La Liga: Meet Monchi, the secret behind Sevilla's success

Monchi — Ramon Rodríguez Verdejo — says the role of a sporting director of a football club involves a lot more than just signing players.

“At Sevilla, the coach doesn’t decide the player he wants to buy. He gives us the profile of the player he would like,” says sporting director Monchi.   -  AFP

The role of a sporting director in modern football has evolved so much that high-profile teams like Liverpool, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan have assigned officials to manage their sporting activities on and off the field.

However, it was La Liga team Sevilla that popularised the role in 2000 with the appointment of former player Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, popularly known as Monchi, who took the side out of the Spanish Segunda Division and to several trophy wins.

The 51-year-old Monchi, who is highly regarded in professional footballing circles, spoke on the nuances of managing of a club in a virtual media roundtable organised by La Liga Santander.

Can you sum up Sevilla’s 2019-20 season?

From the beginning of the season, we were regular in La Liga. But after coronavirus hit, Spain was under lockdown and the championship came to a halt. From the negativity surrounding us, we generated positivity. Rather than being a team, we were like a family. We believed in ourselves, and that’s important. We had complicated fixtures when everything restarted. But the faith of the squad in itself made the difference. That was the reason for Sevilla’s Europa League success and top-four La Liga finish.

Who are the best players you’ve ever signed for Sevilla?

I’m proud of every player I’ve signed. They’ve all contributed to the improvement of the club. However, if I have to pick the best, considering what he’s given to the club performance-wise and on an economic level, it’s Dani Alves. He’s someone we discovered a long time ago, and he adapted quickly. He won five titles with Sevilla (Copa del Rey in 2006–07; Supercopa de España in 2007; UEFA Cup in 2005-06 and 2006-07; UEFA Super Cup in 2006), and we made lots of money on selling him, too. He still loves the club despite playing around the world. I could also say other names like (Luís) Fabiano, (Frédéric) Kanouté, (Éver) Banega or (Ivan) Rakitić. They’ve all been crucial for the team.

The Sevilla players celebrate after beating Inter Milan in the 2020 Europa League final. “I started when the club was in the second division. Twenty years later, we’ve made 20 finals and won several trophies,” says Monchi.   -  AP

 

What’s your most memorable achievement at Sevilla?

I started when the club was in the second division. Twenty years later, we’ve made 20 finals and won several trophies. The thing I’m most proud of is the method we follow. We’ve introduced a new way of management in the sport. When I took over in 2000, we had to start from scratch. And today, we’re a club that people want to study. Several people have worked hard with me for years. Getting information through scouts is the secret behind the success. I feel proud that we were able to set up this broad structure to react to any eventuality that could happen in the transfer market.

What are your plans for Sevilla’s future?

I want the club to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid regularly. The team is growing gradually, and it has sealed a Champions League spot. The main objective of our current project is to qualify for the Champions League three or four years in succession. That would help us get more revenue, and in future we can be more ambitious.

How would you define the role of a sporting director?

The main objective of my role is to handle all the sporting aspects of the team. Many top clubs like Manchester United don’t have a sporting director. But I feel sides are starting to realise that they need this position. The sporting director creates a connection between the technical staff, squad, board of directors and the transfer market. These are a part of my business model to run a club. The role is essential because it’s the link between all the departments — press, marketing, travel, first team and grassroots. Everything revolves around the sporting director. I don’t just sign players. It looks as though that’s my only job from the outside.

READ | Monchi returns to Sevilla after Arsenal links

What are the factors to be considered while recruiting a player?

The first thing is tracking. We’ve got a network of scouts who allow us to have control of the transfer market. The second factor is to be clear about the profile of the player that the coach or trainer wants. For example, if he wants a striker, there can be lots of variations to the position. The third aspect is to see if the player can fit in. You are taking him from one championship to another. So you need to have the intuition to determine if the player can adapt quickly. The fourth factor is communication with the player. Sometimes players don’t realise their full potential due to external factors. We must research their background. It’s necessary to explain to them the club’s philosophy, what the city’s like and who the rivals are. We have to give them a detailed outline so that they know what they’re facing.

How does the scouting system work?

At Sevilla, the coach doesn’t decide the player he wants to buy. He gives us the profile of the player he would like. Scouting players on the given specifics, we try to offer him a list of possibilities. We divide the year into two parts. The first one is from July to December, and the second is from January to May. The first part is for gross tracking of all tournaments. We get as many players as possible into our database. Each scout concentrates on different leagues. For example, one scout has the English Premier League and the Belgian league, while another has Ligue 1 and Portuguese Liga. Each month, they choose 11 players from each competition. In December, we open up our database, analyse all the information and move on to the next part of the season, which is called net tracking. We’d have 400-450 players at that time. They’ll be assessed based on some fixed criteria from January to April. In May, there’ll be 15-16 players per position. We consult the coach and ask him whom he needs from the 150-160 we have in total. If he wants a winger, we check those available and select the ideal ones. If he’s happy with a player in our final shortlist, we negotiate with the other club.

If he is to pick the best player he signed for Sevilla, Monch says it’s Dani Alves. “He’s someone we discovered a long time ago, and he adapted quickly,” he says. Alves won five titles with Sevilla — Copa del Rey in 2006–07; Supercopa de Espana in 2007; UEFA Cup in 2005-06 and 2006-07; UEFA Super Cup in 2006.   -  AFP

 

How does technology help in comparing players?

I love big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Data helps us a lot, and it’s essential. However, we must know what data to use because there are lots of it. We get eight million bits of data every year, but you don’t need everything. We must be able to convert a subjective report from the scout into an objective one. We’ve got an R&D (research and development) department to help us with the data during the selection process of players. But we shouldn’t only depend on technology. If you use the data, it’ll shorten the time frame, but we have to look at profiles manually, too. We need to combine technical data and the scouts’ information and base our decisions on that.

How has coronavirus affected the transfer market?

The economic crisis caused by Covid-19 worldwide has put clubs in a terrible situation. Teams have to be economically controlled. Prices of players shouldn’t be high because clubs need to be sustainable amid the pandemic. The uncertainty of what’s going to happen in the future has affected the market. There’s not a lot of activity there. I’m trying to combine two different criteria right now. One is the need to continue growing, and also we should not only be cautious, but take certain risks to strengthen the squad by signing new players.

READ | Sevilla confirms interest in Mexico expansion

What’s the reason behind conducting the ‘Monchi 13 Masterclass’ online show?

When I started my job as a sporting director, I didn’t know what to expect. So I tried to gather information from other clubs. What I wanted to do with this master class is to explain our project. I don’t think it has to be a secret at all. I wanted to share our philosophy and belief in this management model. I wanted to help people who are starting up in this particular job. If somebody can learn something from what I’m doing, I think that’s fantastic. Sevilla is a club which has to do stuff to improve its brand. That’s why we shared the information.