During a topsy-turvy season which did not seem to be following the customary rites, normal service has been resumed and the big three once again sit atop La Liga.
The managerial figureheads for Barcelona and the two Madrid clubs – Atletico and Real – are well-known, but what of their deputies? Who are these trusted lieutenants and what role do they play in creating successful environments at their clubs?
Jon Aspiazu – Barcelona
It’s not uncommon to see an empty seat next to Ernesto Valverde before his Barcelona side kick off. But rather than anything untoward, it is deliberately left vacant for Jon Aspiazu, Txingurri’s assistant, who arrives pitch-side after watching the first half of games from the stands.
Angel Perada of El Correo describes Aspiazu as “having a huge capacity to read games”, which in part explains his preference to sit high up, articulating what he’s seen to his colleagues at half-time.
He and Valverde first met in 1985 while players at Sestao in the Basque country. Inherently compassionate, Aspiazu now provides a natural contrast to Valverde in the Barca dressing room.
Alberto Albistegui, a former team-mate from Sestao, talks about Aspiazu “not being quick on the pitch, but quick in the head”. With the Blaugrana in the hunt for a ‘triplete’ and facing all the usual scrutiny, his thinking presence alongside Valverde will continue to be critical.
German Burgos – Atletico Madrid
“The roles of coaches and their assistants is a bit like those double acts in classic films – like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.” Atletico Madrid’s assistant manager German Burgos’ description of his relationship with boss Diego Simeone goes some way to revealing the pair’s fit.
Two vibrant characters, they know each other inside out – Simeone once said “we don't even need to look at each other to know what we want” – and after seven years, their unique approach continues to get the best out of Atleti’s players.
A few minutes into every match, Burgos shares with El Cholo the system the opposition are playing, and he attempts to be the “cool and calm archer” to his more animated countryman. Previous heated touchline incidents have meant this hasn’t always been true, but perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given El Mono used to front a heavy-metal rock band.
Santiago Sanchez – Real Madrid
Probably no one understands Real Madrid better than Santiago Sanchez. Assistant to Zinedine Zidane at Castilla, he remained in the role when the Frenchman was promoted. Having worked with Zidane’s replacement Santiago Solari for three years, the Argentine took Sanchez with him on his unexpected ascension to the first team’s hot seat. They have brought their knowledge of Los Merengues’ best young players with them, promoting the likes of Javier Sanchez into the squad.
Given mixed results, uncertainty clouds the future of the Real management. With encompassing knowledge from over a decade at the club, as well as successful spells as an assistant and manager (he was in charge of Cadete A for four seasons), it’s likely Sanchez will stay in some capacity whatever happens.
With the big three each facing critical periods in their seasons, the value of the assistant is about to truly come to the fore.