Sergio Piernas (Barcelona, 1976) is a coach of the group of the "rarest". One of those who didn't play elite football before coming to the bench. But he arrived and is doing it by the most difficult way. Leaving Spain to come back one day. From the “fry” of Getafe in 1999, to the Atletico de Madrid of Simeone or to be second of López Caro in Saudi Arabia. In January he was appointed U-17 coach by Morocco and the one in charge of capturing the Atlas cubs that one day will be lions.
He thinks about undoing the road and training in Spain, "a wonderful challenge," he says. "Method, work and love" are his guiding lights so he doesn't get lost in the night of bench football. By WhatsApp audios, between Morocco and Spain, he answers Atalayar's questions. The coronavirus has forced him to become a teleworker. He can't miss the beginning of the project and spends his hours improving his profile to recruit players, watching matches that are sent to him and planning tournaments and training sessions for when we wake up from this nightmare.
The Moroccan U-17 team is your latest challenge outside Spain. What was the process for being chosen from a staff with a majority of native professionals?
I received a call from the Moroccan Federation in December 2019. I had no previous contact. They offered me to be part of the project, visit their installations - which are spectacular - and tell me in person what they have in mind. I made the trip, we exchanged impressions and agreed on many points between what they proposed and what I found motivating. We had three more interviews on different dates and reached an agreement. I have been here for two months and although there is now a special situation with the coronavirus, I am quite happy.
Was your extensive curriculum sufficient or did you go through more processes?
Yes, that was enough. The offer was made to me by the Moroccan Federation. I present to them my style and my way of working. The point of greatest doubt was the language. I don't know Arabic, but I can do practical sessions with this language for the five years I worked in Saudi Arabia. Now I am learning French to make immediate progress.
What does the Moroccan Federation expect from your work with grassroots football?
With the experience that I've had in the base football both in Atletico Madrid, Getafe and in the national team of U-19 of Saudi Arabia, they expect that I'll reach the player of the national team. Also, the ability to connect with the club and that the footballer offers the maximum performance in the time he spends in the national team. Moreover, they are looking for an integrated work with the other coaches, so that the footballer will have a continuous progress and development and that he won't be something punctual. They want him to go through all the stages and arrive at the national team with a good foundation and a good spirit of belonging, which is quite special in Morocco.
What are the differences between the Saudi and Moroccan trainee footballers? Are they very different from the Spanish one?
The Saudi national team player trains in Saudi clubs, there are no footballers outside the country. The work in the clubs is very controlled and it is easier to follow up on a daily basis.
In the case of the Moroccan, on the one hand, we have the one who has been trained in Morocco and who has not gone to other countries. He is a player with great potential. I have known clubs that work excellently, we are here to help and it is a great opportunity to improve those areas that we detect that can be promoted.
On the other hand, there is the Moroccan footballer who plays in elite teams in Europe. He also has strong potential, well developed and competes at a high level in different leagues.
Another difference, although it is perhaps too early to say, is that the Moroccan player has a highly developed spirit of sacrifice.
Regarding the comparison with the Spanish, there are differences with the Moroccan player, especially in the basic work at an early age, since in Spain you start to compete from a very young age and there are more schools. On the other hand, in Morocco there are a large number of talented players, trained in "street soccer" and that gives him a multitude of very useful technical resources for the future.
Morocco's senior national team is made up of players from major European leagues. Do you focus your work with young Moroccans on improving them at home or preparing them to go abroad?
In the first stage I'm getting to know the players as much as I can. The players with and without potential. I watch a lot of matches and go to the clubs often. I've focused it so that there is a group of players who have potential to reach the elite.
We have a project to combine the work of clubs with the work of national teams at the Rabat facilities. It will be a mixed effort that has not yet been set in motion. It's about promoting the development of the player in the elite. We are more relaxed about the player who is already working with the elite. We contact their clubs and follow them closely to see how they are developing.
Has your working methodology evolved or has it changed with the Spanish, Arab, Asian and Moroccan player?
My methodology is constantly evolving. In these 21 years I have worked in Spain, China, Arabia and now in Morocco. The adaptive part changes depending on where you land. You have to consider cultural situations, personality, situations in which the player has particular motivations and you have to choose well some points of the methodology to carry out. Depending on the profile they have some deficiencies and some virtues.
"Method, work and heart" is your working philosophy. Which of the three words is more difficult for players in training to take on?
As for the method, the training player is more spontaneous than the professional. It is easy for him to adapt to the method because he is hungry for learning. The work depends on the profile. In selection it's easy to have that rebound of spirit of work and sacrifice. In a club you have to find the motivating points that will make the player have consistency. In the case of the heart, there is always an objective, a passion, an aim... The constancy and the sacrifice that this profession in formation demands from you and having to suppress some situations that in other works don't demand you can be the hardest thing for them.
Does your relationship with young people focus solely on football or do you try to get them to adapt their personal, academic, sentimental and family lives as well?
I've always considered a coach quite close to the players. I like that they feel that closeness and concern outside of training hours. There are always limits, but I do like to follow up, get to know them in their personal lives, as much as possible, because that affects the rest and they appreciate the concern. Academic and family issues are important. That part of the person is inseparable from football performance.
Was working with grassroots football an extra when it came to scouting opponents for Atletico Madrid or does elite football demand other aspects?
It was a very interesting year in my career. I was doing the analysis of the rival for Atletico de Madrid as well as working for the methodology and grassroots department as a coach. An intense year. I also did analysis with the filial. We analyzed the performance of the teams and the different models to find efficiency. By studying each elite team, you could see the approach of each coach and how he tries to make the most of it, and at the same time we looked for ways to counteract them.
Are there as many methods for teaching football as there are football academies in Spain?
I have known quite a few methodologies in Spain and in other countries. Although there are similarities and there is an exchange through the internet to promote visits to different football academies, in the end you realize that the profile of the player is different, the bet of each club for that youth player, that model of coaches more formative, more competitive... The particularities of each methodology are very varied and that gives richness to football.
Is it essential that clubs teach their youth the same football as the first team, or is it important to train the youngster to be a complete player in any team?
There is a small percentage of clubs that follow the same philosophy over the years. Another big percentage depends on the coach, his belief, his model and they change the first team a little bit to get the best out of it.
The player must have the tools to respond to any model both to carry it out and to counteract it.
What do you think about the fact that the youth teams of Spanish teams sign foreign players?
It is something that should be done without overcrowding and always for a player development approach at very early ages. Without looking for a resultant movement. There are transfers of African children that are not very consistent. Even the age is questioned. I'm against that because it's taking away the opportunity of a national child who could have a place. It's good to do it in a coherent way so that this player has a goal, that gives a lot of richness to the one who comes and the one who is already there. Logical percentages must be respected to the work of the native footballer.
How do you manage the "children of" footballers, managers, politicians... in a youth academy?
There's always a case. You have to treat it as normally as possible. You have to give the same opportunities as the others. I have never found myself in a situation of imposition, of having to put a player to play because he is a "son of". If you have a differential treatment, the team doesn't forgive, even if it's at the youth level and it's going to perceive the unfairness. It's going to bounce back and it's not going to be positive for anyone.
Do all coaches (at any level) have a methodology or is there really such a thing as a trainer-motivator who doesn't care so much about tactics?
There are as many profiles as there are coaches. Each one has pillars and beliefs based on what they consider to have the most potential. Some methodologies are more focused on tactics, match planning, reading the game, developing movements, creating automatisms... Others are more focused on the emotional, motivating, passionate part... which is also important and has very high effects because the player in elite academies or in the elite already has some knowledge that makes him respond by himself to certain tactical situations with effective behaviors.
The most complicated country to train in? (Cultural, social, political, personal reasons...)
The one that has cost me a little more and the one that has had the most challenge is China. Because of the language and the cultural level. The player is very mechanical and obedient, he is cold and distant at first and it takes you longer to connect.
What elite player have you coached that you are most proud of?
I haven't formed them per se. I've been part of that training. I may have had them for two or three seasons. I've been lucky enough to be part of the training of players like Saul, Koke, Morata, Manquillo, Oliver, Borja, Joel, De Gea... I've been lucky enough to work with them, to learn how they absorb that work and those ideas to reach the elite. But there are also others who have not been able to make it.