Lopetegui brings seven staff to Wolves - but is this the way to go?

Left to right: Edu Rubio, Oscar Caro, Pablo Sanz, Julen Lopetegui, Juan Peinado, Daniel Lopetegui and Juan Garagarza. Borja De Alba also later joined.

Left to right: Edu Rubio, Oscar Caro, Pablo Sanz, Julen Lopetegui, Juan Peinado, Daniel Lopetegui and Juan Garagarza. Borja De Alba also later joined.

FOR the players who took part in Julen Lopetegui’s first training session at Wolves this week, there were plenty of new faces to get used to.

The Spaniard has brought no less than seven new staff with him to the club, all of whom are compatriots:

  • Pablo Sanz (Assistant): Was a player alongside Lopetegui at Barcelona and has worked with him at Porto, Spain, Real Madrid and Sevilla.
  • Juan Peinado (Assistant): Worked at Real Madrid & Villarreal’s Academies before joining Lopetegui at Sevilla in July 2019.
  • Edu Rubio (first-team coach): Has coached in England for 15 years, including as assistant at Crawley Town and Senior PDP coach at MK Dons. Most recently West Ham Women’s assistant. Taught on coaching courses for the Spanish FA, which is where he met Lopetegui.
  • Fran Garagarza (Technical Advisor): Transformed small Basque club Eibar during two decades as their Sporting Director. Masterminded a remarkable climb from the third division to La Liga. Left in 2021 and taught on Spanish FA's Sporting Director course.
  • Oscar Caro (fitness coach): Has served under Lopetegui since 2016, with Spain, Real Madrid and Sevilla.
  • Borja De Alba (strength & conditioning coach): Worked for Sevilla for five years, three of them under Lopetegui.
  • Daniel Lopetegui (Performance Analyst): Son of the manager. Spent three years at UCFB Wembley studying football business and finance, before working on opposition analysis at MK Dons and player analysis for a leading football agency.

Other managers have done this, of course. For example, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp brought a similar number of assistants with them when they joined Manchester City and Liverpool respectively.

But are they the exception rather than the norm, because of their length of tenure and success?

As Dan Ashworth, Newcastle's Technical Director, has told TGG: "Historically, the one who is most likely to leave is the first-team manager. The average lifespan for them in this country is around 14 months."

So is allowing a Head Coach to bring in so many staff effectively sub-contracting your footballing vision and philosophy to them? What happens if and when they leave? Won't the intellectual property go with them too? (And that's not to mention the pay-offs).

Plenty of footballing knowledge and expertise departed the club when Nuno Espírito Santo and six staff - Rui Pedro Silva (assistant), Ian Cathro (first-team coach), Julio Figueroa (first-team coach), Rui Barbosa (goalkeeper coach), Antonio Dias (fitness coach) and Joao Lapa (rehab coach) - exited Molineux in the summer of 2021.

The club seemed to take heed, with Head of Performance and Medicine Robin Chakraverty instigating a restructure of his department last year and explaining: "We felt that the identity of the performance and medical department at Wolves had been very dependent on the incumbent coach.

"The last Head Coach brought in his own staff and their own ways of working, which transformed the club, but they have left and Wolves needed to rethink to take the club forward.”

However, Chakraverty himself has now gone and Lopetegui has brought his own staff (Caro and De Alba) into the performance team. Elsewhere, the arrivals include his son, Daniel, a Performance Analyst, and Fran Garagarza, who has come in as Technical Advisor, even though Wolves already have a Sporting Director (Matt Hobbs). In summary, it seems to be a case of Wolves putting all their eggs in one basket - the Head Coach's.

Contrast this with the situation at Brentford when Thomas Frank took over as first-team boss in October 2018. There was just one subsequent appointment - that of fellow Dane Brian Riemer as assistant.

Granted, Frank had been promoted from assistant and hadn't come from outside, like Lopetegui, but this was nevertheless a deliberate ploy from Brentford. They wanted their footballing intellectual property to remain in the club, rather than coming and going with the Head Coach.

They have been eager to find the best possible candidate for each role, even if it means looking outside of football, as in the case of Head of Performance Ben Ryan, who had made his name in rugby union as Fiji’s Head Coach.

The Bees have sought diversity of both background and ideas, with differences of perspective welcomed. This, in turn, leads to positive challenge.

These appointments to the coaching, performance, medical and analysis teams have been made by the club, led on the football side by Director of Football Phil Giles, rather than by the Head Coach.

So if Frank were to leave, the football vision and staff would remain intact. This encompasses style of play, recruitment and so on. This really struck Justin Cochrane when he arrived at the club as first-team coach in the summer.

Speaking on the latest edition of the TGG Podcast, Cochrane said: “Football nowadays, a lot of clubs, especially in first teams, once the manager comes in he brings all his staff in and they cover all the positions.

“Whereas, when I went into Brentford, it was clear that Thomas has Brian Riemer, who he’s known for a long time, but then all the other staff are people who have been club appointments that have been brought in with specific skillsets to help the club.

“It’s a diverse group - diverse of thinking and ideas, with a lot of difference between the people, but when its all put into the pot and we mix it together, so far it’s worked out quite well and I credit the club for doing that.

“It’s interesting for me because I’m working with some very very good people who all have specific roles and are fulfilling those roles. Manu (Sotelo) the goalkeeper coach, Bernardo (Cueva) the Tactical Statistician is fantastic, (first-team coach) Kevin O’Connor is the glue at the football club and is a fantastic coach and brilliant with the players, and Chris Haslam, who is one of the best I have come across in terms of performance.

“So you have a unique set of people there, as well as the manager and the assistant, who are able to help the club move forward.”

Also speaking on the TGG Podcast last year, Giles said: “We believe a more diverse workforce will be a better workforce. By advertising externally we get a much broader range of diversity of candidate as well and that’s really important.

“Sometimes what we’ll do is a recruitment process and employ the internal candidate, promote them up a step, and I think that’s good as well. Not only is it good to show we reward our own staff on their career path, we also demonstrate to them that they were the best of a proper recruitment process, they didn’t just have it handed to them on a plate.”

This is a contrast with the traditional view in football, which Dave Reddin, the former Head of Performance and Strategy for the Football Association, has described as being part of the cult of the ‘unicorn manager.’

“Maybe what we see going forwards, if we think about the move away from unicorn Head Coaches, is this idea of more democracy,” Reddin told TGG’s Future Game Webinar in 2020.

“The idea that the coaching team and wider multi-disciplinary team create more value by working collectively within an aligned strategy and vision. Rather than this idea that there’s a singular person with all of the knowledge and that the organisation lives or dies based on their outcomes.”

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