x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sanchez Flores' knack for helping players comes to Al Ahli

An impressive array of footballers have all worked with Al Ahli's new coach in the past.

Quique Sanchez Flores is the new coach of Al Ahli.
Quique Sanchez Flores is the new coach of Al Ahli.

Enrique "Quique" Sanchez Flores was born with an unusual view of stardom. Most people pass through a phase when they regard great athletes or actors or performers with awe, Sanchez Flores had worked that out of his system as a very young man. He grew up surrounded by the famous and the adored.

His father had been a footballer with Real Madrid; his mother was a popular singer. As for his aunt … well, mention the name "Lola Flores", fondly known as "La Faraona", to anyon who enjoys flamenco, the passionate music of southern Spain, and you might as well say "Pele" to a Brazilian football fan, or "Cruyff" to a Dutchman.

Several traits in the professional character of Quique - the new manager of Al Ahli is generally called by his nickname - that sometimes make you think of his background and wonder if an innate familiarity with public performers gave him a tough exterior.

He is a well-respected coach, made history at Atletico Madrid, and he is nobody's fool.

Fall out with Quique and it can be a long journey to thaw the relationship.

Just ask Diego Forlan, a vital member of the Atletico team whom Quique guided to three major finals.

Or, rather, listen to the silence when Forlan is asked about his former boss. A few days ago, in Milan, where Forlan now plays for Inter, the Uruguayan answered a question about his relationship with Quique with one word: "Nothing."

If Quique regarded the talented but sometimes demanding Forlan as difficult, he still managed to draw plenty from the striker on the field.

The coach's task is to maximise a player's potential, not to be a buddy. Plenty of fine players have soared under Quique.

At Atletico, Sergio Aguero came of age, boy to man, under his stewardship.

At Portugal's Benfica, where Quique spent a season, he oversaw the resurrection of Jose Antonio Reyes, a former prodigy who lost his way in his early 20s until Quique found the tricks to recover Reyes's confidence.

At Valencia, Quique advanced the career of a young David Silva, now of Manchester City; at Benfica, he was influential in progressing young players like the Portugal international Ruben Amorim and the Uruguayan Maxi Pereira. Manchester United's David de Gea also owes him a debt; at Atletico, Quique backed the novice goalkeeper.

"Quique is a rare breed," said Pablo Aimar, the veteran Argentine playmaker who worked with Quique at Valencia and Benfica. "He's thorough and makes you think about the game differently."

Quique is 46, still young in management terms. He was in his 30s when he took his first senior job, as coach at Getafe.

His preparation had been with the youth teams at Real Madrid, for whom he played in the mid-1990s.

As a footballer, he had been a quick, adventurous right-back. He spent his peak playing years, a full 10 seasons, with Valencia. He was good enough to have been capped 15 times by Spain and was a member of their squad at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy where they were eliminated in the second round.

As a coach, his 2004/05 Getafe won friends for their brand of football and defied the odds to keep the newly promoted suburban Madrid club in the top flight of Spanish football.

One season there was enough to persuade Valencia to bring in as coach their popular former player.

Valencia are not an easy club to manage, what with their mountainous debt and an apparently incurable habit of behind-the-scenes political tension. Quique survived two seasons and two months there, having achieved the objectives of successive Champions League qualifications, in 2006 and 2007.

With Benfica he would win his first silverware, the Portuguese League Cup.

But it was at Atletico that Quique confirmed his high status among the band of young European coaches.

Appointed in October 2009, he had by the end of the season taken the restless Madrid club to their first European final for 36 years. They triumphed in it, too, beating Fulham in the Europa League. They reached the final of the Copa del Rey the same month, losing to Sevilla.

They then collected the European Super Cup that August with victory over Inter Milan.

The follow-up was not so good. Atletico did qualify for Europe - the Europa League - in Quique's second and last campaign, but he and they knew by early spring that he would not be continuing. Alternative offers have come his way since, notably from Spartak Moscow and, by his account, there was an enquiry from Inter in September.

Most clubs from Europe's stronger leagues would feel obliged to consider him a candidate when vacancies arise. So his choice of Al Ahli has surprised some compatriots.

"It confirms the powerful draw of the world's emerging leagues in a time of economic crisis," was the analysis of a newspaper in Valencia, where Quique, once the dashing defender, will always have a fan club.

sports@thenational.ae