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Neville was in wrong place at wrong time, says former No.2 Pako Ayestaran

Date Posted,June 9, 2017

The experience at Valencia was enough to put Gary Neville off coaching for life.

But his assistant and successor Pako Ayestaran is determined to get back into management despite also being scarred by Valencia .

Ayestaran, 54, is well known in English football as Rafa Benitez’s instantly recognisable former No2 at Liverpool, he was Neville’s assistant at Valencia and then took over the reigns himself.

But Ayestaran, who has also managed in Mexico and Israel, now wants to return to English football with a No1 job in his own right.

Former Valencia and Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran (Photo: Rex)

Ayestaran has kept his house on the Wirral and feels as at home in England as he does in his native Spain and it is that sense of belonging where he feels Neville might have gone wrong.

Former England and Manchester United defender Neville took over at Valencia and had a disastrous four month spell in charge when he made Ayestaran his No2.

Ayestaran said: “I think he arrived at the wrong place in the wrong moment. This is crucial. His first opportunity to coach was abroad and I don’t think it was the best environment.

“Your first experience it’s crucial to be able to manage and to have the best knowledge about the environment. If you remember the movie Damned United about Brian Clough. They arrive in Brighton, he is talking with his assistant Peter Taylor and they were discussing the opportunity.

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“Clough said: ‘look where we are. We’re nearly in France! We are northerners.’ He was meaning that if you don’t understand your own people then you can’t coach them.

“To not be able to work there and understand the people is so difficult. Gary has everything – the knowledge, the coaching and yet it was probably not the right environment for his first job.

“I remember I had three years at Valencia with Rafa, we won the UEFA Cup and still we had some criticism because Valencia is always a difficult place.

“It’s important to understand when you arrive in a different country that you know the way people are thinking, their approach and every different experience has made me a better coach and manager.”

Pako Ayestaran took over from Gary Neville when he left Valencia (Photo: Getty Images Europe)

Ayestaran himself took over after Neville was sacked in March 2016, got the job permanently after an upturn in results and was then sacked just four games into the new season.

“I thought I was in a project because I signed for two years, I wanted to bring good times back to the club, lay a good base for the club and everything went wrong after four games. Despite that, we were playing good football,” he said ruefully.

But Ayestaran has recovered from the bitter blow, the charm and smile is back and it is those qualities which made him the perfect foil for Benitez at Liverpool.

Benitez was the strict tactician and disciplinarian while Ayestaran was the link to the dressing room and there is still the belief that Rafa’s reign went wrong after he lost his No2.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez (R) and assistant manager Pako Ayestaran watch during a training session at Anfield, Liverpool
Rafael Benitez and his former assistant manager Pako Ayestaran watch during a training session at Anfield (Photo: Getty)

“It was tough leaving Liverpool. Since I was a teenager, I was in love with English football and Liverpool. Sometimes we forget we are living the dream. You have to get used to the dream, realise it’s not a dream anymore and enjoy it,” he said.

“It’s true that after 12 years we (Rafa) had to take a different way. You shouldn’t regret your decisions, you have to take a decision at that time, different circumstances. It was the one that I should have taken and I cannot look back.

“I remember when we were at Valencia, Liverpool approached us and Rafa came to me. We had been to Liverpool to watch a game and when the approach came we had to go. Something that had always been a dream came true.

“It was Xabi Alonso who gave an interview in Marca, he said that he fell in love with the Premier League, not just the league, but also the supporters, how the clubs are run, the passion about the game and I have always had the same feeling.

Xabi Alonso fell in love with the Premier League fans (Photo: Alex Grimm)

“We went to Liverpool and I remember this guy came up to me and he said: ‘thank you for coming.’ That is typical of the Liverpool fan. They made you feel part of the club as soon as you arrive, it’s like a family.”

But now Ayestaran would love a chance back in England, the country where even his teenage son now calls home.

He added: “I had opportunities abroad but my aim is to get an opportunity in Spain or in England. I’ve kept my house in the Wirral. I’ve always enjoyed the area, they made me feel part of the area, I feel like I am at home.

“You ask my son where is home and he will say it’s in England. He is 13, and for nine years he has lived here. You never know what opportunities will arise.”

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