By 11 April, 2021 - 10:15pm
Oval face, sallow skin, incipient mustache and youthful air under nineteenth-century bangs, make up the figure of the video call. In the editorial office of the French magazine So Foot they nickname him Poust and it is impossible not to relate that image to the portrait of the author of In Search of Lost Time. Only Pablo Longoria (Oviedo, 34 years old) does not seem to have wasted a second. At the end of February, the American tycoon Frank McCourt put him in charge of his company, Olympique de Marseille, the most traditional football institution in France, making him the first millennial president and gamer in the history of the great clubs in Europe.
Question. What was your first job in soccer?
Answer. I started collaborating in Punto Radio. But I always wanted to work on the structure of a club. As it was tremendously difficult, the first experience I had was with Eugenio Botas. One day I showed up at his office, left him my resume, and presented him with a book I had made with ten young players. "Maybe it will be useful to you," I said. He ended up calling me
Q. Do you remember what that resume contained?
R. I was swelling it up. That I opened a web page, that I collaborated on the radio, that I collaborated on some Internet pages… Obviously it was an empty resume. I think Eugenio valued more the courage that I showed him by introducing myself. He had a club counseling business. There I began to advise Recreativo and Racing. And later, I went a bit on my own: Newcastle, Recre, Atalanta, Sassuolo, Juventus, Valencia ...
Q. What skill do you have that makes the clubs hire you?
A. At the beginning you offered something different. He was a 20-year-old boy with a knowledge of football, of situations, of different markets at a time when there were not as many technological tools as there are now. People simply said: "It can be useful to us because it has a lot of information." Later, perhaps what attracted attention may be a sensitivity when analyzing the players. I think that's the point at which I have excelled the most to grow .
Q. How did you develop that sensitivity?
R. You have to try to distinguish yourself by being yourself. What perhaps made the difference? That when it comes to watching players I'm crazy. I've been watching European U-16, U-17 and Youth Championships since I was 12 years old. Self-criticism helped me develop an assessment method or parameter. Understand why a player that I believed a lot in when I was young came to nothing, and analyze myself doing self-criticism to detect what are the factors that have led a player to a positive point or not. I still analyze with three, four years of sight, why I have made a mistake in the valuations.
What caught the attention of the clubs may be my sensitivity. When it comes to watching players, I'm crazy. I've been watching U-16 and U-17 Europeans since I was 12 years old
P. Stock brokers describe a relationship of emotional biases that make more or less predictable mistakes when valuing financial assets. What is the bias that soccer appraisers have to avoid the most?
A. It is not the same to analyze a young player than a player in his prime. For me, the most important thing when you see a young man is the feeling that makes you see beyond, the player of the future, based on very sensitive parameters and sensations that the player creates for you. Beyond many concepts such as acceleration, speed, high intensity, technique ... In relation to the most expert players, from the age of 23, when they have more than 100 games as professionals, the key is adaptation to a specific idea of the game, in relation to the philosophy and history behind your team.
Q. The last factor you mentioned is technique. Is the class overrated?
R. I prefer to think of specific cases, of players who I know the natural development that they will have when they are young, to players who only have technique. In modern football the technique has to be applied to an idea of intensity, of playing with speed, with acceleration. Technique is a resource that allows you to gain time from the play in a football that evolves towards the physical and high intensity.
P. It is said that you were a virtuoso of Soccer Manager, Sega's electronic game.
A. That is a legend that has been created. It is not entirely true. I always say that the generation of those between 30 and 40 in Spain was not marked by Soccer Manager but by PC Soccer. My generation spent hours and hours playing PC Soccer and trying to figure out how to build a team, how to sign and how to sell players. In my case it was a little different because I liked playing PC Calcio: it was what they gave me. And at the age of five I knew all the Italian football squads and all their mechanisms. That passion I had for Italian football was what made me orient my career towards something more international.
Q. Your generation has been raised in the culture of superinformation derived from the Internet. Data analysis is in vogue. How do you use it to manage sports policy?
R. An excess of information is as dangerous as not having information. The most important thing is not to work on quantity but a lot on quality, always focused on doing something very specific. The most important thing is the concretion. I attach great importance to the data but subordinating it to the sensitivity of traditional scouting , especially the adaptation of the player you are looking for to an idea of the game. At OM we have a very good analytics department: we try to create our own metrics for player analysis based on our game philosophy.
The project that we are trying to carry out with Sampaoli tries to be a return to amateurism, to the essence of having a passion for playing football, having fun playing and giving pleasure to the fans.
P. The Udinese model created a trend: a large network of scouts, attracting undervalued young players, and an exponential increase in income thanks to the sale of those assets, sometimes overvalued. Is that the future of small and medium-sized clubs?
R. Udinese has been brilliant for many years perhaps because Udine is perfect for that: it is a mountain town, close to the Slovenian border. What works in Udine may not work in Turin. You have to adapt the model to the history and the city. You have to think that the two most important assets of a football club are its own stadium and each of the players that you have in your squad, who are always revalued not only for their individual quality but also for their collective performance and, above all, everything, for the sporting result. I believe that the sporting result is the greatest channeling vehicle of a financial year: when you have good results, all income increases. You have to play football in an ethical and balanced way. How? Looking for a sporting result but also having assets within your staff that are young, exportable; because the sale of players is what allows you to balance the economy or achieve a surplus
P. The team is still stuck between sixth and fifth place, and you became president after a popular revolt that triggered the dismissal of the coach , Villas Boas, and the dismissal of the previous president. What did you learn from that crisis?
R. Violence always has to be condemned. We live in a society in which acts of violence are increasingly justified, sucking up all the gratuitous violence of social networks. But from the management of a football club your only way to respond is to try to do football for your people with respect for the historical values and the idiosyncrasies of the club for which you work. It is essential to recover the essence: play football to give pleasure to your fans. When you are a leader, it is as if the fans gave you something: “manage my passion and my feelings”. Soccer is a social vehicle that allows you to experience a series of feelings that your daily life does not generate. As a leader you are the guarantor of people's feelings.
Q. Your first strategic decision was to sign Sampaoli. Why?
R. To return to the pure feeling of Marseille. It is essential that any spectator who goes to the field feels an identification. The decision goes through two points: a sentimental point, because Sampaoli fits perfectly with the mentality of the city and the club, recovering historical values; and on the other hand with a football proposal that people here demand. High pressure, aggressive pressure after loss, trying to keep possession of the ball to be a team that can defend high blocks in most actions ... That model is much more ingrained in the mentality of the fans than any other. It is not supremacism. But Marseille is a very passionate city and you need an equally passionate game idea.
Q. How would you define that passion?
A. When I go to sign a player, especially if they are South American, I tell them: "You come to play Boca Juniors in Europe." In Marseille the effort is not negotiable. There are three very similar cities in the world: on the one hand Naples, on the other Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Naples not so much, because Marseille is a port of entry for immigrants and it is a working city and it is a mix of cultures. That's why the Boca simile is very good.
The training in France is comparable to the training of basketball players in the United States. It is football that is still played on the street, it is individual training rather than collective. France in terms of football is the NBA of Europe
P. The fans and the squad are French-speaking. However, we saw that Marcelo Bielsa was idolized without speaking a single word of French, and Sampaoli speaks in Spanish. How do you resolve the linguistic issue?
A. The official language of the club is and should be French. But the language of football is universal: what matters is the concepts that are transmitted and not the verbiage that surrounds the concepts. If you define those concepts, all the people will follow you. How do you communicate them? Marseille is a city of integration in which everyone has their place; and therefore perhaps this is where we are all allowed to speak in our mother tongue so that we can live together. This is one of the cities in Europe that, without being state capitals, has a greater number of different nationalities.
P. Sampaoli says that it has come to offer a culture. What do you mean?
R. On the one hand to create a culture of work. It is a success because Marseille is not a sophisticated city. It is a city of essence, genuine. The project we are trying to carry out tries to be a return to amateurism, to the essence of having a passion for playing soccer, to the essence of having fun playing, and thinking that you do soccer for your fans and you can provoke emotions in people. And if we all go in the same direction, those emotions are a catalyst for all of us to achieve success. Is Rational Speculation Important? Yes, but values are more important: what made us fall in love with football one day
Q. French club football occupies eighth place in the FIFA rankings. Why the depression?
R. French football is experiencing a search for direction. The problems with Mediapro, the negotiation of television rights, has made us ask ourselves many questions about where we want to go. I think that the Mediapro contract could allow us not to be such an exporting country. We are at a point where we seek our identity as a championship: whether to continue being a talent exporting championship in which players leave Ligue 1 at 18, 19, 20 years old and thus it is difficult to increase the level, or to be a championship that achieves establish itself within the European top five with greater seriousness. I understand that the French championship is complicated by the large number of transitions and the great physical power of the players. When you play a lot of games you find yourself overcome by the rhythm and you have to find that balance by adding pause. The national team plays in a speculative way, always looking for the counterattack and taking advantage of the speed of its offensive players through a good defensive organization; but in Ligue 1 it is played in a completely different way; and the PSG tries to be very propositive giving free rein to the individualities. There is no logical line of coherence. We are the leaders who have a certain category in French football who have to give each of our clubs a very clear identity
Q. What are the advantages and deficits of the French youth academy?
R. All the clubs are going to sign France because it is the exporting country par excellence in Europe due to this mixture of cultures. But there is something fundamental that one has to understand: the training in France is comparable to the training of basketball players in the United States. It is football that is still played on the street, it is individual training rather than collective. France in terms of football is the NBA of Europe. Very individualistic players are formed, not within a very specific idea of the game, precisely because of that search for identity. In France there is no French model of the game. Objectively, if we analyze the entire globe, it is one of the countries that exports the least coaches. They do not sell collective ideas. But individually it is the one that exports the most players because the French player continues to play on the street, especially in many neighborhoods of Paris, Marseille and Lyon. There the children continue to play in the street and that means that they have an individualistic training that helps them to make a difference, but they are not trained to integrate into a game model.