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"The most important thing for us is for the team to be brave"

Víctor poses for SUR in the corridors of La Rosaleda last week.
Víctor poses for SUR in the corridors of La Rosaleda last week. / Salvador Salas
  • Víctor Sánchez del Amo, the new Malaga head coach, is imposing a fresh way of playing on the squad and it has resulted in eight goals in four games

Víctor Sánchez del Amo (Madrid, 1976) chose SUR for his first interview since replacing Juan Ramón Muñiz as Malaga head coach during Easter Week.

We spoke to him last week, following the finest showing of his reign so far (a 3-0 win over Real Oviedo) and during an 11-day break as the season approaches its climax.

The former Real Madrid and Deportivo player is undeniably at ease but also convincing in his discourse as he talks about football, but also about politics, sport, books, gastronomy and even education, in a three-quarter hour talk held in the Juan Cortés press room at La Rosaleda.

How many hours do you sleep after a big game?

The same as usual. I sleep well after games but I don't get much because of the adrenaline... The first thing I try to do is to calm myself down, regardless of the result. Normally we bring together all of the coaching staff, talk a little, relax, then go to bed. But before I do that, I need to watch the game, otherwise I can't sleep. Then I can go to training the next day with a clear mind, knowing what we need to do to improve. A lot of things can escape your attention watching the game live.

Have you been surprised by how quickly the players have adapted to this new way of playing?

Not really. As a coach, when you're out of work it's your responsibility to follow the leagues you might eventually get involved with. That means we came here with a good knowledge of the team which means our hopes and expectations were very high. I believe we have the best squad in Segunda and I have witnessed this from day one. It's a great group, on both personal and professional levels.

You were an assistant to Míchel at various clubs as you started off in coaching. Given that he was here just a few months ago, did you speak to him before you arrived?

No. At the end of the day, the information that you can get about a club can be biased. We analysed the team from a football point of view and that is the most interesting to us, with regards to our ideas and philosophy. Besides that, you can get information about the structure of the club, and so on, but that comes second.

Míchel told this paper that Javi Ontiveros, in his view, was a "raw talent" who could turn a game on its head. What do you think of him?

He is a unique player who anyone who sees him play will fall in love with. He has tremendous balance and elegance. He does very difficult things with a football and that is what captures our attention. This potential, this talent... we have to harness it. This is something I love to do as a coach. The most important thing is for him to deliver consistently.

Everyone says that if Ontiveros is playing well, Malaga will go up. Is that how you see it?

There are a lot of factors which can influence performances. We will never build our team around just one player. We love having individuals like Javi but we must look at the collective.

In Cadiz (1-1, 6 May), the defenders passed the ball back to Munir on 64 occasions and Malaga had some issues getting going against Oviedo too.

I realise that when people see you passing the ball around the back it starts to create nerves for those on the outside. However, we want to be brave in the way we play. Doing this allows us to attract the press of the opposition and open spaces up for us to create chances. We saw it in Alcorcón, when we played Mallorca and we'll continue seeing it. Opponents will realise this and sit deep and wait but it's all part of the tactical battle.

This is why David Lombán has come into the team. He's good on the ball. But last Monday Luis Hernández played and put on a great defensive display. These are the sort of problems coaches like to have, aren't they?

Of course. It's not a problem; it's the opposite. The level of the players has been exceptional. You can see the players who've been on the field but you can't see those who have been training. The level that we are seeing is a result of the competition between the players to make the squad every week. And we've not mentioned [youth player] Keidi [Bare] yet. He's done exceptionally well to adapt to the new role we've given him. Alfred [N'Diaye] can also play there and he is adapting well to our ideas, as well as the goalkeepers. We've been asking them to do things a bit differently from a positional and a distribution viewpoint and the response has been sensational.

You've spoken about N'Diaye who against Oviedo probably gave his best performance of the season. But he could miss the play-offs if he is selected for the African Cup of Nations. How do you view the situation?

They have to take into account how this affects professional teams who have made a considerable investment in these players and who are being deprived of them at crucial moments. I know it's not easy to fit everything in but they have to keep us in mind.

Does it worry you that you won't have had a game in 11 days when you play Zaragoza [on Friday]?

The idea is that we will train and focus on tactical training. Not playing will help us to avoid the risk of injury and suspension and help us to prepare in the best possible way for Zaragoza.

Several people have started to think that if you're going to be without Munir for the play-offs - that you might consider giving his potential replacement a run-out...

We are focused on winning every game and so we will choose whoever we think is the best for each game.

Malaga have struggled to score goals this year. Do you think the contribution from midfield will be decisive?

Any analysis that we do will always be relative. A lack of goals will always be a problem for a team looking to go up. That said, now we've scored eight goals in four games. The change in the way we play and in the creation of chances means that our players have many more options to score. What's more, at the other end the opposition are creating fewer and lower-quality chances.

You've never contested a play-off, either as a player or a coach. Is that right?

I've played and coached in many two-legged knock-out games in the Copa [del Rey] and in the Champions League... I don't see how this is any different.

In this case it would come after 42 match days, with all of the players desperate to go on their holidays.

We are ready for whatever comes our way. You can see that in the team.

How are the seven players who are fasting for Ramadan coping?

The players are very professional and this is nothing new for them. In the mornings there's no problem. They have two meals: one at night and one first thing in the morning. This means that they have energy for training then they go home to rest until night. It's more complicated on match days. Last Monday, Munir followed it strictly all day but keepers use less energy. On the other hand, N'Diaye did eat. For us it's normal. We're in constant dialogue with the players to see how they're doing and to see what we can do to help.

It must have been great to see Juankar sprinting again after eight months out and getting a standing ovation from La Rosaleda.

It wasn't just the sprinting; his performance was phenomenal after so long out. We are very happy for him.

It must also have been great to see the team so compact and focused down to ten men against Oviedo. We're at a stage in the season where any slip can be punished, right?

Exactly, that's why the small teams can sometimes beat the big and powerful ones. There are many things that can influence the final result which is why overcoming adverse conditions is so important.

Winning 3-0 must have come as a relief, especially from a psychological point of view, given the bad run of form at La Rosaleda.

For us it's crucial that the team is brave. This is what we've asked the players from the start because we know that they are the best [in the division]. A squad with this potential has to be daring to perform at a high level. That wasn't just three points, it was an enormous injection of confidence.

If promotion isn't achieved, we'll have to blame it on the failure of the squad and their work?

I don't know how I would feel in that situation. It's not a thought I have ever let enter my mind.