who has been able to rekindle the fantastic old spirit in no time at all among a completely new team - which has helped the Red Bulls send shockwaves around Europe.
In an interview our coach Oscar Garcia tells us how he rates the development of his team, what makes him proud and the advice given to him by his late mentor footballing legend Johan Cruyff.
Salzburg fans are used to success. That means as a coach who led us again this year to the league title and cup win, you are much loved here, of course. That possibly the most disappointing defeat in the history of the club helped you to win the fans' hearts is astonishing, however. It was extremely touching how you gathered your players and entire coaching staff together in the centre circle after the final whistle of the Champions League play-off second leg against Dinamo Zagreb in order to encourage them. By doing this in the middle of the pitch for everyone to see in the stadium, you made a pledge to the fans, who felt like they were part of this too. Moments like that help to breed unity among the team. Did you realise at the time that your words were being so well received, even if most people weren't close enough to even hear them?
I am a rather emotional person. I was very disappointed myself, and could only think of how unfair football can be at times. I couldn't talk to the fans at this moment, but I could speak with my players, who I get together to train every day. I wanted them to be aware that they can be proud of the way they played and that they could leave with their heads held high, even if the defeat was so painful, as they had all given absolutely everything to make history for the club. It was a moment in which you had two feelings - the pain of being so close and having deserved to make it, and also the feeling of pride at being part of this club and this team.
It wasn't only the players, but the Salzburg fans were traumatised at failing to achieve the dream of making the Champions League, when we were on course to do that until Zagreb equalised in the 87th minute. How did you manage after that to bring a sense of normality to the team, or do you have to sometimes let things run their course?
You can't let yourself get dragged down, as in football, just like in life, there is no giving up, and you just have to always keep on going. You have to pull yourself together and ask yourself "Ok, that was tough, but did we do everything we possibly could in our power?" If the answer is yes, you can't put any of the blame on yourself. Your thoughts have to be to carry on, look ahead and improve every day. There is a saying that sums up that day really nicely for me: "Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn from it." I think that we all learned a lot from this match and this situation.
Valon Berisha was the tragic hero of the play-off second leg and understandably showed plenty of emotion after full-time. How can you individually influence players as a coach in order to give them confidence again - seeing as in a team people will react in different ways to such a defeat?
You have to know every player as a person, as not everyone deals with that kind of defeat in the same way. As I said before, the first thing you have to ask yourself, whether you are on the coaching staff or a player, is whether you gave your all. If you can say yes to this as a player, it doesn't make the feeling of the defeat any better, but you know you can't accuse yourself of contributing to it at all. That brings you closer to the point where you are able to bring your frustration and anger about the defeat back into positive energy. There is nobody who has won everything in their life, as only defeats can help you develop and improve you.
Seeing Jonatan Soriano in tears was another deeply moving moment back then. Can you remember any similar situations in your playing career, and did that allow you to provide any advice to the players? Or is advice in this kind of situation not helpful at all? Do you sometimes need to revolve things with deeds rather than words?
In such moments, when the emotions are suffering, you need to weigh up your words very carefully. I had to restrain myself, as it isn't easy to talk when you are so emotional and you can see your players' and coaching staff's teary eyes. My players would have seen, of course, that I was taking it just as badly as them, but that I was proud of the way they played. I wanted to encourage them, as in football, just like in normal life, things don't always go the way you plan. At such moments you see your real characters and strengths as men - and we have plenty of them in the team, I can tell you. The same applies to a team who can show their strength in how quickly they come back and say: "We're back again to try it again."
Getting knocked out of the Champions League play-off also started off some events that weren't positive for the further development of the team. After the ups and downs things quickly calmed down again though. How is it as a coach dealing with this even if you can't influence it much at all?
With the certainty that you are doing good work and staying faithful to your plans. I see how the coaching team works and the hours that we spend in Taxham. We go to work at 7:30 every day and leave around 19:00. I know how we prepare for training sessions and matches, and with the intensity and desire the players train with. We have a very good atmosphere in the team and our staff are working every day with unbelievable commitment on making sure we don't lack anything. A large part of that is due to the club management, as in the football department they have been very careful to find the right people who are best suited for our club and best fit into our team.
Let's talk about the present now! You are very confident in your team at the moment, even though there have been a lot of tactical changes and changes in personnel since the summer. You have said yourself that at the moment, every player in your squad can be used for every match. Does that make FC Red Bull Salzburg unpredictable for their opponents, and is that the difference? The more players who appear now, the more players are ready for the crucial end of the season, right? Or is there another masterplan behind it?
The more players you have available as a coach who can perform at a similar standard, the better that is for the whole team's performance level. We have the good fortune at this club of being able to work for years with different methods of assessing performance, both in the physical and the technical/tactical area. That is a big advantage. As we have a lot of data available in this regard, and therefore a lot of experience to guide us, we are able to solve or deal with any problems that crop up more quickly. This allows us to boost the players' confidence in their everyday training, as they only have to concentrate on their own performances. When players who are at a similar physical and tactical level to others, for example, who played the previous match, it is important to bear in mind that in the last two to three months of the season we need to keep a high physical, technical, tactical and psychological standard in order to achieve our aims.
New signings Andre, Marc and Josip have been kept on a tight leash by you, but you have to say that all three have settled into the team well by now. How fine is the line between creating competition for spaces that drives the team on, and having the opposite impact? How much of a careful touch and experience do you need to find a harmonic balance in the team?
In this regard, I have the advantage of having been a professional footballer for many years myself, so I know exactly how it is in this situation. The better the team is playing, the more the competition is for places - that much I know from experience. It's not easy to manage people - anyone who has some kind of management position knows that all too well. For me the key lies in getting to know each individual player as quickly as possible, in order to assess their character and help develop them as quickly as possible to where they can help us best. Not all people are the same. Every one of us has their own personality, own problems, and will react differently in various situations. The first thing I have said to all my players I have coached so far is: "I am here to help you achieve your aims. If you want to get better or have a problem, the door to my office is open to all of you at any time."
Even if you say in public that you don't want to be thought of us a youth development coach, you have always left the impression at taking great joy in the development of youngsters in the team. Is the term of a youth development coach not redundant though when you consider the success and the great steps forward made by our team?
When you work with young players, it takes time, as the development the players make in their first few years goes on to shape them when they are experienced hands. It is a great honour for me to be part of this important development step for our young players. I am delighted to work for FC Red Bull Salzburg and I like the philosophy of the club. I have developed young players at all the clubs I've worked at so far, even in clubs when I wasn't actually asked to do that, such as at Maccabi Tel Aviv or Brighton. I enjoy working with young people for my living. At Brighton, I had three players in the end who I had brought up from the second team at the start of the season and were in the English U21 team, even though they had never been called up before and hadn't ever imagined they would. Koni Laimer had been playing with Liefering for three months when I arrived, and now he is a player that top clubs are interested in. Valentino Lazaro had been around the first team for a number of years without playing much, as he was so young, but now he is a regular for the Austrian national team. Upamecano, Samassekou and Schlager made their debuts in the Austrian Bundesliga and Europa League under me, and I hope that they will not be the only ones. The development of experienced players also really pleases me though. It gives me great satisfaction to see players who I have coached improve and play at a higher level. That makes me even happier than having the odd title or two on my CV.
We seemed to be out of the Europa League group stage after three matches, but suddenly we are back in with a chance of making the last 32. One match, away at Nice, changed almost everything. You kept things calm with a stoic air and won over all the critics with a fantastic performance. How much of a boost is it to take a wonderful win against opponents thought to be superior?
Football owed us that kind of a result. We weren't only the better team against Nice at home, and deserved a better result, but also against Krasnodar too. I was really delighted for the players, as they badly needed this kind of reward. For us as a club it was important to see that what we are building now will bear fruit in future. It made me proud to hear people comparing it after the match to the best matches in FC Red Bull Salzburg's history. I was delighted for the fans too, who came to Nice to cheer us on and always support us at home.
We know that you don't like to talk too much about individual players, and also not too much about the collective, as the potential of the team depends on the individual quality of the players. Let's try to find a middle way - what developments in the team have been a positive surprise for you so far? What progress has the team made so far, in your opinion, and what is your aim at the moment apart from winning titles?
As I have already said, the greatest satisfaction for me is for the players and coaching staff who were here before I came to be pleased, as they are the people who see the everyday work and can assess the development from day to day. Results depend on a lot of factors that you sometimes don't have any influence over, such as at home against Sturm Graz. When I look at the reaction of the team and the fans when we played as well as we did with nine players, it just makes me believe so much in this team and these players, no matter how many points we get in a given match. Clearly we are again in a phase of building a team up, and it is our aim for all players to reach a level that we are convinced they can reach.
You were once asked if it isn't unusual that your assistant coach also gives instructions on the sidelines. I'm sure you remember the answer that you gave then. The fact is that the roles in your coaching team are very clearly defined. There is a clear division of roles and a clear line of communication. That assumes that there is total commitment, unity and mutual trust among the coaching staff. That is not an easy thing to achieve. What's your secret?
There is no secret. You have to be able to have confidence in the people you work with every day. I tried to ensure that from the first day I arrived here. I didn't want them to see me as a boss who comes to do his work and goes, but also as a person you can talk to about everything. No matter if you are a kitman, doctor, sporting director, physio, sport psychologist, athletics coach, assistant coach, translator - they all call me by my first name, and if they don't do that, I ask them to. I have got to meet some wonderful people here, who give their best every day to make sure everything goes well. In the hierarchy here I'm at eye level with all my staff, with the only exception being that I have to take the responsibility and make decisions myself. We always lend an ear to one another.
One final questions: if you could ask Johan Cruyff for one more piece of advice, what would that be?
He would definitely tell me: "Make sure that results don't lead you away from the route that you are convinced is the best to develop your players. The greatest pleasure in my llfe was hearing how my players talk about me - much more than the titles I won."