At a club where the president cannot sit in the stands because the fans despise him so much, where the financial ruin is absolute and where, until recently, results on the field were atrocious, the sense of normality transmitted by Manolo Jiménez — who replaced Javier Aguirre last December — has gone down a treat, to the extent that Zaragoza's prospects of doing just that have been transformed from certainty to mere possibility. The Aragonese side has taken 13 of the last 18 points possible and is now four points shy of Villarreal in 17th.
Question. What have you given Zaragoza that it did not have?
Answer. I suppose psychology. I have allowed them to see what they couldn't see before. They thought that however much they gave on the field, the result wouldn't change. It wasn't that they weren't putting in the effort, but that they were doing so without self-belief. When the pressure is on to get a result, everybody loses their cool. I have tried to convince them with dialogue and practical examples. Not everything is achieved by drumming things in during training.
Q. Do you apply a psychological stick and carrot?
A. Yes. I make the training sessions entertaining to take the players' minds off things, so they enjoy the work, something that wasn't done before. Everything is a competition and every exercise has a reward, like getting out of packing up the material or having to pay for lunch for everyone. This also serves to increase competitiveness and take away the fear of winning and losing, two urgent necessities when I arrived.
Q. Have they taken the message on board?
A. Yes. Before, each individual sought his own solutions. Now they ask what they can do for their teammate.
Q. But you have also implanted footballing concepts?
A. Of course. But I didn't have to invent them, just work on the basic things. To value the ball, keep possession, be strong in the area, concentrate on every play, don't wait for someone else to sort things out... but I still haven't really had enough time.
Q. What attracted you to Zaragoza, a club with no money, few points, little soccer and an endless dispute between fans and president?
A. The idea that an historic team was asking me for my help. They told me either I came or they were doomed to relegation. And I don't care what other people think. Some have branded me a madman, but I'm just brave. I believe in what I do.
Q. Do you think now safety can be achieved?
A. Yes. After the loss to Málaga I saw my team had lost faith. But they have improved. We don't know if it will be enough because we are a way off, but we're close enough to have a chance.
Q. Can the team do it with the soccer it is playing at the moment?
A. We're giving it everything we've got, and that's all you can ask. Essentially, we have to compete. And that is our virtue — that we are competitive. In terms of quality we've got what we've got. Many teams are technically superior, but they don't have more faith. There are many imitators of Barcelona and of Real Madrid, but there is only one Barça and one Real. The rest is plagiarism, and bad copies at that. You have to have an identity. My team has players with talent and a lot of heart. We play well within the options we have. We have improved our strategy, in runs from midfield and in stopping the flood of goals at the back. When you are not Barça or Real you have to be strong in this other form of soccer.
Q. Barcelona is your next opponent...
A. The best approach is to keep them off the ball so that they can't get into their rhythm because otherwise they are lethal. To them the opponent doesn't matter, just their style. And that has been working out pretty well for them.
Q. Do you want to stay at Zaragoza next season?
A. I haven't brought it up. I think doing anything other than concentrating on the task in hand is a lack of respect.