Luis de la Fuente, Under-21 coach, attended AS in the Football City of Las Rozas to take stock of this 2019 that he has been so successful for the lower categories of Spain (European Under-19 and Under-21 champions). He also analyzed a 2020 where the big goal will be the Tokyo Olympics.
What balance does it make of this 2019? Unbeatable?
It’s been really good, but it can be improved. It has been very good because we have met all expectations. If in January 2019 we were told to dream, we would have said everything we have achieved. I speak as Federation in categories U-21, U-19, U-19… Personally, he would obviously have said he was champions of Europe. But it can be improved. We must start from that basis: 2020 has to be even better.
What note would I put on you?
Humbly a standout. They’ve done very well, but you have to go get the honor senrol.
He wins and at two months again the counter to zero. How do you deal with that?
We know it’s generations. I’ve worked a lot at base football, where every year I was a different group. It is true that this has been totally different. In the last concentration there were none of the Europeans, in the previous ones had been Dani Martín and Dani Olmo. We do it naturally, knowing that they are cycles that are being fulfilled. And with the peace of mind that you know that you always have the support of some very good footballers who are taking their first steps in the professional world and who start to demand their place in their clubs and in the national team.
Do you maintain the same illusion as when you caught the Under-21 in September 2018?
More. It’s not a cliché. I am a fervent convinced that it can always be done better. It’s our responsibility to try to do it. I’ve been educated in that way of understanding life and work. I have no choice but to get down to business and lead by example. I am convinced that things can be done even better. That’s where we’re at, with a very good base.
Is there a basis for repeating the successes of that glorious generation in ’96 and 97?
Of course. For me that generation has been especially emotional because we have been together four or five years, I have fantastic personal ties with them and it is special. I said it’s unrepeatable, but I’m sure time will take away my reason and there will be others that will get over what’s been done, but it’s not easy. There’s a base, there’s a future. Every generation is different and we will try to make this one close to past performance or even surpass it. The most important thing is that there is a future.
Entering this generation… The first thing he’s achieved is defensive solidity. Did you expect to make it so soon?
We tried to get the players to understand the message, the idea, the concept. Some had it in lower ranks but in professional football it’s different. We have focused on them getting the message, trying to consolidate the team from the base, from the defensive level, but we would have liked to score more goals because we are a team with a very important offensive potential. But when you can’t score goals, at least don’t get them. And let them understand that in the professional world the small details that any oversight in an international competition sends you home. And they got it. We have a lot to improve, in defense and attack, because there are still players who have much more to offer.
The weakest point so far has been ‘nine’. Are you worried?
I’m sure that with the passage of the days will appear players. But there are very few footballers who are starters in their clubs in that demarcation at this age in Spanish football. Then when the time goes by one of the players we are betting on will consolidate their position in the club, it will be a reference and will start to score goals. They have been solvent players in all categories and I’m sure they will be in the future. But now we’re at that stage where they don’t yet have that presence in their clubs. And it’s not easy for them without minutes, without regularly facing these international matches and performing to the level they can do. Then you have to be calm. I’m very calm because they are players who have always scored goals and I’m sure in the future they will.
Who doesn’t play at your club isn’t coming to the Under-21s?
I think it would be an injustice, except for exceptional situations. It is the message to be sent: with work, sacrifice and effort they have the doors open first to play in their club and as a consequence come to the national team. But in the Selection we ask for excellence, they are not worth half inks. Here must be the players who are best to perform in a commitment in which not being up to the task is home.
Two of those men who don’t come are Aleno and Brahim. Do you understand the few minutes you’re having in your clubs?
It’s very difficult for these young players in such big clubs. In the First Division almost in any, but especially in these clubs is more difficult because there are more foreign players and a payroll also of very important national players. I would love them to have more minutes because it is good for their growth as footballers and for the national team. I know it hasn’t been easy months but I’m confident that another window will now open in January and I’m sure they’ll have a chance to go out to other clubs that offer them the chance to play more minutes. And that’s what I hope, they have minutes and regularity.
Is a transfer advisable in such a case?
I’m not talking about the specific cases of Brahim and Aleñ. What I recommend is that at those ages they have to play many minutes anywhere, because they are in that key process of their training. So I think they should understand that they have to play and improve the best option to complete their training process. It’s not just about training. It is true that training at that level is very important for them, but where they give that qualitative leap is in the matches.
Are you going to keep trusting Dani Martin even if he doesn’t play at Betis?
It’s just that there are certain demarcations where there are no players who have many minutes in their clubs. The goal, the fronts, even the power plants… There are demarcations where at the moment there are not many players in First or Second who are having a lot of regularity. Then there are exceptional cases, of players who have no doubt of their potential and who have performed exceptionally with us. It is also important that they feel that we have confidence in them, we have to play with that balance of giving the most playa opportunities but the psychological aspect of continuing to empower that of players who do not have that opportunity.
Dani Olmo is regular. Do you see him with options to go to the Euros?
Dani Olmo seems to me to be a footballer of an exceptional level, he is prepared for whatever he wants. Knowing him will get in football whatever he proposes. It has an unusual potential.
To what extent was the European U-19 decisive for Ferran Torres?
I remember the 2015 European U-19 in Greece that I told the players “this can change your lives.” Today they keep remembering it, just as the U-21 has been changed. Well, the same thing has happened to Ferran, and to other teammates like Sergio Gomez. It’s changed their lives because it has a very important impact. You have to have a very high potential to win a European Under-19 and it guarantees that you are ready in the maximum competition. It has changed his life in a natural process of growth.
Do you think it was a mistake not to take Ansu Fati to the Under-17 World Cup?
I think it’s been positive for him to be with us. He did not make it in good condition at the World Cup, he had physical problems that have also prevented him from having regularity at his club. We have given you the minutes not to overload you and not take unnecessary risks, but at the same time integrate into the dynamics of the Selection group. We had to handle these situations carefully, let’s not forget that he’s very young. The media pressure you’re enduring is neither natural nor normal. You have to be very careful not to make mistakes and manage times smartly. As far as we were concerned I think the right steps were taken and now I want it to continue to grow, doing what you are doing in your club and that you have that peace of mind that you need a player so that we do not get wrong and can deploy your potential with a lot calmer.
How has your adaptation to the National Choice been?
Sensational. He was lucky that he is a very young generation, has had colleagues who shared costumes with him at Barcelona and was integrated very easily. He is a normal, humble person and eager to grow and listen. This has made integration easier for you.
Let’s go to the star theme: the Olympics. First Asensio and Rodrigo. Do you have options to go after resigning to the Under-21 Euro Cup?
Of course. I recently called Marco to see how he was doing. The first thing is that he recovers, God forbid the recovery goes well. And Rodri of course does. They are two world top players and Spain cannot give up players of that talent. As a summary: at the Olympic Games will be the players we think are the best at the time. The doors don’t close to anyone.
Don’t the nine of the ’96 who were champions take precedence? Do they all leave the same exit box?
Yes. Nothing’s going to be given to anyone here. We’d be wrong. Players have understood during how long they have been with me what my degree of demand is and my scale of values. Skinny favor would do them all if they thought that with what they’ve achieved, it’s enough for them. It’s just not good enough, the demand is getting bigger every day. They have to understand that they have to do it every day much better. Then we will assess whether those players, who obviously have tremendous merit for qualifying for the Games, but we will see if at that time they are at the best time to defend Spain and occupy as enormous a responsibility as the Games are.
Ceballos and Fabian have already said they want to go. If they keep the level fixed?
It’s just that they’re really good. (laughs). But just like Fornals, Rock, Merino… The problem is, there are nine of that generation who go from the age. Just pulling those nine, six would stay out. Look! But there are others that under circumstances can be important to compete in the Games. We are talking about players of an exceptional level, but it is that in Spanish football there are very good players and we cannot despise any of them.
If Ramos says publicly that he wants to go, are you going to take him?
I have an exceptional relationship with Sergio. I’ve known him since he was a kid because I was lucky enough to train him when I was 15. He knows what I’ve been thinking ever since and now. Sergio, for the purpose of going to a call, is a luxury for us that is available. Sergio or Piqué, who also commented on it. Or Rodri, or Jesus Navas, who said they’d be so enchanted to come to a Games. I’m proud of players with their track record saying that. For Spanish football, it is a pride that these footballers are in a position to come. Now… We will assess the decision at the right time. Now you can’t make a thought in the future.
Have you spoken to Ramos?
Wouldn’t it seem unfair if those who were champions didn’t go to the Games?
It’s just that no one has said that Ramos is coming or that they won’t… That’s why the message I send is important: no one here has the doors closed because the world of football is spinning. We don’t know what we’re going to find in seven months because there may be situations that now seem impossible for us to give. But in football, as in life, they occur. And I don’t know who we’re going to need in that particular situation in the future. I don’t think it’s advisable to think about one situation or another now. It doesn’t fit reality and doesn’t make sense. We will make the decisions calmly at the right time. Everybody’s not going to be happy, that’s for sure. Because unfortunately only 18 can come. But we’ll make it convinced it’s the right decision.
His relationship with Luis Enrique was exceptional. Have you had a chance to talk to him yet?
Yes. And very well. The first thing I want is to thank you for the treatment that luis Enrique and Robert Moreno have given me. They have always shown great interest and sensitivity with the lower categories and especially with the U-21. In that sense I am tremendously grateful to you. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to both of you and personally convey this same. I have always said that I am here to work for the Federation and to help the absolute selector. I have shown you this in the time I have coincided with one and the other and I will continue to do so. First ly and not because it’s my responsibility and secondly because it’s my way of being. They’re always going to have my support.
Did you understand what happened?
We have no knowledge or certainty beyond what we have read in the media. I know the same thing you do. I respect everyone’s decision. Situations occur because they sometimes have to occur. And from ignorance I insist on the utmost respect.
Finally a wish for 2020.
First health. And then get better, make things better. Things have been done very well, but you have to have that spirit of improvement.
And with a better Olympic gold…
God willing… I hope so!