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scouting

Interview: “Korean Football Moving in the Right Direction”, Coach Isaac Soriano


Following the recent K League United Podcast focusing on "Globalising Korean Coaching", K League United's Daegu FC correspondent Muyeol Jung spoke with former Daegu FC U15 manager Isaac Arques Soriano about his experience and thoughts on Korean football.


Profile

- Full Name: Isaac Arques Soriano
- D.O.B: 23.05.1981
- Nationality: Spain (Barcelona)
- Education
  • B.A in Physical Education and English
  • Expert Degree of Masters in Sport psychology
  • UEFA PRO License
- Managerial Career
  • 2017-2019 Daegu FC, Korea, Manager (U-15) and Video Analyst for Senior Team
  • 2015-2016 Club de futbol Reus Deportiu, Spain, Manager (U-14)
  • 2013-2014 Primero de Agosto, Angola, Manager (U-12, 14 and 18)
  • 2012-2013 A.E.Prat, Spain, Manager (U-16)
  • 2008-2012 and 2016 F.C.Barcelona, Spain, Head Coach of FCB Academy (U-8, 10, and 12), Coaching staff of National Campus and International Campus
  • 2007-2008 Escola Valls Futbol, Spain, Head Coach (U-16)
  • 2004-2007 Club Gimnàstic de Tarragona, Spain, Head Coach (U-10 and U-16) and Assistant Coach (U-12 and U-14)

Background

Following K League United's recent podcast discussing the diversity in Korean football coaching, this interview is part of the efforts to add more voices to the debate by speaking with former Daegu FC U15 manager and video analyst Isaac Soriano.

[Listen: Globalising Korean Coaching]

Ahead of 2017 season, the Spaniard was appointed as Daegu FC U15 manager and video analyst for the senior team. Soriano worked for the Sky Blues for three years, contributing to guiding the U15 team to the national recognition and the senior team's first ever silverware, the 2018 Korean FA Cup.

Muyeol Jung: Hello Isaac, thank you for joining us. Would you introduce yourself and brief us your football career before you came to Daegu?

Isaac Soriano: Hello and thanks for having me. Football has been the greatest passion in my entire life and I always wanted to live a life, doing what I like most. So, I decided to study physical education and obtained a coaching licence, then started to work as football coach. Living a life as football coach led me to many football clubs in various countries with unforgettable experiences.

MJ : Looking at your CV, working in one of the greatest fooball clubs, FC Barcelona really stands out, while working in Angola also looks very interesting but tough as well. How has all your journey been so far?

IS : First of all, I would say I was lucky to start my coaching career at the greatest football club in Spain [Club Gimnàstic de Tarragona; founded in 1886, based in Tarragona, in the autonomous community of Catalonia and one of the oldest football clubs in Spain]. During this time, I had amazing players in my team, who eventually became well-known professional footballers such as Sergi Roberto (F.C. Barcelona), Fran Carbia (Gimnàstic), Alberto Benito (Albacete), etc. Thanks to all of them, the first stage of my career was so exciting.

Isaac Soriano coaching for FC Barcelona
(Image courtesy of himself)

After the Nastic de Tarragona and E.F. Valls, I got to work at F.C. Barcelona and that's where everything started to change. A few years' excellent experience in the greatest football club, surrounded by great coaching staff and players was full of learning, but that was definitely one of the best professional experiences in my life and drove me to improve. While working in Barça, I was also a part of various international projects around the world, teaching coaching methodology.

Afterwards, it was time to spread my wings. So, I joined Primeiro de Agosto FC, the most famous and important team in Angola as manager. In spite of a great lack of organisations, I worked very hard with great potentials and passionate fans behind us to give the club tools and make the teams well organised as a competitive entity. It was so rewarding to see that all the work I did paid off as many of them became first team players or ended up in other professional clubs in the country. On top of that, the club has won the league in the past years after a long unsuccessful period, which made us feel really proud.

Then I came back to Spain to work for club CF Reus another two years right before I came to South Korea.

Stepping into Korean Football

Isaac was appointed as Daegu FC U15 Manager and video analyst in February 2017
(Image courtesy of Daegu FC Facebook)
MJ : Okay. Let's talk about when you were in touch with Daegu FC. When was it and what was it that made you decide to take the role?

IS : It was December 2016 when I received a phone call from my mentor who is a former FC Barcelona player. He asked me if I'd be interested in going to work in a professional club in South Korea. I was informed about the working conditions and my role in the club, Head coach of U15 team and Video Analyst for the senior team.

From the first moment, I liked the offer because I was seduced by the opportunity to work in Asia. During those days, I had several conversations with the person in charge of coordinating my signing. He explained what was expected from me and I didn’t hesitate at any time to come because I was keen to demonstrate the value of my work in a country like South Korea.

MJ: It sounds like an easy decision to make for you. By then, how much were you aware of Korean football in general?

IS: To be honest, the first thing came up in my mind was the fact that the Korean national team beat the Spanish team in 2002 World Cup. Other than that, I didn’t know much about South Korean football, but I knew that football in Asia was getting popular more and more and many countries were longing for improvements in performances at international competitions.

MJ: Then, what was your first impression on Korean football from when you started to work?

IS: Since I started working in Korea in 2017, I found out that the resources and facilities in South Korea are excellent, which are fundamental bases for coaches to be able to accomplish their goals. Also, I remember myself being stunned by the organisational system in youth football.

Soriano communicating with his players

What caught my attention most was how easily the team get out of shape from the second half. It often occurs when the team were losing their control and the game becomes out of control. As a result, they become exposed to many spaces in which many counterattacks could take place, leading to the [other team] scoring.

Another thing that surprised me was an obsession with physical work in training. It was genuinely shocking for me to see many teams spend time on running after running and have the players repeat intense physical exercise.

MJ: You were the second foreign manager for the U-15 Team. What was it the club wanted to see from you, and what was the first thing you did in the job?

IS: When a club signs a contract with a foreign manager, it is because they expect him/her to bring something new to the entity and the players. Of course, my experiences in FC Barcelona have significantly shaped my way of understanding football. However, it would be stupid to think that things will turn around in that way.

During my first few months in Korea, I tried to understand the idiosyncrasy of the country, the club, the people and so on. In the meantime, my main task was to understand what kind of players I had and how they could be successful. After that, I offered my players a game idea that would enhance all their virtues.

Looking Back

MJ: Looking back your time in the post, how happy are you with what you have done with what has been offered to you?

IS : When I look back last three years now, I feel very satisfied with everything we did and what we’ve been through together. As a youth team coach, I believe it's very important to teach the young players about both performance and process. In this regard, it was a good sign that we did it right. As a team, we had a clear idea of the game and I got my players to understand what we were playing, our strategy.

Obviously, each competition demanded different expectations. When we played in the Daegu league [regional league] and local tournaments, we were superior to other teams while in nationwide competitions, participants were stronger and more powerful than us.

Overall, I think we gained recognition and respect from other teams and we became such an uncomfortable side to play against. I felt closely connected with my players and it feels like we grew up together. It was such a beautiful experience.

MJ: During your time in the job, what's your best memory?

IS: The best moment with the U15 team would be the 2018 K League Youth (U-15) Championship held in Pohang when the team made the semi-finals. Actually, it was a very tough situation for us as many players were unavailable due to injuries or international duties, etc. So, we had to play with one or two year younger players in the line-up.

Nevertheless, we believed in ourselves, and competed very well as we were growing and had an unforgettable run to the semi-finals where we lost 1-0 to FC Seoul, who eventually won the trophy in that campaign. To be frank, we didn't deserve to lose that game, but the opponents were such a strong team, putting us to the hardest test.

In a youth tournament in which merely a one year gap in age could make such a big difference on the pitch, it was amazing to see how strong and brave my one or two year younger players were.

Isaac Soriano was one of unsung heroes in Daegu FC winning the Korean FA Cup in 2018
(Image courtesy of himself)

As video analyst for the senior team, it has to be when Daegu won the FA Cup in 2018. Frankly speaking, I don't even recall how many days I spent analysing videos and making analytic reports. I co-worked with my friend and reserve team manager Luisma Hernandez, trying to discover the weakness of the next opponents. I'd say at least we contributed to making many people happy as the FA Cup was the club's first title in history.

MJ: On the contrary, what was the moment that could have been better?

IS: Well, I think it would be my last game as manager. Last year, in K League Youth League U15 where the top four teams will advance to the tournaments for Champions, we remained able to reach the tournaments within the top five until the final game of the season, even though we were regarded as a relatively weak side in the competition.

Ahead of the final game, either a draw or loss wasn't enough. Only victory would seal us a place in top four. We were nearly bagging a win, but we had to settle for a 2-2 draw after an equaliser in stoppage time and we finished the league in 5th position.

It was really painful and sad as I didn't want to end my last game in that way.

Contributing to Korean Football

MJ: Based on your experience, what aspects do you think Korean football needs to improve?

IS: Well, I don't think I am in the position to mention and point out such things as I am from another country with different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

I think Korea is moving in the right direction. Korea has many great assets and potentials right now to be able to achieve even bigger success in the future. For example, the KFA and the K League provide a lot of resources to clubs and coaches such as high-tech material and tools, workshop and domestic and oversea training courses, etc. I am really looking forward to seeing an interesting future for South Korean football.

What I want to emphasise here is that we have to be patient as it always takes time and tireless efforts to gain achievements.

For example, Spanish football used to work in a similar way to one still being applied in Korean football. We [Spain] also had a time when the physical work such as long-time running and repetitive intensive physical training was indiscriminately prioritised without going to a deeper understanding of the game. We just did these kinds of training programmes really hard, but actually it didn't help the players as what was needed for players in the match were very different. So we steered from the physical drills to tactics and methodologies. It did take us long time and steady efforts until we saw a small improvement.

MJ: Final question. I was told you started running a football agency in Korea. What’s your next plan and how would you like to contribute to Korean football?

IS: By the end of last year, I received some offers from several overseas clubs, but they didn't work well for some reasons.

In the meantime, I have been engaged with several projects on my own. One of them is the agency, NAIS Football. Having lived in Korea for the last three years, I got to have some acquaintances asking me some advice on elite football academies, running tournaments, football camps, coaching courses, etc. So I thought it would be nice to share precise and accurate information with those who want to learn more about Spanish football by combining my experiences in prominent football clubs in Spain and the expertise from my wife who is an international cooperation specialist. I sincerely hope we could be one of the reliable football agencies in Korea.

In addition, I am also working as a member of faculty at Real Madrid Graduate School, European University of Madrid (Universidad de Europa). I gave a lecture to postgraduates in the International Master Program of Football Coach and Sports Management last December in Madrid and I will have another one soon. It is based in the classroom and a practical at the ground, but unfortunately, due to the current situation, it will be online. But it is genuinely a great opportunity to meet ambitious students and help them to understand and develop football coaching methodologies, tactics, and techniques.

In the meantime, I feel grateful as I am working on various projects. I will continue to do what I like most and look forward to returning to football coaching in the near future.

I'd like to thank Isaac again for his hard work for the club and the interview and I sincerely send him the best wishes for the next chapter of his journey in football. This interview was carried out via email and if you have any inquiry or questions, you can find him on Twitter or NAIS Football.

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