Juan Ferrando (Barcelona, 1981) is the only Spaniard who knows what it is to sit on the bench FC Sheriff Tiraspol. The current FC Goa coach looks back on his time in Transnistria before Real Madrid’s visit to the Champions League.
He has just started his second season managing Indian FC Goa. How are you?
We are expecting. Going back to living in a bubble like last season is mentally exhausting. That complicates the day to day, but it is what it is. We are tired because a season is worth it, but having the same routine and being all the time from the room to the field and from the field to the bedroom is tiring.
Do you have good memories of your time at FC Sheriff?
Yes very good. They are asking me a lot lately because it is a very curious place and coincidentally there are not many Spaniards who have passed through there. What they are doing in the Champions League does not surprise me at all because since I arrived I realized that it was a club with a lot of potential. They are very football fans, they really want to do things well and it was a matter of time before they achieved something important.
They called him when he was in the Málaga quarry and they suggested that he be second to Veaceslav Rusnac. How do you remember it?
I was contacted by Valery Pavlichenko, who was with the Sheriff until 2015 and now owns a player agency. I was looking for a person to help them change their work methodology. They had worked with Serbian and German schools, but were looking for something different. They told me I was crazy, but I knew it was a good place to grow up. I came to be Rusnac’s assistant, but from the first moment I had many responsibilities and within two weeks I took over the team. They gave me a lot of power when making decisions.
Transnistria is a territory with limited recognition, did that give you problems?
The truth is that if. That it was an unrecognized country complicated everything. I went with a UEFA credential, but for the first 20 days I had to use a Moldovan’s license to be able to sit on the bench. Then everything was fixed.
What was the first impression that Transnistria gave you?
Strolling through the city is like being in the USSR of the 60s. It is all very old, very from the movie. The club facilities are another world. The people who run the club are football lovers and have set up a sports city very similar to that of Shakhtar. Everything is ready to host an elite club.
How does the club search for talent?
The Moldovan academy does not give to put together a great project and what they do is look for African, Brazilian, Colombian players … They look for very young footballers who do not have to pay a large salary and they give them the opportunity to show themselves in Europe. They tell them that they are going to play in Europe and the Champions League previews, that if they do well they can make a career in Europe. In my time there were Ricardinho, Luvannor … They played the group stage of the Europa League and flew.
“The president in his office had a television with the Premier League, another with the Bundesliga, another with LaLiga …”
Juan Ferrando, former FC Sheriff coach
Do they work the quarry?
Yeah right. They have a scout department to detect the great talents of Moldova and a school. There are U-8 and U-12 teams, although they don’t compete until they reach the U-14. Under-14, Under-16, Under-18 and Under-19 compete as in Spain, from the most regional to the national level. There is also a league of affiliates.
What are the Sheriff’s facilities like?
They are very good. Real Madrid is not going to lack anything. The main field is somewhat reminiscent of Cornellà. It is very cozy. Next to it is another natural grass field that they use in the league because there are fewer spectators. Next to it there is a covered field because between January and March it is impossible to play outside due to the cold and snow. For training there are two natural grass pitches and two artificial grass pitches. They are all in good condition because there are many people dedicated to their maintenance. It was easy for me to work in such good conditions.
In Moldova soccer is not the main sport. Will there be a great atmosphere in the game against Real Madrid?
When I was at the league games, there were no more than 100 or 150 people. Soccer in Transnistria is important because the Sheriff’s Chairman, Victor Gușan, and those who work with him love soccer, but people prefer to watch other sports like weightlifting or wrestling. They like individual sports more than group sports. There basketball, volleyball or hockey did not quite come together. But the game against Real Madrid will be a special event and I don’t think the capacity will be full. And they go to the game to enjoy it, so if Real Madrid have a good game they will applaud. They are not going to boo you or anything like that.
How was your relationship with the president, Victor Gușan?
All right, he’s a fabulous guy. He gave me the opportunity to work there, to be the first coach of the team … When I met with him to talk, he showed that he wanted to know more about football. He never gave me any indication, but he always asked the why of things. In his office he had a television with the Premier League, another with the Bundesliga, another with LaLiga … He is a guy who loves football. Too bad my Russian was awful at first and he didn’t speak English. If we could have communicated in the same language, our relationship would have been more fun. If without understanding each other we almost spent the afternoons talking about football …
If you did not know Russian and English is not spoken there, how did you communicate?
It was complicated. In the end you learn Russian. When you’re hungry and thirsty but can’t ask for anything, you have no choice but to learn Russian. It’s difficult and obviously I don’t know how to speak it fluently, but I have enough words to communicate.
Victor Gușan a peculiar president. Former KGB agent, your company controls over 60% of Transnistria’s legal economy …
Yes, it is something that everyone there knows. There are many places where sports and politics, because the KGB was a police force but it is still political, go hand in hand. With me and with the people who worked at the club, he was always very polite and very respectful. He highly valued hardworking and honest people.
What he does not lack is money …
Yes, but it’s not crazy either. What happens is that they have done very good economic operations. They have sold footballers for much more money than they bought them.
He said it more because his company controls a large part of the big companies in Transnistria. I suppose that during his time there he used to shop at Sheriff supermarkets, fill up gas at Sheriff gas stations …
Yes, it is true, but with that he does not earn enough to make a squad that can compete in Europe. Earn more money with transactions. In my stage with sales like Ricardinho or Luvannor. Players who signed for $ 200 and who ended up selling to Asian clubs for 700,000. Supermarkets or gas stations give money, but not so much. I remember that if you bought like crazy in the supermarket, the full cart would cost you 30 euros. Life there, at least in my time at Sheriff, was very cheap.
“I was collecting 600 euros of salary, but I worked like crazy and they increased it to 7000”
Juan Ferrando, former FC Sheriff coach
So his signing by the Sheriff was not for money either.
Me? No way! If I went there charging 600 euros a month. It was crazy, but I knew that the team competed in previous rounds of the Champions League and that if we struck the bell I could improve my conditions. Before the season started, I spent two months working like crazy. The president saw me and before the Europa League play-off he called me and said: ‘I have to talk to you. Sign this. ‘ It was a contract in Russian and in English. I read it and it raised my salary to 7000 euros. He told me I deserved it because of how I was working. And shortly after we got into the group stage of the Europa League, where we faced Tottenham, Anzhi de Eto’o and Roberto Carlos and Tromso.
There is no good relationship between Transnistria and Moldova. They did not receive them well then when they played away from home.
No not at all. In all the games and especially in the derbies against Zimbru Chișinău there was tension. The tension in the atmosphere was palpable. In my case it was fun because we used to win abroad and people were raging. Before I arrived there were clashes between Moldova and Russia. Many people died and the conflict was still in the air.
He was confident in the Sheriff’s victory at the Bernabéu and that’s how it happened. Do you expect there to be a surprise in the second leg as well?
People did not trust the Sheriff because they have no knowledge of what goes on in that locker room and that club. You have to think that for the players it is a unique opportunity. For many, whether their career is better or worse depends on how well they do in these six Champions League games. And they do not play with the pressure of winning the Champions League, they have nothing to lose and their confidence is maximum. On the other hand, for Real Madrid the game is a waste of time. Quality is important, but having 19 cubs in front of them who know that their sporting life depends on those 90 minutes is not easy at all. I think Real Madrid will be more focused on what happened in the first leg, but for the Sheriff it is a final of the finals. Anything can happen again.
They are going to go from playing against Floresti to dealing with Alaba, Modric, Benzema … I suppose you also experienced that situation when you faced Tottenham in the Europa League.
Well imagine. You are facing Zimbru Chișinău in front of 400 people and the next day you travel to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham. The adrenaline of the night before, how you prepare the game down to the smallest detail. They beat us, but surely Villas-Boas did not pay attention to all the details. You have Lamela, Kane or Eriksen and you can trust anyone to solve the match for you.