Robert Moreno says he had “mixed feelings” when he was promoted to Spain head coach in June.
The 42-year-old from Catalonia always had designs on a top job in football having worked as an assistant for much of his career, but the circumstances in which he landed the role vacated by Luis Enrique were not ideal.
Moreno had worked alongside his friend at Roma, Celta Vigo and Barcelona before they were both recruited by the national side. However, this summer Enrique stepped down from his position because of his daughter’s illness and Moreno was charged with leading the former world champions.
The new Spain coach sat down with Guillem Balague and recalled that period in a revealing interview for BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast.
Moreno also touched on other topics in the wide-ranging interview, including:
- Stopping games in the event of racist chanting
- England being favourites for Euro 2020, along with France and Belgium
- Sergio Ramos thriving on “hate”
- Lionel Messi, “the best player in history”
‘I had no public profile’
Former Spain international Enrique held the head coach role for 11 months before leaving in June as his daughter continued treatment for bone cancer. Xana, aged nine, died two months later.
“It was a shame how I got this job because our leader Luis Enrique had a family problem.
“Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish football federation, asked me to lead the team. All the time I wanted to be a coach, but this was not the way I wanted it to happen. Luis Enrique told me to accept the role. The situation was not one you can choose or change.
“I don’t have even have the words to explain the feeling I had in the four days between him stopping taking training and me taking over. It was a mix.
“I worked with Luis Enrique for nine years. I was an analyst in the first year with him, then I became his assistant. He showed me a lot of things that would have been impossible to learn because I was never a professional player – it’s helped me build a relationship with squads.
“If I wasn’t with him for such a period then it would have been difficult for me to learn. During that time I also learnt how to deal with the press.
On some of the media being surprised he got the job:
“I think for the players and us it was less ‘what?!’ than it was for them. The squad and I had worked together since the match against Malta, then Sweden and Iceland – we had the opportunity without Luis.
“The media know players well, but I had no public profile. So how do you make a complex decision when you don’t have information about a person? In this case the people who had the information about me were Rubiales and sports director Jose Francisco Molina – they could see us working with the squad every day and making decisions.
“They didn’t have any doubt. We are doing well and have now qualified for Euro 2020.
“The federation has not given me a target for that tournament. If I had to choose one then it’s reaching the final and then to win. However, the main target is to get three points in each of the next two matches in order to be one of the top seeded teams.”
‘It’s impossible to analyse from the bench’
Moreno showed interest in coaching from the age of 14 and got his Uefa Pro Licence at the age of 25 – the youngest in Catalonia to do so.
“When I studied to be a coach I loved technology. I remember being on the bench and I couldn’t see anything, so I thought it’d be good to film the action.
“My girlfriend at the time and my father both used to record the matches from the stands. I then watched the footage and analysed the players – it was a good way to work.
“Tactics are important in Spain and the way to understand those tactics is to use technology – for us possession is important and what you do with the ball. If you don’t have technology and time to analyse then it’s impossible.
“When I began to train the Spain players I discovered after showing them footage they improved following the mistakes made in the previous match. I think they think we are helping them with this technology.”
‘Ramos loves those who hate him’
Spain and Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos was an adversary during El Clasico matches when Moreno was part of the Barcelona coaching staff, but the national team captain is a key figure in his squad.
“Sergio Ramos has been decisive in all this time. From the first moment he talked to me and said the whole group would help, and said he wanted me to stay with them.
“Sergio is a special player and an example. When you have him as opponent you want to kill him, but when you have him in your team you love it. He’s the first one training and in the gym. He’s the first one to talk to the press when you lose. He’s a top player.”
On Ramos being portrayed as a villain:
“He gives everything to win. When you have people who always win then you usually hate them because you’re jealous of their mentality. You want to beat people who are great.
“Sergio loves those who hate him.”
‘Messi is from The Matrix’
Moreno worked alongside Argentine goalscoring great Lionel Messi during his time at Barcelona between 2014 and 2017.
“He’s the best player in history. It was incredible to see him in training every day.
“What you can see in matches on TV we would see every day. Leo plays another game to everybody else. You can’t train him, you are with him – he is football. You help the other players to adapt to him, his movements and decisions.
“With Leo it’s like The Matrix. He can see the movement of the legs of the opponent, and he sees the movement of the goalkeeper and has the ability to react.
“There’s no other player in history that has done that. Leo is god.”
‘Stopping matches because of racist abuse makes people think’
The recent Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia between Bulgaria and England was halted twice because of racist abuse from supporters.
On whether games should be stopped because of racism:
“Yes. These people in the stadium using football to express things that is not correct, they don’t don’t deserve to have this audience.
“It’s good now to stop the matches and to make the people think. If this an opportunity to improve society then that is good for me.”
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On the current England side:
“For me they are one of the favourites for the Euros. We had a good result against them at Wembley, but then we lost in Seville.
“They are favourites with France and Belgium. I have to congratulate England coach Gareth Southgate – he’s been doing a good job ever since the World Cup.”
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