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Exclusive: Rayo boss Sandoval on miracles, Madrid and what Fernando Torres should do

If ever a manager had a tough job, itâÂÂs José Ramón Sandoval at Rayo Vallecano. Last season, the clubâÂÂs entire future depended on achieving promotion to la Primera with a squad of players who werenâÂÂt being paid. This season, the job is to keep a club in administration in la Primera on a budget dwarfed by competitors.

So far, itâÂÂs mission accomplished with the Madrid side well away from the relegation zone and four points from the Champions League places with just over half the campaign gone. In an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo, the Rayo boss talks about how he survived last yearâÂÂs struggle in la Segunda, the secret of RayoâÂÂs success, SpainâÂÂs Euro 2012 chances, and how his enormous passion for English football may one day take him to the Premier League.

FFT: How did you motivate your players to win promotion last season when most werenâÂÂt being paid?
I put into place ideas from amateur football. The one thing I enjoyed about last year is my belief that football is about teamwork, effort and commitment. This is what motivates you, as itâÂÂs more than your own personal world or contracts or anything else.

Last year, when the players werenâÂÂt getting paid, I would go down to the dressing room and listen to their problems. I got to know their personal lives and problems, and I studied a lot when I got home. I got to know their world. When the results improved along with their self-esteem, it was all worth it. We made a conscious decision to isolate ourselves and form a common block between the coach and the players.

I have a background in lower-league football and if thereâÂÂs one thing thatâÂÂs forgotten in the professional world itâÂÂs what itâÂÂs like in amateur football, where players play because they want to and have passion. You mustnâÂÂt lose this desire of reaching the summit. When a player becomes a professional he needs to keep thinking about playing for a better team, being a better player. This can only be done through hard work and humility.

The message we spread in the dressing was "ItâÂÂs possible". They would say "But boss, itâÂÂs not". That phrase became a motto in the dressing room. If you're looking for a result, then this message works.


Sandoval (foreground) spreads the good word

Were you nervous ahead of the first Primera match, at Athletic Bilbao? Did you know what to expect from your team?
I'm probably more ambitious than anyone else in the dressing room, but it can be contagious. I knew that with the players we'd brought in we could achieve our minimum goal, which was staying up. It was a difficult pre-season as we were in administration and there were players who werenâÂÂt training. The methods we used were to raise self-esteem and confidence. They way we involved the players was to say if you want to achieve something, you can do it.

The Athletic game was my first in la Primera, in a stadium that I love and where I wanted to make my debut. The confidence I had in my players was that if things went badly weâÂÂd reinvoke the spirit of last year: if you want to do it, you can. You have to keep believing in the players, even if you are in a higher division. We signed footballers who identified with our philosophy. We were much stronger out on the pitch than Athletic Bilbao because the players wanted it more.

Movilla at 37 didnâÂÂt want to retire, Lass at 17 wants to get better, Michu was a player at Celta and he shares my spirit, the spirit of the second division. Seven players, I think, made their la Primera debuts â but we were playing against a team in a similar situation with a new coach and new players.

One of those players you brought in was Dani Pacheco on loan from Liverpool. How is he progressing?
The Spanish rate players on the present rather than the past. HeâÂÂs come from Liverpool, but didnâÂÂt really play for Liverpool. We're looking to get the best out of Dani Pacheco: up until now heâÂÂs had injuries so hasnâÂÂt been able to get going.

But itâÂÂs important that a player knows where he is. HetâÂÂs at Rayo now, he has to work like a Rayo player. If not, then you wonâÂÂt play. So we're working a lot with him on a psychological level and getting over to him what the spirit of Rayo Vallecano is, as he needs to identify himself with the badge. Even if you have a lot of quality, if you donâÂÂt play the way I want then you arenâÂÂt going to be included.

In contrast, Michu is having a fantastic season...
With patience, he could make the Spanish side. ItâÂÂs a bit early to be thinking about Euro 2012, as we're talking about players in the team who are playing in the Champions League. But heâÂÂs someone that Vicente Del Bosque can look at afterwards. HeâÂÂs strong going forward and works hard in defence. He has incredible strength in the air. HeâÂÂd be an interesting player for the Premier League.


Michu (2nd right): "Yaaaaaaaay!"

What about you â would you like to coach in England one day?
ItâÂÂs somewhere IâÂÂd like to end my career. IâÂÂve got a great passion for English football. I watch everything I can, highlights and live games. IâÂÂm addicted to football! IâÂÂm passionate about everything to do with the English league. But itâÂÂs really important to speak English as IâÂÂm someone whoâÂÂs at their best when I can connect with the players. Managing any team in England is one of my dreams.

Can you imagine a coach being in charge in Spain for 25 years like Sir Alex Ferguson?
ItâÂÂs impossible in Spanish culture. IâÂÂd like it if it was. ThereâÂÂs no patience here: results rule, but in England itâÂÂs different. The supporters in England have a love and passion for what happens out on the pitch and itâÂÂs not just about the results. ThereâÂÂs isnâÂÂt much patience here. If a coach lost a Champions League game like Ferguson did [against Basle] heâÂÂd be out in the street in Spain.

Does La Liga have a future without a fairer redistribution of TV rights?
Everything in life must have balance. If you are going to have a fair league you need a balance in budgets and help for those teams with less resources. If not, itâÂÂll become a league of two. This year, Real Madrid and Barcelona know how to compete against each other, but imagine if there were five teams who could fight against each other?


"How's YOUR recession?"

In the Belgian league, for example, a team reaches the Champions League and it doesnâÂÂt know how to compete. Rayo are a team with a budget of â¬7m competing with a team with â¬450m: itâÂÂs not good for the spectator. There needs to be more balance with budgets and the share of TV money.

The reference is the Premier League in the quality of players, organisation, the TV money share, the timetables. The fans are super happy because they can plan their trips to see their team. We need to be more professional in Spain. England is an example for everyone.

What would your advice be for Fernando Torres?
IâÂÂd tell him to stay in England, but he needs to work with a coach who understands him. Moving from one team to another was a big change for him. He has a lot of responsibility but what he needs is patience to make mistakes. His technique and intelligence are perfect for England. If I was coaching him he would be a team player. People demand that heâÂÂs a defining player, and he isnâÂÂt. At Liverpool, he scored a lot but he also set up a lot of goals. He was a reference for Liverpool. It was a shame when he moved to Chelsea. The fans didnâÂÂt want it.

Would you take him to the European Championships?
He has to go. HeâÂÂs a key player for Del Bosque, but I donâÂÂt know if heâÂÂs a starter. Del Bosque looks at the group as a whole; Torres has won everything with him and heâÂÂs a key player for him.


"Well, that's nice to hear"

Who would be in your Spain XI for Euro 2012?
Spain's problem is that there are no fixed full-backs, so I think Sergio Ramos needs to play at right-back. Javi Martínez is doing very well at Athletic Bilbao and could be a candidate in the centre.

IâÂÂd take Roberto Soldado and Fernando Llorente as they offer different things and take Fernando Torres too. ItâÂÂs great for Spain to be going into the European Championships with these three strikers. The front trio depends a lot on what Del Bosque wants. David Silva could play, or Juan Mata, or Andres Iniesta. ItâÂÂs the system of play will decide who starts, but which ever footballer players itâÂÂs a luxury for a the Spanish team.

With Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, SpainâÂÂs central midfield is the best in the world. SpainâÂÂs success comes from having phases when you can play Iniesta or Silva or Mata and get numerical superiority up front, then you have Sergio Ramos coming up-field, thatâÂÂs going to be important. I think Del Bosque has been looking a lot at our left-back Jose Manuel Casado, heâÂÂs having a great campaign for Rayo and could be a key part of the Spanish side in the future.

Back to la Liga: do you think Unai Emery has the toughest job? Valencia can never make the top two but wonâÂÂt go below third.
The fans there are very demanding, but theyâÂÂre not looking for Valencia to win the league. What they want is for the team to be brave, to attack, to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona and Madrid. But itâÂÂs impossible to have the same quality of players as Madrid and Barcelona with their budget. Being third is being top of our league.

You have to see things as being half-full. If I was in charge of a team of this calibre, my first message would be "Win the league? Why not?" My first message at Rayo last season was "Promotion to la Primera". People thought I was mad, but I believed Rayo could go up. My first message this season is that Rayo must be here next year.

But my second message is to go for something more, although itâÂÂs difficult to say to the fans: to get Rayo into the Europa League. With hard work, anything is possible. But you have to have a great team, work 24 hours a day and study a lot. In the end, itâÂÂs just 11 against 11 when you play the opposition. Any match can be won, any match.