As a Player: Real Madrid Academy (boys, youth and third team). Seasons 1973-79 San Fernando (Third Division). Seasons 1980-82 Herencia (Regional). Season 1983-84 Celtics of Sacramento, California, USA. Seasons 1985-90
As a Coach: Coach and teacher Christian Brothers High School, Sacramento, California. Seasons 1988-93 Coach and teacher Rio Americano High School, Sacramento, California. Season 1994-present
We finished the 45 minute run one afternoon at the beginning of August in 1979 on the outskirts of the then unfinished La Vaguada district of Pilar near the Real Madrid training ground. Ramirez, the boss of the Real Madrid third team, as usual asked us to take our pulse: 6 seconds counting and multiply by 10.
There were 20 or so players wearing blue trainers; most of us wanting to think about the beach or swimming pool with mates instead of wondering when, under the burning Madrid sun, the boss would allow us to have a drink. But it is not this thought that is etched on my memory but the question that Ramirez asked after listening to the heart rates of each player:
“Why do you think you have a higher heart rate than yesterday if we ran the same pace and distance?”
The reply came from Rafa who was studying his second year of Physical Education at the university in Madrid:
“Because we worked harder” he said.
Rafa’s analysis was as simple as that, as simple as a ring as Neruda would say. This capacity to analyse the seemingly complex and put it simply is what distinguishes Rafa from the rest. Methodical, noting down in his book the line-ups and goals scored in the games we played, and analytical in his tactical comments, Rafa stood out from the rest of the group.
His opinions and flashes of inspiration which would later emerge even more in the classrooms, corridors and pitches of the INEF where we both studied; and always with a personal slant which informed us how to win and how we could contribute tactically to the success of the group.
During these years as INEF students, 1980 and 81, Rafa played and then finished up taking the University and Faculty teams of the INEF as we had said he would. I remember him as the coach planning a trip to Caceres to play in the final phase of the Spanish University Championship. He and I were talking in the INEF café from where you could see the Casa de Campo and in the distance the Madrid mountains. I couldn’t go with the team because I was doing my military service. Although I had military permission I couldn’t miss classes for 4 days to go to the tournament; studies were more important. Sitting face to face he asked me to go with the team to Caceres. When I gave him my reasons, he took it with dignity.
My dignity and his at that moment is what defines a relationship that will bear fruit. It is in this area of football and not just in the penalty area where the most important matches in life are won and goals are scored and we should not forget it. And Rafa has won those matches as well as the cups and medals he has in a glass cabinet at home. It is this personal dignity which, since I first met Rafa, I have seen in one of the best football coaches to have come out of Spain and everyone who has come in to personal or professional contact with him has seen the same. If they haven’t, maybe it’s because dignity recognises dignity more easily. For me it only remains to justify my comments: I say this because ‘noblesse oblige’ and dignity obliges.