For a promising young player in Spanish football, having Julen Guerrero (Portugalete, 1974) as a coach is a privilege. Few like him understand what it is to be an icon from a very young age. And in Bilbao, no less. Who was an idol in Athletic in the 90s is now an indispensable man for the future of the Spanish National Team. Since June 2021, he has been in charge of the Under-17s, which he has led in 26 games with an overwhelming record: he has won 22 games, drawn three and lost only one. Some of the players who have passed these two years through his hands are already playing in the First Division. His challenge now is to win the Under-17 European Championship in Hungary, where Spain is also at stake for qualifying for the World Cup in the category. Before leaving for Budapest, the Under-17 coach attended AS at the Las Rozas concentration to talk about the young promises of Spanish football and his ambitions as a coach.
A year has passed since your only defeat as a coach, in the quarterfinals of the 2022 European Championship. How have you lived this last year?
We arrived at the European Championship undefeated with eight wins and two draws, so in that aspect it has been a very similar year. Obviously, in a tournament like this, things can go wrong in a match, as happened last year, when we were left out due to a penalty. Now we arrive with the same enthusiasm, the same desire and knowing that we have a great team. You have to be cautious, go step by step and no longer think about the quarterfinals or semifinals. First we have to face the match against Italy, prepare it in the best possible way. This is how we have worked these two years and this is how we must continue. We must trust in our possibilities and that the boys are progressing, which is what is really important.
This is a European with two objectives, the title and the pass to the World Cup (the first five qualify). Is the way of approaching it different compared to last year?
The first objective is to pass the group stage. We have a difficult game against Italy, which has a lot of potential, and right now we are not thinking of anything else. Obviously there is the World Cup and, above all, the title, which is what we want, but we must face things calmly.
Last year he made a prelist of 21 players and this year of 26. Only 20 can go to the European. Why have you called so many?
Every year is different. In this list there are people who have been progressing throughout the season. We do a very constant monitoring of the performance they are giving and there are guys that we saw who were giving the level to come and instead of deciding from the beginning it seemed like a good idea to see them these days before making the final list. We have to take advantage of each other’s moments.
One of those who has been with the Under-17s for the first time these days is Alejandro Granados, from Orlando City. The call for him is curious since the only player who has worn the Spain shirt before without playing in Europe was David Villa.
That’s how it is. The Federation is very attentive to these things and it is a case that we will see more and more. There are many kids who can play with Spain who, due to life circumstances, their parents going to live abroad, for studies or whatever, have to go abroad. And the Federation is doing a meticulous job trying to control the maximum number of players. In the case of Granados we have followed him a lot. In the US he has shown a great level and it was time to see him with the rest of the group.
It seems that there is a war between all the federations in the world for ‘stealing’ players with various nationalities when they are too young. What do you think about it?
For a country to want a boy to play for them is to some extent normal. Each one wants the best for himself and that no great player escapes him. The important thing is that when someone is called up, be honest, to give him continuity and not for a specific moment or because another team wants him, but to treat him well, so that the federation that chooses him knows how to progress and that the boys So don’t feel abandoned. Those steps must be measured well. If I were a player that is the treatment I would like to receive.
One of these players tempted by other countries is lamina yamal. He is 15 years old and has already been called up by the Under-19s. What plan does the Federation have with him?
There is total communication between all the members of the National Team in the different categories and Lamine, although he went to a tournament with the Under-19s, has spent the rest of the year with the Under-17s and we have thought it convenient for him to be part of this team in the European I think it’s a tournament that will suit her very well, where she will be able to express herself, she feels very comfortable in the group and she will be able to give a great performance.
Are you worried that the spotlight will be too much on him?
Together we will try to handle the situation in the best possible way. Those of us who have more experience will help you. . I have not seen any abnormal situation in this regard. I see him very focused, with a lot of desire and enthusiasm.
In his time these issues about the pressure on such young players and mental health were almost taboo or non-existent. How do they work from the Federation?
The psychology department is one of the fastest growing in the Federation. They support us a lot and provide a great help to the boys. What you have to do with these issues is to make them as natural and normal as possible. Years ago it was a subject that was far away for football and now it is one more part of the coaching staff.
Would you have liked to have had this kind of help when you started playing?
It was another era. There were no social or mobile networks either. The press was not as aware as it is now, for example. All the media coverage has been growing in recent years and that is why the clubs, not just the federation, have also introduced these departments to work with the boys on what they are going to find in the future. Look what has happened to Lamine, who at the age of 15 has made his debut in the First Division with Barça. It is essential that today the clubs prepare the boys for these situations.
Lamine is not the only one who has trained who has made his debut with the first team. Last year he directed Joel Roca, Dani Pérez or Simo, who have also played minutes in the First Division. How do you see them?
It is a joy. I keep in touch with them and they make me feel totally fulfilled. They are at a stage in which some are already making the leap to professional and watching them grow is the greatest satisfaction we can have. Not only in their clubs. Many of these boys have continued going with the Under-18, Under-19 or Under-21 and seeing that they continue to respond is the greatest endorsement of the work we are doing in the Under-17.
You have worked with Luis de la Fuente on several occasions, in which you have been with the Sub-21 or he has assisted you in the Sub-17. How do you see him for the Absolute?
With all the years he has been in the Federation and the work he has done at the base, it was the right time for him to take the step. He is fully prepared for this unique opportunity. His experience added to the knowledge he has of the players can bring many successes to Spain.
Is it a mirror in which to look at yourself?
Clear. I also want to grow and the Federation knows it. I’m hungry to climb. In that sense, I am ambitious, always have been. I am a demanding person and I hope, if the time comes, to be prepared.