LaLiga has been the focus of much criticism in recent months for the departure of Messi, who seems to have been the last link in the great eras of Spanish football. With a fallen Barcelona and the two strongest teams in the capital such as Atlético and Real Madrid at the top of the competition, the media persecution of the tournament that used to agglomerate the most important figures in world football continues.
In an exclusive interview for 90min, we spoke with Javier Irureta, the historic coach of Deportivo La Coruña, who referred to the current situation that LaLiga is going through, the present of Dépor in the RFEF First Division (third category of Spanish football) and the memories of his achievements in the technical direction in the club. In addition, he gave his opinion about his disciple Lionel Scaloni, who was a player during his cycle in the ‘Blanquiazules’ and how he observes it in the Argentine team.
Irureta has had an extensive career as a player of the Atletico Madrid, in which he won two leagues, a Copa del Rey, an Intercontinental Cup and obtained a runner-up in the old European Cup -now the Champions League-. He is the second coach with the most matches directed in the Spanish First Division with 613 matches, behind Luis Aragonés, who did so 757 times.
Is it very difficult to stay in the position of coach in LaLiga?
Well it seems that yes, it is not easy. My career has been quite a long time and right now in the First Division, both Míchel and Paco López have been dismissed. The directives get nervous and there are many circumstances that occur. It’s a bit unfortunate on many occasions. It is difficult to train in the Spanish league.
Is there a debacle in the Spanish league after Messi’s departure?
I don’t think it’s a debacle. Yes it has fallen a lot, but not only because of Messi, who was a number 1, but also because of the departure of Cristiano a few years ago. It is said from all levels that it has lost competitiveness, so it can add to the pandemic situation and very strange results are being given. At the same time, football is losing a bit of excitement.
One of the animators so far is Atlético de Madrid. How do you see Simeone in office? Are you a candidate to stay with LaLiga?
The ‘Cholo’ seems to me a very capable coach, in addition to being faithful to what he wants, working on and off the field. That is a slogan that he puts to any team where he is. That has not only been instilled in the team, but also in the fans themselves. This year a couple of players like Griezmann have arrived, among others, and last year he was champion. I think he is one of the top favorites alongside Real Madrid or Sevilla. I see Barcelona a little distanced from the possibility of winning the title.
With which LaLiga coach do you identify yourself?
I’d already like to see myself in some circumstances. Generally with those who have started in lower teams. I have some details like Luis Aragonés or ‘Cholo’ Simeone, but they have been much more capable of winning some titles more than me. Something I have from Simeone, although his character is stronger than mine.
I have 613 games directed in the history of the league, but I also spent three years in the Second Division, one in the Second B and one in the Third, because they demanded references to get the title of coach. On the other hand, Luis Aragonés went from player to coach at Atlético de Madrid in my last year there.
In Deportivo La Coruña it was where Irureta spent the longest as a coach and with whom he obtained the most sporting achievements. There he won the 1999/00 league, which was nothing more and nothing less than the first – and only – in the team’s history. At the same time, he won two runners-up and two third places, which allowed him to play the Europa League for one year and the Europa League for five consecutive seasons. Champions.
As if this were not enough, he won a Copa del Rey 2001/02 season, popularly known as the “Centenariazo”, since it took place against him Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, on the exact day that the club was 100 years old. In addition, he won two Spanish Super Cups and led his team to the semi-finals of the Champions League in the 2003/04 season and to the quarter-finals on two other occasions: 2000/01 and 2001/02. He left the Galician club at the end of the 2004/05 season, leaving the team in 8th place.
What should Deportivo La Coruña change to return to being what it was? What do you think has been done wrong in recent years?
There was a time when more money may have been spent. I started in 2005, we were in first place, the team had finished in 8th position, we were in the Europa League for the first year and then in the Champions League for five years. Great players passed through that team. After 2005 I don’t know what happened, the team was getting weaker. When I left, so did Mauro Silva, Fran González and the odd player. Dépor no longer had the cache that it had in our time.
How did you experience the fact of winning the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu on its centenary?
With a lot of emotion, especially for the players and the fans. We had been second in LaLiga and it seemed that Madrid had asked that year, for the centenary of its foundation and wanted to make a big event to celebrate it. We played a good game in the first half, especially when we scored goals. It was a very exciting match because between 15 or 20 thousand people from La Coruña had arrived, then the reception in the city, we were very happy.
What was more significant: winning the Copa del Rey or reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League?
Both. That Champions semi-final we had gotten a good result in Porto against Mourinho’s team. For the return we had two very important casualties within the team’s scheme and the result was a shame, because it would have been a very big blow to have reached the final.
With which team of today would that Dépor be equated in Europe?
Without comparing the titles, it was a similar line to Liverpool. A team that was strong, physical and played quite well.
One of the players who scored the most as a coach was Lionel Scaloni and vice versa. The Argentine was present during the seven seasons that Irureta was at Deportivo La Coruña and is considered an idol of the institution.
How was Scaloni as a player?
I spoke a lot with Scaloni when he arrived here in Mallorca. He contributed a lot to the team. When we were on the bench, he was able to go out to the corner flag to protest to the referee. You had to hold it back a bit, heh. He was a player who in the meetings, in the dressing room, was a very good teammate and who helped a lot in that career he lived at Dépor. I believe that the club has also served him well for his current experience as a coach.
I remember bringing songs from Argentina to the dressing room. When we were champions, he played the song by La Mosca that said something like “I want to give you something from my heart …”. That one I kept on the bus all the time. He was very spirited and I liked that, because he didn’t get angry when he wasn’t playing. For me they are values that are very good to lead a team to achieve important things.
What similarities do you notice between the stage of player and the current stage of coach Lionel Scaloni?
In the dressing room he was the first to put his hand in the middle to cheer on his teammates. He is very aware of the game, very aware of all issues. The ball was on one side and he was watching what the opponent was doing. He always helped me as a coach and said “look” to me all the time. He was very attentive, I think that has served him well and that translates him to the national team.
How do you think Scaloni dealt with criticism at the beginning of his time with the Argentine team?
Scaloni has always been the way he is, but I think he also wrapped up other teammates like Aimar, Ayala, Samuel, that’s very important. Part of the success of a team often lies within the dressing room. Then you have to score the goal, but the important thing is that there is a healthy environment. For this I believe that Lionel is a good person and the right person for those situations.
Are there similarities between Scaloni’s Argentina and Irureta’s Deportivo La Coruña?
I don’t know, I had a good team, but the national teams are the best players of each one. Scaloni has had the strength to change a bit the irregularity that the team had. He is following a line of seriousness and a good atmosphere in the dressing room. I think he is very good in that regard, I am very happy for him because I have never had a bad opinion of him. He was a man who always contributed.
Is Scaloni your great pride as a coach?
Yes. Who doesn’t sign up for a coach who has won the America’s Cup? Scaloni is a reference, I think something of me has been able to carry. When I am with my players they tell me that they have been happy at that time, that is the important thing.
Diego Maradona celebrated that league obtained by Dépor. What did that mean to you?
I think Maradona called the ‘Turu’ Flores. For the players it was a myth and a sense of humility that Diego called a team like Dépor. The players were Maradonistas and a call from him was a joy.
Could Maradona have felt identified with Deportivo La Coruña after what was his way in Naples?
I think so. In Italy there were strong teams like Milan, Inter, Juve. More than me, surely the people of southern Italy can say that Maradona got them out of that situation of humiliation on the part of the northern teams. Surely something of all that could think.
“Maradona could have identified with Deportivo La Coruña because of his past in Napoli.”
– Javier Irureta.
What message would you leave for young coaches who are just starting out in coaching?
That they have an idea, that they create teams where there is always a good atmosphere. You have to be very constant, it is hard some moments that you spend in football, it seems that there are moments when you are wrapped up and then they leave you alone. In the end, be yourself, you do not have to transform. If you have a line of work and play, you have to follow it. I really liked playing one way and I kept it. The atmosphere in a changing room is very important to achieve goals in the world of football.