Monchi is the master behind the scenes as Sevilla go for yet more glory
- Monchi is the sporting director of the monstrously successful Sevilla
- Sevilla beat Liverpool to claim their fifth European trophy on Wednesday
- Los Rojiblancos take on Barcelona in Sunday's Copa del Rey Final
Monchi, or Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo to give him his Sunday name, isn’t just the main reason that Sevilla won their fifth Europa League on Wednesday and that Los Rojiblancos are in Sunday's Copa del Rey Final against Barcelona in Madrid.
Monchi, Sevilla’s sporting director, is also the only link between this monstrously successful, European-dominant football factory and the time when the club were a humble second division scuffler in Spain.
A goalkeeper who, in retrospect, wasn’t exactly stellar, no matter how vastly professional and motivated he was, this guy has been Sevilla through and through from the time when he didn’t quite make the grade as Vicente del Bosque’ s Real Madrid Castilla side cast an eye over him in 1988.
Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi has overseen the collection of eight major trophies in nine years
Sevilla celebrate third successive Europa League triumph after beating Liverpool on Wednesday
Given what is nearly a 30-year association with the Nervión club, it’s pulsatingly appropriate that the opportunity to add a ninth trophy in nine years comes against FC Barcelona. For a number of reasons.
Just as Operation Desert Storm was beginning in the Gulf, Monchi made his professional debut in the Priméra División. Pure coincidence.
A memorable occasion gifted to this kid from Cadiz because Sevilla’s first-choice keeper, Juan Carlos Unzué, had injured his knee. The same Unzué who will be on the opposing bench tonight as Luis Enrique’s vital, trusted lieutenant.
The match was played in Real Sociedad’s hostile old Atocha stadium. The Basques were three points off a relegation place. They were out for points, blood, a scalp... anything.
Within the first minute, Monchi spilled a shot and Dalian Atkinson trampled all over his hand in search of the rebound. A mere 60 seconds into his debut and the Sevilla keeper had a dislocated finger.
‘The medics ran on, pulled off my glove and saw my finger just dangling there, so they immediately called for a substitution,’ he recalled. ‘I just yelled at them to **** off and demanded that they shove it back into the socket!’
Monchi (right) at the presentation of defender Federico Fazio following his arrival on loan from Tottenham
So it was: he finished the game and despite John Aldridge, Real Sociedad’s first-ever non-Basque, scoring against him, it ended 1-1.
His second game, too, had a nice little Barça link to cast forward to this tantalising Copa Final.
Unzué, by now under the surgeon’s scalpel, is out. Monchi and Sevilla go 2-0 up at home to Tenerife. The fightback for a game which will end 2-2?
Well, that would be the Tenerife goal scored by future Barcelona manager Tata Martino — coincidentally the last Nou Camp manager to lose a Copa del Rey Final.
Barcelona defender Dani Alves is one of the products of Sevilla's successful football factory
And the finale to Monchi’s first professional season with Sevilla had to occur, of course, against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona.
‘It was only the beginning of the “Dream Team” era and we all did quite well, but they gave as an impressive doing,’ said Monchi.
‘This was just after the rule about red cards for last-man fouls had been introduced. We were already 1-0 down to Jon Andoni Goikoetxea and Txiki Begiristain burst through on his own. I can recall it now. He was clear through and I fouled him outside the box. Red card.’
Nor did Monchi miss out on the chance of befriending one of the best footballers ever to grace FC Barcelona.
When Sevilla signed Diego Maradona, in 1992, they let their players know about it first... by spiriting the Argentinian, just off a drugs ban, into the pre-season hotel without warning the squad first.
Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic was another player to move from Sevilla to Barcelona for £14m
Out of shape and well on the way to being permanently disgruntled with the world, Maradona’s presence nevertheless completely changed Sevilla’s place in the European consciousness.
Mobbed by ‘10,000 people’ wherever he went, Diego took to enjoying long early-morning walks in the Andaluz capital before the heat was furnace-like and before the mob was afoot.
Monchi would accompany him. They talked endlessly, became friends and in October 1992 when Maradona was back in Barcelona to play Espanyol and the two men were walking up the Rambla at sunrise (imagine the early morning tourists bumping into that pair!), the Argentinian admired the reserve keeper’s ‘Rolex’ watch.
‘It’s a fake, I bought it in Ibiza (for a fiver) from a street vendor,’ admitted Monchi.
When Maradona left Sevilla, in a terrible huff with his World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo who had brought him to Spain, he gifted his new pal with the real thing, albeit a Cartier. No fuss, no fanfare, no press coverage... just a ‘thanks’ to a sunrise pal.
Not that Monchi, now a supreme evaluator of who, when and where to sign, would go for a modern equivalent of Maradona in the state he was then in. That doesn’ t fit his system. And it is a system.
He’s built a network of people he trusts — from ex-players, friends, former coaches, psychologists, students, data crunchers. Only three things unite them all. That they are talented, that they have Monchi’s complete confidence and that they have ‘Sevilla’ in their hearts.
Los Rojiblancos hope to follow Europa success by beating Barcelona in Sunday's Copa del Rey Final
From the end of summer through to April they catalogue, scout, review, film, discuss, budget, negotiate, argue but by the end of April they are done. Targets sorted, prioritised and from April to August it’s negotiations.
He’ll argue that there are ‘no bad signings, just guys who don’t perform the way you expect’.
By which he’s not dodging responsibility, not at all.
His refrain is that if the prep work is done well but a player doesn’t soar the way he’s expected to, something at the club — atmosphere, training, interpersonal skills — has gone wrong to prevent the footballer hitting his expected mark.
It’s a novel, self-accountable, manner of reviewing the process.
Of course, Monchi’s brilliant Sevilla work often fuels other clubs. Barcelona included.
Dani Alves (recruited from Bahia and originally played at left-back or attacking midfield!) moved from Sevilla to Barcelona and won three Champions Leagues.
Seydou Keita (recruited from Lens) moved from Sevilla to the Nou Camp and won two.
Ivan Rakitic (signed from Schalke) scored the opener in last season’s Champions League Final.
One day, maybe instead of signing his pupils, Barcelona will just go direct: and sign the master.
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