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The Denia doctrine
Spain coach Santi Denia with his 2017 UEFA European Under-17 Championship winners' medal ©Sportsfile

Interviews

The Denia doctrine

Asked to describe his style as a coach, Santi Denia pauses for a moment. "I'm not sure about describing myself as a coach," he reflects. "I would say I'm more of an educator. My objective is to help these young men to develop as footballers and to mature as persons."

©Sportsfile

The former Atlético Madrid defender is, with typical humility, understating his virtues as a coach. During his team's six matches in Croatia, a camera in the technical area would have captured images of him treading the white line, continually offering advice to his young charges. Positive advice, delivered without excessive decibels.

"With our national teams," he comments, "we respect our attacking philosophy and the natural characteristics of the Spanish footballer. In terms of quality, we have an easy life because of the excellent work being done by the clubs.

"I tend to focus on the importance of group dynamics. I emphasise that if we want to achieve our objectives we need to work together in a positive atmosphere. If you have a group of 30 people together for a month, this is of paramount importance. My approach is more democrat than dictator. At the same time, we insist on respect for a series of rules and guidelines."

©Sportsfile

The reference to a group of 30 indicates that the Denia doctrine embraces good man-management of his backroom staff as well as the squad of players. In Croatia, one of the salient features was that his assistant was Luis de la Fuente, Spain's U19 coach and, indeed, champion of Europe two years previously in Greece.

"It was one of the things I learned when I joined the national association in 2010 to take charge of the U16s," Denia explains. "We have a 'family' of coaches and we all help each other. You might see Luis with me in Croatia. Then you might see our U21 coach, Albert Celades, at another tournament. In fact, he was at the U17s with me in Azerbaijan last year. We coordinate and divide up the work between us – not forgetting the work done by our goalkeeping coach, either."

Like England's Steve Cooper, his opponent in the Varazdin final, Denia gives limited relevance to the study of the opposition. "We obviously look at how they attack and how they defend," he says, "and we sometimes look at video footage of individual opponents. But we generally focus on our own game, doing training work and talks by units within the team. In other words, we'll have specific sessions for midfield, for example, to analyse and correct."

©Sportsfile

At get-togethers during the year, Denia dedicates one day to defensive work "because there are different levels and different mechanisms among the clubs", adding: "Some young players can get used to running up big wins every week and run the risk of neglecting defensive aspects. As a coach, you seek a balanced approach to attack and defence and my impression of the tournament in Croatia was that there was generally a greater emphasis on creative attacking play. I think this was something very positive for the future of these players – and the future of the game of football."

A thrilling four-goal final between two technically-gifted teams certainly advertised attacking football. The team's patient, insistent loyalty to a style, despite trailing on the scoreboard for the best part of 50 minutes, was also an advertisement for Spain's footballing philosophy – and its implementation via Denia's personal doctrine.

https://www.uefa.com/under17/season=2017/technical-report/winning-coach/index.html#the+denia+doctrine