Raul Blanco is an ex -Socceroos coach and has coached many Australian youth teams including the Olympic side at the Sydney 2000 Olympics . He was assistant with Terry Venables on that fateful night in 1997 in what will always be remembered as the "Iran Game". Raul is on his way the World Cup in South Africa as assistant coach to the All Whites.
Half Time Heroes: You must be buzzing about going to the World Cup even if it is with your second adopted country for now New Zealand.
Raul Blanco: I have previously tried with the National Team of our country (Australia), we didn’t achieve the dream (‘93 against Argentina, assistant to Eddie Thomson, ‘97 Iran as assistant coach to Terry Venables) and when it didn’t look like there was going to be another opportunity this invitation came and obviously I’m so thrilled to be part of it.
HTH: Have you been to a Wold Cup before as a spectator?
RB: No I haven’t. I have been to the Olympic Games and everywhere but not to a World Cup either as a spectator or a coach, imagine how thrilled how I am!
HTH: Will getting to the World Cup with New Zealand be the highlight of your coaching career in terms of success?
RB: My role here with the national team of New Zealand is not the role that I had with the national teams of Australia. I was the man in charge; here my role is as an advisor to Ricky Herbert and the team. It’s a bit of a difference but nevertheless anybody who loves the game would love to go to a World Cup in any capacity. To be part of this New Zealand team is a great honour and a dream.
HTH: What’s been the difference between working with the Australian and New Zealanders?
RB: I don’t see any great deal of differences. As you know for the last 42 years New Zealand has been the great opponents of Australia.
They are the ones we love to beat and vice versa they love to beat us, it’s an incredible rivalry between the two countries. I’m sitting on this side of the fence to compete against them.
Suddenly I became part of it. I’ve been to NZ many, many times, now that I am working with them I found them very, very similar in many different ways. I see many similarities with the way they approach things in everything really. I will be lying if I said I see a big difference between them and us.
RB: The biggest surprise for me was the reaction of the public. As I said before I’ve been many times to NZ but never experienced what I experienced this time. Obviously after 28 years wait the possibility of going to World Cup is a big occasion, but nevertheless, I’m used to a bit more control type of crowd, but this one was absolutely incredible, not only the 37,000 people who packed the stadium, the way they dressed, the way they sing, they way they welcomed the 82 world cup squad during the parade before the games They gave them a standing ovation for a very long time, it was really an emotional scene, it doesn’t matter where you come from, when you see that reaction from the public, that incredible support they were offering the national team it was wonderful to see; really a big experience.
The game finished and some of the players asked to go through the heart of the city, you can go by right by the water through the heart of the city on the way to the hotel. The people were absolutely crazy, not only were they celebrating when they realised the bus was there, everybody came out of parks, pubs and restaurants, it took us 2/ 3 hours to travel 5 kms and not even that. The following day I was not there because I returned home but I was told there was a quarter of a million people to see the team paraded around the city centre, it is just an unbelievable response. I don’t know if the same reaction would have happened in Auckland but the Wellington people were absolutely phenomenal.
HTH: NZ has drawn Slovakia Paraguay and Italy. Can you pull a surprise against any of those teams?
RB: I think you can, of course! Why shouldn’t you go to a World Cup thinking that you can? We achieved the dream to get there now the next step is to see if all the planning and preparation that we are going to have, can help us get a step further. I think when you talk about Italy they are a world power, Paraguay are one of the best South American teams and Slovakia is a good team in Europe. I think the possibilities are there. We should be positive when you qualify to be amongst the best 32 teams in the world I think your chances are as good as anybody else.
Obviously we have the respect of those who are the world powers of the game and Italy can be and should be considered one of the world powers of the game. Paraguay and Slovakia I think we have the possibility to do a good job against them and I think we should be positively thinking that it can be achieved.
HTH: In the Europa league Cannavaro had a shocker gave away a penalty and got sent off as Juventus got knocked out by Mark Schwarzer’s Fulham. Italy always starts slow, that could be to your advantage.
RB: That is true. That is something you keep in mind, I don’t remember a World Cup where Italy starts well. But at the same time, saying that, they are still a world power, they still have phenomenal players; they are team that can go all the way. Today more or less the world is not thinking of Italy as much as before and I must say their football is not what it used to be either, all in all they are too powerful, there is no question in my mind, I agree with you that normally they don’t start well and I hope they continue with the same habit.
HTH: The first game that NZ plays at the WC is against Slovakia and it will be crucial?
RB: Winning the first game will give you an incredible confidence to continue on in your search to go into the second round and obviously Slovakia is a team that I think you can do the job against them with all the respect we should have and I think it can be done.
With the first game at the WC it’s a very, very important one, much more to NZ. The team is growing up, the confidence is obviously getting better and better not only the success with the National team but the Wellington Phoenix doing as well as they did you can see and you can sense that the belief is much better than a year ago. I think this game is a very vital game because if they do win their chances will increase in a big way.
HTH: You must be happy that Wellington Phoenix succes in the A League this year? Players like Leo Bertos, Tim Brown and Tony Lochead have been in good form for Wellington.
RB: We have a lot of players there I think there is five or six altogether, obviously you have to have a lot of admiration for the job that the coach Ricky Herbert has been doing. He is a very intelligent and good coach too in my eyes, he’s been in charge of the NT for four or five years, he’s been in charge of Wellington since they started in The A- League and the consistency the National Team shows, and the way Wellington is playing I think it speaks very highly, everything is coming into place at exactly the right time and as I said, to have the team going to the WC and Phoenix doing as well as they did, I think it speaks very highly of Ricky obviously because he has been behind everything.
HTH: Will you have divided loyalties when you play Australia at the MCG or will it be Kiwi’s all the way?
RB: Look, as you know I am Argentinean born and I was in an elimination (game) for the World Cup against Argentina when Maradona and the rest came to play. I was assistant coach to Eddie Thomson at that time and I had lived in Argentina 25 years, that’s like your Mum and I love this country, I mean this is the woman of my life. My mother plays against the woman of my life and now when I think, well I was in a tough situation. But obviously I love the country so much and when you are on the bench and working with people there is no way in the world where you think it’s not divided, only for that occasion for 90 mins I will just have to make sure that I won’t be . It is human nature, it is impossible to sit on that bench with friends, people I have been working with, players that I worked with and think that anything else can go through my mind. I think when you sit with one colour that’s the colour you defend and you have to accept that’s professional football. Hiddink and some other coaches move around the world and coach other teams and that’s how it is, and you just do the best you can for the people you are working with. It is an obvious answer really.
HTH: So do you know any words to the NZ National anthem?
RB: No. When things like this happen you have to be respectful and just be quiet and be mute for the occasion. I’ve been there for not long so give me a bit of time too. Truthfully I don’t know the national anthem.
Coaching the Socceroos
HTH: You were assistant coach to Terry Venables against Iran back in ‘97 when Australia ended up drawing after leading 2-0 and Iran ended up going to France ‘98. Les Murray has said, “coaches of lesser international standard like Frank Arok or Edie Thomson would not have lost that tie with such a lead”. Do you agree with him?
RB: No, no I don’t. Of course not.
HTH: Can you tell me why?
RB: I can tell you a thousand games by great teams or better teams where results have been reversed. I have to respect Les’s opinion, but that is not the one I have. Those things can happen, it did happen and it happens to great teams in the world.
HTH: You spent many years coaching in Australia’s youth teams Olympic Teams and National Teams, you must feel some pride in the achievement of the current Socceroos?
RB: Yes of course, the last WC there were nearly 20 players from the final squad that I was associated with. In the beginning of their careers, they continued on some of them from under 17, under 20’s into the Olympic and senior teams. At that time when we started with all of them, they were young kids chasing their dreams, good footballers but yet to develop as great footballers, and to see how far they went in their careers and see the success they have in Europe and with the national team it gives you an incredible feeling because obviously we have been together for many, many years and to see them succeed in what they love to do it is a proud moment in many different ways.
HTH: Can you give me an insight into why this group of players have achieved so much, and what did you see in these players when you first coached them?
RB: The first thing they had was the skills and the technique and everything which was needed to go further and they had an incredible willingness to make it happen. And when you have technique and are prepared to listen to advice, and when you have the willingness that they had to go further in the game I think that is what the secret is really. And it is no secret, it’s just that you have to have ingredients, the desire and that incredible commitment to be the person you want to become and they did. Obviously it’s full credit to them because some of them left home and moved quite early away from home to be in an environment which was new to them and they had to prove a point and they all did. I’m proud and the country should be very proud, it looks easy now when you look at what they already achieved.
HTH: How do you think this Socceroos side will go at the World Cup ? Your honest assessment of our chances.
RB: I think they can do easily as well, I think it’s bit of a tougher group, we said this before some of the players are no longer with the national team. I don’t know if we have the same qualities. I mean a Mark Viduka obviously or a Kevin Muscat, Paul Okon Ned Zelic and all those, which are not easy to replace, I mean they were exceptionally talented players. I think the qualities of the team are there, I think Australia is a very difficult team to lose games because they are set in a way were they don’t give you too much. And I think obviously the first game against Germany will again be crucial to our chances. And do I think they can do it to the second round? Yes, I think they can.
The State of Coaching in Australia
HTH: A lot of talk around Australian football is that we are not producing the players of the ilk of your Viduka's, Emerton's, Cahill's and Kewell's. Has the environment that these players came through changed so much in the last decade or more , that these types of players are not being produced anymore?
RB: If you look at what happened with Viduka, Kewell, Grella, Brescia no Moore, Lazaridis, Aloisi whoever, Ned Zelic, Paul Okon, Bosnich, Kalac, Schwarzer and so on and on, if you look at what they did have at that time and what they have today I think it’s changed in quite a big way; the possibilities.
At that time we had the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra which was maybe the only place at that time where special players could go into. People keep on analysing what the reasons are but nobody seems to come up with an answer. I’m thinking at that time a lot of players came through and they become who they are and they were very good players with less possibilities, regarding training facilities and so and on. They did it a very tough way. Today we are living in a much better world. There are academies everywhere, but something is wrong, we are not teaching the players the right way.
If you look to now, we are going to lose some of the players that are going to compete at this World Cup, some of them because of their age obviously and we have to start to bring some new players into it. Truthfully I don’t see right now that we have the quality of the players to replace the players that are going to stop playing. I think we already suffered after the last World Cup. All in all the development is not what it used to be. Somebody somewhere failed to do the job properly because I don’t think the technique that we are supposed to have is not near what it used to be.
HTH: Surely the different coaches across the states that were influential in teaching your Viduka's, Grella's, Kewell's and Emerton's have not all disappeared?
RB: It’s quite a long time ago. A lot of people who were working at that time that are not working any longer; for whatever reasons. I think it’s wrong for you to say it’s the same people in the same places. The guy who taught Mark Viduka at the Melbourne Knights when he was 13,14 15 do you know where he is? Do you know where he is coaching? You don’t do you?
HTH: I wouldn’t have a clue.
RB: Do you know who coached Grella and Bresciano at Bulleen under 13, 14, 15’s? You don’t do you?
HTH: No I don’t, but that is why I’m asking you.
RB: That is not the assumption. The answer is we produced a lot of good, good players, very good players that went around the world and become who they are today. Today we are not doing this the same way, the quality is not what it’s supposed to be and the questions have to be asked. I’ve been involved in youth but I think something is not well, we have to re-think carefully and come up with a solution, and I think the quality is not what it is supposed to be.
HTH: Well going on from that, don’t you think the coaches that coached the players you mentioned before should have been coaching the next group of players that were coming through?
RB: I keep saying to you I don’t know if the coaches that were coaching the players are still around in the same place I don’t know if they have same facilities. The coaching is changing, I think coaches in the past where more concerned about keeping the players technique, making sure they knew how to play the game properly. Today sometimes we become too sophisticated for our own good and we talk about a lot of things which people cannot do.
It’s easy to talk about a lot of things and this is what you should do and so and, we are forgetting that without technique there are no players and I think if we don’t really believe that technique is the answer to the rest of the things which will cover the life of a footballer then we are on the wrong track. I don’t think the technique is as good as what it could be. Something is wrong somewhere. I can’t say to you that’s what is wrong. I just think it’s not coming, it’s not happening, we have not been successful in youth level we have not been successful in many different ways.
The people who are running the game, they are the ones you should question and ask them why? They are the ones who have to give us the answer. I’m like you are, I’m in the same place you are. I think we should be asking questions like: “What happened?”.
The people that are running the game, it seems that they are not answerable to anything, but they have to because it is a substantial difference to what it was and what it is (now).
HTH: People who have followed the game in Australia for a while can see and spot the difference in quality compared to the players coming through and the older players. Your thoughts?
RB: The game has changed around the world too, so be careful. It’s not what it used to be either. The years you are talking about (were where) good football, intelligent football, good technique was a great priority. Today we keep thinking if you jump higher and if you run 100 metres in 11 or 12 sec and other things which are not really related to good football are becoming priorities. Other people outside the game are becoming influential, telling people how training should be done, and we are forgetting at that time one or two guys were doing everything.
Today we have eight or nine people, all influential, all shouting something needs to be done this way or that way. People who have not been in the game, people who don’t know the game are talking about things which maybe I think their priorities are wrong. I work for a club and I’m a technical director so I see things. The reason I think we are not improving with the youth is I think we are not teaching the kids the right way. First of all the skill is the only answer to it.
When you bring somebody who wants to play the game and he comes with the skills then you can prepare him for bigger and better things. I know people who are doing best exercises for fitness or things that which are not connected to the game with young players You let one year go by and two years and three years and then you miss two or three years of your development which are vital to increase and to improve the technique and the skills that are required to become a good soccer player and then it becomes tougher and tougher.
The coaching today is restrictive in a sense, especially with the young players, because everyone thinks it’s about winning and winning is the answer, only for your own satisfaction. Because the guy coaching under 14/ 15s walks through the ground thinking well I’m a champion; well really you are not. You are there to prepare players to make sure they learn to play the game in a better way so the technique is better, skills are better, the understanding of the game is better and so and on.
When you start to get results-orientated, you miss what education is. I’m thinking well if you get the young kids very early and let me tell you that I think there is talent in this country to develop players just as good as there was before too. There is no lack of talent. I think its wrong teaching, that’s what it is.
HTH: Thanks very much Raul for speaking to Half Time Heroes.
RB: All the best. It was my pleasure.