Alberto Toril: "The departure from Real Madrid was painful, but they always let me work with my style"

Atalayar interviews the Spanish coach who is now in China
Alberto Toril

 -   Alberto Toril

Alberto Toril (Penarroya-Pueblo Nuevo, Cordoba; 1973) played football from 1988 in Real Madrid's youth team until 2004 when he retired after promotion to the first division with Numancia. Along the way he learned from the best. He had Benito Floro's confidence in the first team even after a serious knee injury. He played in the European Cup and was under the command of Rafa Benitez in a subsidiary that he would return to glory years later. A valuable player whose lack of continuity due to the injury led him to Celta as part of the payment for the signing of Cañizares. From there he moved to Espanyol de Camacho where he suffered another serious knee injury. Extremadura, Albacete, Racing de Ferrol and Numancia were the teams where Toril showed that a canterano of Real Madrid also knows how to earn his living outside the Ciudad Deportiva. 

Already as a coach he lived his great moment in 2012 in Castilla with the promotion of a historical team and a recognizable style of play. In those years Mourinho's shadow was long and overshadowed everything around that shield. His sporting controversies gave account of two different styles and showed the lack of culture of the Portuguese madridista. He also knew how to survive outside the white shield, had a hard time at Elche and now enjoys shaping the future of football in Asia. He wants to return to Spain, but he does not set conditions. Professional football, formative or, who knows, if he will be the coach who will return the joy to his Cordoba C.F.

What is Alberto Toril doing now?

I've been working at Guangzhou Evergrande since the beginning of 2018. One of the best teams in China and all of Asia with several Champions League titles to their name. I work in formative football with boys from 19 to 22 years old, close to the first team. Elite youngsters. It's a rewarding job to help them take that last step. At individual level they have improved and as a team we have been champions of China under 19. 

Are you trying to adapt your methods to their culture or does football have a universal language?

Every country has its culture and every person, too. We're the ones who go to a different country and we have to be the ones who adapt to them, not them to us. We are reaching them through professionals such as translators who help us get the message across. 

How have you spent these months of health crisis?

When we returned to China at the end of February it was a shock. Nothing had happened in Spain and we arrived at the worst possible time. We went through a very strict quarantine, we couldn't leave the room. They left our food at the door. Little by little we saw improvement. It is a matter of time. They're very strict. There are checks on every corner. In the building where I live, they ask for your documents, especially from the few foreigners there are. 

After Real Madrid and Elche, haven't there been more opportunities to train in Spain?

Yes, there have. The departure from Real Madrid was a bit traumatic for me because it was painful. It's not a normal club. I left Elche, but it was different. I spent many years as a player - from 1988 to 1994 - and also as a coach - from 2008 to 2013 - going through all the positions in the training area. I tried to recover mentally, but that was compounded by a family problem due to my mother's illness. I was away from football for a while. There were times when offers came in, but I wasn't ready or motivated to train. I let time go by a bit until the Elche option came along and after I left for China. 

Alberto Toril
Alberto Toril

What happened in Elche? The club was in chaos and ended up being relegated, but it's always the coach who's the one to blame.

The coach always pays the consequences. The club was in a very difficult situation. I had been in First Division with a good structure, but with not so good content. We didn't have a budget to sign, we had a lot of problems with injuries to important players and that reduces your potential because you don't have the financial capacity. We were a not very compact team. We had good players with different characteristics, it was difficult to build a good solid team. If we wanted to push up we didn't have quick defences, if we wanted to pull back we didn't have quick points, very experienced people with 36 or 37 years with Albácar, Pelegrín, Armando, Nino, Lorca... a very old team with a lot of cruciate ligament injuries in the past, serious injuries that condition you on a daily basis because if we played on Sunday they had to take three or four days off without being able to train with the group. A difficult team that was almost all year in the middle of the table, we did not get to be in the relegation zone, but in the last eight days we added three losses in a row and that's when they decided to replace me.

Eight years ago they were keeping you at the Alfredo di Stefano. Beaten to Cadiz and Castile went up to Segunda. Was it the perfect end to a method of play?

That situation shows that coaches need time to grow on a style, on the kind of player you need. You are working on the pieces and in the end, if you have this calm in the way you work and confidence in the coaching staff, things will go well. That started three years ago. When we took over the team we changed the way we played, the players gained confidence and we made it to the playoffs the first year. We were beaten by the Alcoyano, but we sowed important things. Then some players left and we brought in others. The second season was great not only because of the promotion but also because of how we managed to get promoted, to be group champions... we were much better than Cadiz and then Mirandés to get the Second B title. They were great players, but we had a clear idea of the game which is what led us to get promoted. 

Why don't affiliates stay in the Second Division for a long time?

The first year is relatively simple because you come from a winning inertia and you keep the block from Second B to Second. But in the following season the talented and promising players finish their cycles and start their careers in other clubs with options to play in First Division. In the end the branches are dismantled and it is very difficult to sign players or get them out of the branches for the Second Division. If you start with a big obstacle it is difficult to maintain what is happening to the branches. They are not able to stay four or five years in the Second Division because the blocks are not maintained. They break easily and it's hard to put them back together. 

How is it possible for a player like Jesé to stay away from football so much because of an injury?

That happens and I say it to you for own experience (Toril broke the crossed one of the right leg in October, 1992 in disputing a Spain-Mexico sub-21 in Plasencia. In 1996, already in the Espanyol, he fell injured of the meniscus and the crossed of the left leg). Something similar happened to me already settled in the first team and when I began to participate a lot. You have a serious injury in which you spend eight or ten months with problems and disappear, you do not practice football... In addition, Jesé had complications due to an infection... that is to say, he had a serious injury and a little bit more. You need time to regain confidence and Real Madrid doesn't wait for you. You're signing players in your position and you're losing those virtues you had. People begin to talk about other themes of their life, like music, if you take care of it a little... that generates an idea in people that is not completely real. You're still young. I talk to him sometimes. He has a chance to get back to the top level and enjoy football. His virtues don't go away or get lost. It's all about being in the right place with the right coach and he'll probably play his good games again. 

You survived in Real Madrid despite the continuous mediatic convulsion that was in the club with Mourinho. How do you remember those moments?

It was much more what was lived outside or what was spoken and written about. I remember that there was a week when I was exposed in all the places. An anomalous situation for me. A base coach who was in a branch of Second B. It's abnormal to be exposed in all the media, that everybody asks you questions... I was finishing a match of Castilla and if there were 20 questions, 19 were about that topic and one about the match... I tried to look at the positive side. It showed me what the pressure of the elite was. To be on everyone's lips, to be known in those moments. Mourinho in that situation felt he had to do that and that's it. The club told me to be in my place and that's what I did. To continue with my ideas, to have clear what I wanted and that I was to help the club and the players. 

Alberto Toril
Alberto Toril

Did the club protect you so that you could freely train the players and continue with a style of play that gave results?

Yes. My idea worked. I had been at that club for many years and I knew perfectly what Real Madrid thinks and what it needs. What the young player needs to develop and reach the top. I was there to help and to follow the line that the club set. 

After your departure from Real Madrid, do more doors open than close?

There is everything. Real Madrid exposes you a lot to public opinion, to the rest of the clubs... You are in a good situation and at the same time in a bad one because it depends on how you leave the club you may have more or less possibilities. Real Madrid has many tentacles, it reaches many places and depending on how you left it can help more or less.

Do you set conditions for your return to Spain? What does the club that calls you have to offer?

Something I like. I don't have the need to train in Second. If something comes up, perfect. If it comes up in Second B, perfect. If it comes up in formative football that I really like because I think that there we are succeeding in winning in Spain and in China... whatever comes up at the moment. I'm open to possibilities when the time comes. I'm not just thinking about coaching professional football. 

Do you think that the coach who has been a player has more respect for the players now?

There's nothing written. It's getting harder and harder. The one who has played professional football has something to gain. He's lived through situations that can come up to you later. There are also coaches who have not been professionals and have a great capacity and leadership. For a start, it helps you. Zidane is in the first team and he has the respect of the press, the club, all the players and with his work he shows that he is a great coach. But he starts with an advantage. It's not the same if Zidane arrives on the bench as someone they don't know that well. Even if they have the same ability and the same knowledge. 

Is the way to the bench of Cordoba under construction or do you prefer to be the worker who works for your club?

It's not easy. When you are from a particular city it costs more work. It was hard for me to play there and in the end I couldn't. As a coach we don't know what will happen in the future. I'd like to train there one day. It's my city, but I don't know when it'll be time. Nothing has come of it yet. Now I am in China fulfilling the rest of my contract and when I finish and return to Spain it will be the moment to think about everything. 

Are you still on your summer campus?

This summer it has been cancelled, but we hope to return next season. It's been seven years and that's a good sign. I always say that if you do things right and they go on for a long time. If you do them wrong, it falls off. You have to look out for the kids. It's in Cordoba at the Hotel Los Abetos with ideal facilities for this kind of thing.