Pako: Reds fans are best

Pako Ayesteran is the unsung hero of the Liverpool coaching staff. Rafa’s long-time assistant rarely speaks in public, but he’s not at Melwood to do PR. Pako spoke to in a rare interview and explained how he thought the recent defeat to Manchester United had been unlucky, with Liverpool clearly the better team: “The game against Manchester United was very disappointing as I feel we were unlucky. We realised however that we were the better team. The next day everyone here was upbeat and looking forward not back. In terms of the rest of the season, we are optimistic of what we can achieve and where we can finish in the Premiership. Sometimes you deserve to win and you don’t and sometimes you don’t deserve to win but you do. Accidents sometimes happen in football and the game against Manchester United was an accident for us. At the moment, the team is doing the right things. They are playing well. If they continue to train the way they are training now and our confidence stays as high as it is now, we are convinced we can beat any team.”

United celebrated like a team that had just won the cup final that afternoon, most notably Gary Neville who displayed his hatred for all things to do with Liverpool by taunting Reds supporters and earning an FA charge. Pako was asked what he thought of this show of relief from United: “At the moment they know that we are a really good team and I think they are concerned that they won’t finish second this year. If we had beaten them then it would have made it even harder for them to finish second. This is why I think that they celebrated so much and this shows us that we are the better team I think.”

United and Liverpool are battling with each other for second place, but
there’s still hope, if fading hope, that the current champions can be
caught. Pako says it’s important not to give up on that target yet, but
hints that it probably is already too late: “You have to look at the
big picture and although we have to believe that we can catch Chelsea
this season, I think that the poor start to the season may have cost us
from catching them this year. The gap opened up in the early months
because we drew too many games.” Certainly for Liverpool it would be a
different looking league table had the season started in October,
because by then the Reds had started to not only defend well but to get
the goals they needed to turn decent performances into victories. As it
stands though the job to catch Chelsea may prove to be too big: “We
still have to play Chelsea and we have two games in hand on them but
although we could catch them, the odds are against us. Even if we won
every game from now until the end of the season that might not be
enough because Chelsea have to slip up in a big way and I would be very
surprised if Chelsea do that.”

Pako also says he’s desperate to see Liverpool add number 19 to the
collection of league titles: “Until we win the Premiership, I will not
be totally satisfied. The most important thing for Liverpool is
definitely to win the Premiership.”

Pako is delighted with the attitude of the squad in training, saying
that the players are all prepared to put the work in they need to be
successful: “You can see in training that the things that they are
doing are the right things to be successful. The most important thing
is not to win; it’s to prepare you to have the capacity to win. It is
not about wanting to do something; it is simply having the capacity to
do what you want. Then, and only then, can you achieve your goals but
to do this, you need to work very hard.”
Compared to Valencia, Pako says the initial task was much greater at
Anfield for the new coaching team, partly because at Valencia they
inherited a squad that had already been in two Champions League finals,
a squad that could be rotated without dropping a level. Not so at
Anfield: “At Liverpool, there was not a winning team. They had only won
the treble four years before but were not too good in the Champions
League and often ended up in the Uefa cup. The first thing we did was
to build the squad.”

Pako also spoke of how a new emphasis on training as opposed to
concentrating more on matches has helped players to perform better,
mixed with the ability to rest players in a league that still does not
have a winter break: “The players now realise the great importance of
our training. When we first came, the players were very focused for
matches but not for training. If we are doing the right things in
training we will benefit in the end. Sometimes when a player is rested
for matches and trains very hard, then the next time they play, they
say that they played a lot better and felt very fit. I think that no
matter how fit players think they are the same eleven can’t play every
game. For me, training is the most important thing. Now the players
understand how important the training is and sometimes players come to
me and say that they have played too much and need to train. When they
say this, you know they truly understand.”
As for challenging for the title next season, Pako points out that as
things stand the Reds have certainly got the credentials to do so, but
that’s without seeing what other clubs do over the close season to
improve their own credentials. It’s a case of keeping up with the
Jones’s, but without knowing what other clubs are planning it may not
be possible to do so: “We will have the capacity but we don’t know what
Chelsea or Arsenal will do. We don’t know which players will leave
clubs and which new players will join the Premiership. We need to see
the movements of each clubs. Here’s an example of what I’m talking
about: sometimes you see somebody’s car and you are thinking that you
want to buy the same kind of car. You go out and buy the same car as
your neighbour but what you don’t know is what he is thinking and that
he is about to buy a better new car.”
Pako confirms what the Liverpool fans had been hoping: Liverpool are
still aiming high for this season: “We have three important aims. To
finish second in the Premiership would be a great achievement for this
season, it would also be very important for next season because it
would mean we automatically qualify for the Champions League and we
would have an extra month to train during pre-season. I don’t want to
talk too much about next season though because we still have a lot to
do this season. We want to win the FA Cup and we want to win the
Champions League again. We won it last season and we believe winning it
again is very possible, as we have shown that we can beat any team on
our day. All of the matches now will be difficult and we will have to
play at least another four or five games before we reach a final in any
competition. The Champions League draw is very tough. Benfica will be a
tough side to beat.”

The best part of the interview is when Pako recalls the infamous night
when he and Rafa went for a few pints with the supporters. Well, more
or less: “We were in the hotel and we wanted to watch the Manchester
United game. It wasn’t being shown in the hotel so I convinced Rafa to
come with me to try and find a pub that was showing the game. I asked a
fan if he could find somewhere for us to watch the game. The supporter
was a little surprised that I asked him but he told us there was an
Irish bar very close so we went. Rafa took some convincing but I
managed to get him to come because I said it would be quiet. We took a
taxi and the pub was packed with supporters! As soon as we arrived, one
fan looked very surprised and stared at us. He said, ‘It’s Rafa, look!’
Rafa went, ‘Shush…’ to try and make him be quiet but the fan shouted
even louder, ‘Look, it’s Rafa!’’ I climbed on to a bench but I saw Rafa
and Alex in the middle of lots of fans and they could not move. All the
fans were cheering his name and embracing him.” Pako says he found it
funny to see the boss in that situation: “I was laughing in the corner,
as it was very funny but great. I was trying to watch the game but it
was very difficult at first. After about ten minutes we decided that we
had to leave if we were to see any of the game but it was so full that
we couldn’t get out. It was a good experience and it makes you realise
that the fans not only support the manager, the team and the coaches
but how much they respect you too. It is normal for the supporters to
like you when you win things but this was before we had won anything!
This is why Liverpool fans are different. They all said, ‘Thank you for
being with us’ when we first arrived. That was strange. Rafa and me
came here with something to prove to these supporters and yet, before
we’d won anything, they were actually thanking us. I think that just
sums up the love the Liverpool supporters have for everything to do
with their club.”

And then in a few words Pako paid Liverpool fans a compliment it would
be hard to beat: “If some laboratory ever tried to invent the perfect
football fan, they’d struggle to better what I’ve seen at Liverpool.”