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Aitor Karanka at DT

May 25, 2011

I was wondering when Spanish magazines were going to sit up and take notice of how well-spoken, elegant and classy (he is Basque, after all) our assistant coach is!  Aitor Karanka is interviewed by DT magazine this month, and so here is the article.

In the line of fire.

He is, since some months ago, the only voice of Real Madrid, the tranquil man who has stood up for Madrid after the outbursts of Mou, without deviating from his message.  For Mou, Karanka only has praise.  After living through one of the most intense seasons in the history of Madrid, the former player and current assistant coach speaks to DT.

At the hands of Mourinho, he’s become the most famous assistant coach in the world.  Aitor Karanka (Vitoria, 1973), however, shies away from being the protagonist.  “It’s easier to play in the Bernabéu,” he says after the photo session.  His time is worth its weight in gold.  He has an agenda full of commitments, but he never stops smiling.  More than once, he reminds others of his friend Fernando Hierro.  Thanks to Hierro, he’s enjoying one of the most passionate adventures of his career.

How did this opportunity come about?

I was in Madrid with my wife when Fernando called me and told me he wanted to speak with me, because Mourinho had chosen me to be his assistant.  I thought it was a joke.  Then, after I realized it was true, I told him that I had a moral debt to him (Karanka was working as the coach of the Spanish U-16 team at the time).  He told me not to think about that, that it was a great opportunity for me.

When you met with Mourinho, did he place any conditions on you?

He didn’t demand anything from me.  He told me he knew of me from my time as a player, that he knew that I didn’t have any experience on the bench, but that he would help me and that I would feel comfortable with his staff.  I barely opened my mouth in the 20 minutes and he left me captivated.

What is your job?

He’s always had an assistant that is a former player and who knows the club.  My mission is to keep up to date with the Liga, with the rivals, the fields where we play… and he told me that I would have to give some press conferences as well.  I didn’t expect that, because I thought he was being hypothetical.  And as you can see, I’ve done it more than once now.  But after a year with him, you realize that you’re not a normal assistant coach.

Is Mourinho as bad as he’s made out to be?

I’ll give you a pair of examples showing his humanity.  After the controversy with Manuel Preciado (Sporting’s coach), he called him when his father passed away.  In Murcia, when we played in the Copa del Rey, I witnessed him with tears in his eyes while speaking with a child with a terminal illness, whom Pedro León had introduced to him.

Do you have a relationship with him beyond the professional?

Normally, no.  In the beginning, I did accompany him to El Corte Inglés, or I helped him with some things because he had just arrived in Madrid.

Did you always want to be a coach?

It suited me.  When you’re a player, you think about continuing to be linked to football, but I believed being a coach would be difficult.  Fernando Hierro convinced me to get the license.  And now I’m grateful to him.  I’ve had the opportunity to relive experiences with the boys of the national team, and now I’m enjoying this so much that I’m not even thinking about if one day I’ll coach Real Madrid or about the future.

Do the players complain a lot to you?

When you’re a player, you complain about everything.  Although I knew that I was privileged, I complained about many things.  Now, players complain less.  I would have liked to have training sessions like those of Mourinho.  They’re very enjoyable and involve the ball, from the first day.

Is the locker room intimidating?

When I arrived as a player, it was during the time of the Quinta de los Ferraris (Suker, Mijatovic, Panucci…).  I arrived from Bilbao, frightened, and I entered with a lot of respect.  Then you realize they’re normal people and wonderful teammates.  It’s the same now, everyone gets along wonderfully.

Are there many differences between that player and the coach you are now?

The relationship is different.  Since I was a player and there were things that I didn’t like, I try not to repeat them.  I try to avoid the locker room, because I respect their space.  I don’t want them to view me as their keeper, as a spy.

What does Mourinho write in his famous notebook?

Plays, an error in strategy or of a player… he talks about them during the halftime break or after the game.

Do you believe Mourinho has provoked tension and anti-madridismo?

No one is indifferent when it comes to the míster.  He always shows his face and he never backs down.  But he hasn’t provoked any anti-madridismo sentiments.  Eight years ago, when I played in Madrid, people were already throwing rocks at the bus.

Did the Copa del Rey save the season?

It allowed our work to bear some fruit.  If we hadn’t won the Copa del Rey, we would have finished the season without a title, and that would have left us feeling bad.  In this way, we’re saved, but we know that we have to improve things for next year and that we can’t lose games at home, since that will prevent us from fighting for the Liga until the end.

The fans had the feeling that Barcelona was superior, both in the Liga and the Champions.  Was this reflected in your strategies?

No.  We planned for different games based on how Barcelona plays.  I’m convinced that if things had gone normally, we would have gotten to the final of the Champions and we wouldn’t be speaking about the strategy of the first leg game.

Is the coaching staff one of the strong points of this Real Madrid?

The team spirit and the commitment of all the players are the strong points.  What happens is that a coach like Mourinho is capable of convincing everyone that there is no objective that is unreachable.

Is there any player that carries the team on his back?

The four captains (Casillas, Ramos, Marcelo and Higuaín) are very similar.  There’s no leader like Fernando Hierro.  You could see that he was above everyone else.  Iker is the reference for the group and Cristiano, although he’s logically very valued, doesn’t stand out more than Iker, out of respect for him.

Has Mourinho changed the way signings are decided?

They’re planned in another way.  He tries to keep things quiet so that a player’s value won’t go up or his arrival complicated.  That’s what happened, for example, with Nuri Sahin.  He met the quality and price requirements and no one knew anything about it until it was done.  His arrival brings us relief for a position that was undermanned this year with the injuries to Gago and Khedira.

And will he improve how the cantera is treated?

This year, we’ve debuted eight or nine players.  But there’s no need to copy other clubs.  If you debut a player before the right time, you could ruin his career.  It would help Castilla to be in Segunda A because the gap is more within reach.

What would you bring to this team from your experience playing in the MLS?

The way the players are paid.  It’s perfect.  The club signs you, but the league pays you.  If you can spend two million euros, you do it, but if you can’t, you don’t even think about it because you have to deposit the money beforehand.  That way, the competition won’t be adulterated.  There are teams which have squandered an incredible amount of resources and are unable to pay the players, but they still have an advantage on the field.


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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Jenny permalink
    May 25, 2011 17:50

    Wow!

    What a beautiful man (and Basque of course!).

  2. Flkis333 permalink
    May 25, 2011 19:22

    Full of class.

    Great guy. I won’t mind him as a future coach.

  3. Sarah, Madrid permalink
    May 25, 2011 20:06

    ” No one is indifferent when it comes to the míster. He always shows his face and he never backs down. But he hasn’t provoked any anti-madridismo sentiments. Eight years ago, when I played in Madrid, people were already throwing rocks at the bus”.

    My fav phrase thank you Karanka for mentioning that because that’s what I have been telling everyone, I dont remember real madrid being this club that everyone absolutely adore before Jose came and ruined that, always been some attack from people on us! I didnt like it, I had to defend us alot, BUT other were throwing stones on us before Jose and Cris ever came.

  4. May 25, 2011 22:35

    Thanks for this, it was a really interesting read! It’s nice to see Aitor-the-person rather than hear the press screming that they want Mou. And I think there really must be something in the water… and the food… maybe the air? Whatever it is, País Vasco is clearly doing it right.

    And this:

    “In the beginning, I did accompany him to El Corte Inglés.”

    Those must have been the most brilliant shopping excursions EVER. To have been a fly on the wall…

    • Jennifer permalink
      May 25, 2011 22:36

      No, I lie, second-most-brilliant. Anytime Zipi and Zape hit the t-shirt sales or Cris and Sergio duke it out in D&G would have to be number one.

  5. ebrahim permalink
    May 25, 2011 23:38

    I love this man :).

  6. Messilona10 permalink
    May 26, 2011 00:14

    I disagreed with Copa Del Rey saved the season.. Real Madrid won to Copa Del Rey of course by playing anti-football. All the Real Madrid players ever done was kicking and hurting FC Barcelona players.. By the way, where was the referee..? Real Madrid players had terrible fouls enough to got at least 5 of their players sent off.. Real Madrid must have paid the referee..

    Barca 4 life!

    • Radhika permalink
      May 27, 2011 00:33

      If you are so Barca for Life , why do you have to go about reading an entire interview about/by Real Madrid assistant coach , on a Real Madrid focused blog ?

    • Jenny permalink
      May 27, 2011 00:57

      Only one player came away from the Clasicos with an injury – it was Sami Khedira. He was injured – rather brutally as it happens – by Messi’s foul.

      Ever since the Copa game, he hasn’t played, and he hasn’t trained. It ended his season.

      You look to yourself – and be careful at Wembley. English fans don’t tolerate diving, whining little infants.

  7. @ulonghaz permalink
    May 26, 2011 03:27

    DAMN. He looks HOT !

  8. Gillian permalink
    May 26, 2011 04:26

    What a great interview! He’s really quite insightful! This is a terrific read. Thanks for sharing!

  9. wandering permalink
    May 26, 2011 11:44

    I lover Aitor and I love Mourinho more after reading this

  10. May 26, 2011 15:22

    another awesome Basque man.

    I love how reasonable he sounds, thanks for this interview, a very interesting read!

  11. May 26, 2011 18:34

    I love the way no one has even bothered to respond to Messilona10. I find this so very amusing.

  12. black widow permalink
    May 27, 2011 00:14

    Class act through and through.

    I thought pepe was the fourth captain, but it’s higuain? Really? I have no problem either way, just curious.

  13. LaBlanca permalink
    May 28, 2011 16:03

    thanx for translating una, veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery interesting read!

  14. Pammie permalink
    June 1, 2011 15:45

    Thanks for translating this interview, UM! I enjoyed it a lot.

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