Having delivered tiki-taka and a generation of players that dominated world football for almost a decade through a system based almost exclusively on ability, Spain is rightly seen as the home of technical football. Out of this success a culture has developed that is appreciative of the aesthetic and confident that the best results can be achieved through the domination of possession.
Fueling this culture are coaches who bring the ideology to life. Ismael Díaz Galán is typical of this class. His experiences might have been limited largely outside the Primera Liga but he is a deep thinker about the game and a keen educator who is eager to share the vision that lights up Spanish football.
Blueprint for Football: What made you want to be a football coach?
Ismael Díaz Galán: I did not choose football, it chose me! After trying to seduce me from the pitch I decided it was time to try from outside and for the past thirty years I have been trying not to disappoint.
BfF: Do you have a philosophy of football? What is it?
IDG: We all have it, even those who say that they don’t. It is what guides us in life, it is the theory of what we believe to be true and therefore also in football. Those who know me know that my way of understanding the game is just as much about how I understand life.
As such I do not hope for a win, I aggressively try to make it happen by keeping hold of the ball more than not; creating a collective intelligence that makes us stronger as a group without diminishing individual creativity.
BfF: How did you develop it?
IDG: Living. Feeling. All this by watching, reading, talking, looking at what others are doing and what they are doing to my team. Adapting to different ideas given the reality that I was working in.
BfF: What do you do to keep learning?
IDG: Keep my eyes open and, even more so, my mind. The human brain is like a parachute, it only works if it is open.
BfF: You coached Luis Enrique when he was a child: was his talent always obvious?
IDG: So, I met "Lucho" when he was playing the youth team with which I was a co-ordinator. His talent was obvious but he always was a very strong competitor. He also had great tenacity and determination. He came over the rejection for being too small and not physically strong. He was let go and did so well in his new club that the side that had let him go was forced to take him back.
BfF: Have you followed your career? Do you get some satisfaction knowing that you have helped?
IDG: Yes of course, as all players who I had the satisfaction of working with. We help them all; there are none who are considered more important than others.
BfF: How much you learn during coaching courses and really learn how to train the players?
IDG: During coaching courses you get the tools to make your way but you have to decide which is the method that is most suitable for you to be consistent with your way of thinking and feeling. Starting from the coaching course is when the real learning begins.
BfF: You've worked in several clubs: what are the first things you do when you take a job?
IDG: Soak in your new reality: your environment, its structure, facilities, staff and, especially, the players. I like to know as much as possible about each one. In order to get them to perform to their full potential I have to know as well and as precisely as possible about each one.
BfF: How important is winning the confidence of the players in your capacity? How do you do it?
IDG: It is the most important thing. The coach works for them and not the other way round. This does not mean that you have to treat them as figurines (i.e. you are afraid to do anything to them) but knowing that to achieve your objective it is fundamental that you get the most out of everyone.
That is the first thing and for that you have to know them well. The second is that you treat them honestly and fairly.
BfF: What is more important: the tactical system you want to play or change the system to suit the players you have?
IDG: Many have ideas of how to play. They copy the wrong things by watching people and their winning tactical manoeuvres without understanding what lies behind them. Systems are created through the inter-relationships between the different parts of the team. As players are human beings the best system is that which is flexible to adapt to any situation and rigid enough so that everyone moves in unison.
BfF: What does a coach today to succeed?
IDG: First of all know what success means for them. We are not all the same. It is easier to know your way if you know where you have to go and what you want to achieve. After that you have to be honest with the game, consistent with your ideas and how you feel. Finally, do not betray players in the desire to be better.
BfF: Knowing that your job is at risk if you do not get the expected results, how hard is like a coach to give opportunities to young players?
IDG: One of the great truths of being a coach is the risk. If you do not assume this then you’re lost. To move forward you have to risk. You have no guarantee of the outcome of a decision before you take it. It is the same with young players. The big advantage with them is that they are an investment in the future. That said, you should never use them simply to win points with those surrounding the club. They never disappoint me. In all my teams I’ve played young players and they’ve always repaid the confidence shown in them.
BfF: How important is a coach to the success of a team?
IDG: The game of football is based on players. The role of the coach is to create a team that plays well together.
BfF: You’ve worked outside of Spain: what did you do to adapt to a new country?
IDG: Learn as much as possible as soon as possible. The customs, the language, how players think and their technical ability. On top of that develop as much as possible my ability to communicate in order to make myself understood. This not only has to do with the language but in the manner that work has to be carried out in order to develop.
BfF: What has been the greatest satisfaction you've had in your career?
IDG: Making players happy with my work. In that manner we all lived through Malaga’s promotion, a title with Sporting Gijon’s B team, remaining in the Portuguese top flight with Farense, in the Kazak top division with Kairat and in the Spanish Segunda Liga with Palencia….
Those are the big achievements that make you feel good about your profession and help you in the difficult moments.
Want to hear what fellow coaches think about football, how they learn and build their philosophy? Check out our Blueprint According To... series of e-books here (and here for US readers)
BfF: And the biggest lesson?
IDG: Humility. The coach is the most disposable element in a football team. We have to learn this and try not to put too much importance to ourselves.
BfF: What has been the biggest disappointment?
IDG: I cannot point to one particular instance. I suppose that they are all related to people in whom I had confidence and trust and how betrayed me.
BfF: What goals do you have in your career?
IDG: Keep growing in everything that I without losing myself.
For more information about Ismael Díaz Galán follow him on Twitter or else check out his website.