Currently in the thick of preparing for her team’s delayed first game of the season, taking
place this Sunday versus CD Juan Grande in Group A of the Reto Iberdrola Sur, Málaga CF
head coach Nati Gutiérrez caught up with She Kicks’ Spain-based reporter Nick Aitken.
(Follow Nati on Twitter and Instagram at @NnattiGutierrez)
She Kicks: So, Nati, the long wait is finally over – having been appointed in mid-June, this Sunday is your first official match! Given all the COVID-19-related interruptions to pre-season training, how much time have you actually had with the squad?
Nati Gutiérrez: Not much! [Laughs] Between one thing and another we’ve only had about six full weeks, which isn’t a lot of time when you consider how many experienced players have left the club. We’ve lost three of last season’s co-captains (Pamela González, Cristina Postigo and ex-Chelsea striker Adriana Martín), but we’ve got some talented youngsters coming through and keep an eye out for María Cortés, who joined from Real Betis. She’ll be some player!
SK: Due to the financial constraints at Málaga CF, there’s an emphasis of bringing young players into the first team quickly. However, the Reto Iberdrola Sur regular season is extremely short – just 14 games prior to the play-offs for promotion [top four teams] or relegation [bottom four]. Surely there are not enough matches to give young players the on-pitch time they need?
NG: Yes, there are so few matches we’ll need to keep a lot of the young players registered with the youth teams too – to make sure they don’t lose sharpness and match practice. We’ve got a competitive starting eleven, but outside of that we lack a bit of experience – in an ideal world we would like one more experienced player in defence, midfield and attack. One of the issues for youth development here in the Málaga area is that fewer girls sign up to football teams and they do so at a later age than in big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. So, by the time they reach first-team age, they’ve had fewer years and fewer matches to reinforce the “automatic behaviours” that are fundamental building blocks of professional footballers.
SK: Does the need to get results fast, combined with a very young squad, limit the style of football that you can ask your team to play?
NG: Definitely. I’m a fan of attractive, short-passing football but in an unusual season like this, when every game is vital, as a coach you can’t afford to be too “romantic”. You have to be versatile enough to find a system that is suited to your players’ abilities and to the circumstances you’re in. For that reason we’ll be playing a mixed style of play, keeping it short when we can but going more direct when we face a high press, for example.
SK: One final question, the departures of Adriana [to Lazio], Cristina and Pamela [both to Grupo Sur rivals Granada] are a blow, but how big a boost has been the return from injury of Ruth Acedo?
NG: Yes, proven goalscorers are always in-demand, so it would have been nice to keep hold of Adriana, but staffing cuts have been made across the club and the men’s and women’s sections have both been hit very hard.
We played against Cristina and Pamela in pre-season when we faced Granada in the Copa de Andalucía, and it was very strange to see them on the opposite team – as they were part of this club’s fabric for so many years. We’ll miss them, but they’ve always been extremely loyal to Málaga, staying at the club despite offers from first-division teams, and given the situation I completely understand why they moved on.
On the plus side, getting Ruth back is huge! Like Cristina, she’s physically very strong in defence, and Ruth is also very vocal – she’s always driving her team-mates on and encouraging them. She’s been out for a long time so we’re bringing her back in gradually, starting with training exercises and ‘rondos’ [small-sided games, beloved by Pep Guardiola]. She’s worked incredibly hard, is in tremendous shape and can’t wait to play matches again!
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