Thursday, May 5, 2011

Javier Aguirre - cheating on his players to inspire them

Javier Aguirre is the manager of Spanish club Real Zaragoza, he has been in charge of the club since November 2010. When he took over from the departing coach Jose Aurelio Gay, the club were wandering in the relegation zone and it seemed like this was going to be a long painful season for Zaragoza fans. However, fast forward a few months later, and they’ve climbed up the table and are battling their way to safety. One of the main reasons for their revival is Aguirre’s management skills which have sometimes been viewed as controversial and mostly psychologically oriented.

His face may be recognizable to some as he was Mexico’s coach during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and he could also be credited for the arrival of Javier Hernandez onto the international scene. His management and playing career has always been divided between Mexico and Spain, and now he has, once again, found himself a new home at the helm of Real Zaragoza, a club that has limited resources to improve. They are a club that has been heavily criticized by the Spanish press for its inability to provide anything worthy on the pitch and for having a president that is surrounded by scandals and controversy - perhaps the perfect match for Aguirre.

Last weekend, Real Zaragoza did the unthinkable and beat Real Madrid 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, for only the 4th time in their entire history. It is no easy feat winning at the Bernabeu and it is even more difficult considering that they had just beat Jose Mourinho at the home of a club he manages, so to think this was done by lowly Real Zaragoza makes it quite a success. However, it was just one victory and 3 points like any other, so what makes this story interesting – the story behind it.

Aguirre, known for his bizarre tactics and man-management skills has always been a bit of an innovator. Some consider him a mad man (ask anyone in Mexico), others consider him a genius. He’s been credited with making his players love him so much that they are almost blinded by it. Prior to this must-win game for Zaragoza in their battle for safety, he performed an act which is considered almost inconceivable. He was playing with fire and this charismatic character is not one to shy away from such situations. Aguirre was sneaking behind his players’ backs and contacting their wives; leaving them messages, calling them all the time and even having secret rendezvous’ with the wives…all of them, no exceptions. This was all being done discreetly, as any professional cheater would do, however the players were beginning to suspect something strange was going on and the frustration began mounting. Could it be that their wives were cheating on them with their mentor? The man, the leader, their manager that is helping them prove all their doubters wrong toying around with ALL the players’ wives?

He decided to come clean the night before the game vs Madrid. He sat the players down and admitted that he had a confession to make. At this point you could imagine the fury that was engulfing the players when the obvious suspicion began to spread. He put in a video into the machine just let it play. It was blurry at first, but then the camera zoomed out and a player’s wife was on the camera. A look of desperation, unease and guilt was on her face “Jose, I have something to tell you”, “Carlos, listen to me”. One by one, the wives left their messages on the camera and for each player a nightmare was coming true: “I love you, but there’s something important we have to talk about and something you really have to do for me…

At this point one could only imagine that the players were either going to break down in tears or go on a rampage somewhere, until each of the wives went on and said “Go and win this bloody match!”.

This was innovation at its peak. Motivation like we rarely see in football. No one else could possibly motivate their players in such a way. He conned them to the point that their rage allowed them to perform like bulls vs Real Madrid. The following day they beat Real Madrid and got 3 points closer to safety. It may have been a wounded Real Madrid, but it was still Real Madrid and at the Bernabeu. Nothing can take that away from this achievement. Zaragoza might still get relegated as there are approximately 8 teams that are fighting to survive in La Liga, but of those 8 teams, you can be guaranteed that Real Zaragoza have got one big card up their sleeve – and it’s Javier Aguirre’s  ability to blind his players to fight for the cause.

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