Albert Capellas, director of Cruyff Football, coach of the Denmark U21 national football team, and graduate of the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, has created this platform so that “all the knowledge that Johan Cruyff had is accessible to all coaches in the world and his football legacy will stay with us forever”
Albert Capellas would have loved to have had a platform like Cruyff Football when he began his career on the bench, but fate had a much more exclusive experience in store for him. In 1993, when Albert was coach of CF Gavá, the man who would change Barça’s history forever signed for FC Barcelona. “When Johan arrived in Barcelona, I lived next to Camp Nou and I felt that something special was happening,” Albert recalls. From that moment on, visits to the team’s training sessions became part of his routine. By first watching Johan as a player, and then analyzing Johan as a coach, Albert became imbued with a philosophy that has stayed with him and he has applied throughout his career. He now manages Cruyff Football, the online platform that represents the football legacy of Johan Cruyff and makes available to all coaches in the world “all the knowledge that Johan had and that cannot be found in any book”.
Johan taught him “the excellence in football”, gave him priceless advice, ideas that came from long afternoons of chatting when their paths crossed again when they were both at Barça. “Johan often came to watch training sessions when I was the youth academy coordinator at La Masia and his every word was an inspiration to me,” Albert explains. They coincided at various stages of their lives, also at Johan Cruyff Institute, where Capellas graduated from the Master in Sport Management.
The bond has always existed and continues today with Jordi Cruyff, whom Albert has accompanied during his two coaching stints in Tel Aviv and China. Jordi also saw in Albert Capellas his best ally, not only to help him put into action the tactics that both had learned from his father, but also to immortalize Johan’s football legacy through a platform that would bear his name: Cruyff Football.
In this interview, Albert Capellas speaks with admiration of his guide and mentor.
Albert, if you had Johan in front of you now, how would you explain to him how Cruyff Football has changed over the years?
Basically, what I would say is that in the past Cruyff Football was more of in-person events, they had more contact with the clubs, and they sent coaches to them. There were more live events, but now what we are trying to do is an online platform where we can spread the legacy of Johan Cruyff through internet, so that we can inspire a lot of coaches all over the world. It is a much more global project. We will also do some live events, but now is basically an online platform to help coaches around the world to be inspired with this kind of football style that professionals play inspired by Johan Cruyff.
How did you meet Johan?
It was a lot of years ago, in 1993 when he arrived in Barcelona. I was living next to the Nou Camp and I felt that something special was happening. I had the chance to watch a lot of training sessions next to the mini stadium, because at that time it was possible to do so. Very few people were there and every time that it was possible for me, I watched the training sessions. This unbelievable way of playing football, of training, really had an impact on me from the beginning. After that, of course, I met him when I was the coordinator of the youth academy in Barcelona. I had the chance to talk with him a number of times, because he came there a lot, and we spoke about football, about his ideas, about the personality of the players, all the things that he thought were very important to develop young players, but also teams and professional players. Every word of his was very inspiring for me.
“In my life I met Johan in different moments and in every single one, he had always a big impact on me”
Later, I studied the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, and I had the opportunity to meet him again. In my life I met him in different moments and in every single one, he had always a big impact on me.
How did your relationship evolve and how did he influence your life and your professional career?
In everything. For me, Johan was the person, the coach. His vision of the game, of the training, of how to play. I discovered with him a lot of small details regarding the game that you never read in books that changed the way I thought about football. That is why Johan was the person who changed my life, who guided me in how I should be as a coach.
“Johan was the person who changed my life, who guided me in how I should be as a coach; I learned abouth excellence in football”
I learned from his courage, in decision-making and about the way of playing. I learned that the most important thing is the team, not the player. I learned that the technical level of the players is very important, and to put more attention on the intelligence, and the technical and tactical level of the player than on the physical condition. I learned abouth excellence in football.
Johan was a great player, coach and also an advisor for many people. How would you define Johan as a strategist?
A genius. And that’s it. He was able to see things that nobody else could figure out, and so quickly. After you listened to him, you thought: ‘But this is so easy, why didn’t I see it?’ He was also a winner, a person that was always trying to get an advantage in every situation he faced. So, if I had to say two things, these are the two most important things for me about Johan Cruyff as a strategist.
What is the one piece of advice you have always taken with you, to all the teams you have been in?
‘Move the ball, the ball never gets tired’. And also, ‘everything you do, do it with courage, with determination, with commitment’. Those are the best pieces of advice that I got from him.
How did the idea of creating Cruyff Football come about and what steps did you follow?
At the beginning, I wanted to write a book. But I figured out that I was not good enough at writing. Then I wanted to draw everything that I had learned over the years. My inspiration was to help coaches around the world. And of course, all my life has been inspired by Johan Cruyff, by FC Barcelona, working in Holland as well, and I thought I needed to share all this knowledge with football coaches, because a lot of people around the world were asking me ‘Please Albert, help us, help me, we need information, we don’t know a lot about positional play and the way that the dream team plays’. Then, I started to draw by myself with digital programs, I explored the digital way of sharing information. That is how I created the Cruyff Football. In that period when I started, that was not the name. It was something just for me that I could use myself with all the coaches around the world. One day, when I had the chance to work with Jordi Cruyff in Tel Aviv and in China, he was watching what I was doing on the computer and he said, ‘Please show me what you are doing’, and after five, ten minutes he said, ‘Stop, stop! This is my father!’, and I said, ‘Yes, I know; everything is inspired by your father. I understand that you can recognize it very quickly’. He said, ‘Ok let’s work on it because this is a very interesting platform to share with coaches inspired by my father all over the world and this platform deserves his name’. That is the idea behind the Cruyff Football platform.
“One day, Jordi was watching what I was doing on the computer and he said, ‘Please show me what you are doing’, and after five, ten minutes he said, ‘Stop, stop! This is my father!’”
How can you help football coaches from all over the world through the platform and how are you structured?
We have different aspects that are very important for us. First is the quality of all the information that we deliver on the platform. Quality vs quantity. That means that we create all the content. We write and we draw all the drills, we create all the videos and everything is produced inside the Cruyff Football platform, not by people from outside. Then, we try to be as efficient as possible, that means that we don’t want to overload the platform with a lot of information, we only want to introduce information that is really valuable for the coaches, so they don’t waste time. Also, when we talk about efficiency, it has to be a platform that it is always available, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. And we try to do a platform that it is very easy to understand, very clear, very visual, but also once you are surfing inside the website you can learn all the small details about how Johan Cruyff inspired us to improve the game, and that is what we try to share inside the platform.
“Cruyff Football is an unbelievable tool for football coaches. I tried to create the football platform that I would have liked to have when I was starting as a coach”
I think it is a very good tool, an unbelievable tool for football coaches. I tried to create through Cruyff Football the football platform that I would have liked to have when I was starting as a coach.
What would you say Johan, Pep Guardiola, Peter Bosz or Jordi Cruyff himself have in common with those you have worked with?
Their vision. They are visionaries. They are coaches with very clear ideas. With a lot of determination in whatever they want to do. They have very strong values, very strong beliefs and they don’t change their vision when things are going wrong. They only try, of course, to change the situation but they are very determined. They are people with a lot of commitment and with a lot of courage. And of course, their positional play, this style of football that Johan Cruyff inspired all over the world.
“When I met Johan for the first time, I understood that he was a special person, and with Jordi it is exactly the same”
Let’s talk about your work with Jordi, what do you recognize in Jordi that you had already seen in his father?
He is special, and you could see it from the beginning. When I met Johan for the first time, I understood that he was a special person, and with Jordi it is exactly the same. Jordi has these quick reactions when things are complicated; he always finds the way to solve things very quickly, and in a very intelligent way. I saw this in Johan Cruyff and I also see it in Jordi Cruyff. Very intelligent in finding solutions, in solving problems in a way that nobody else can figure out.
Tell us about your experience working with him in Tel Aviv and China.
With Jordi we really clicked. He is a person that loves the game and he really likes to be involved in football. For me, it was a gift to have the chance to work with Johan Cruyff’s son. When I met Jordi at Maccabi Tel Aviv, he was the sport director, so that means I met him as a man who was always on the phone trying to convince people, explaining the project he was doing at Maccabi Tel Aviv, that he had a big success there. When he left the club, the fans displayed a tifo in the stadium. For the sport director, that does not happen in the football world. You can imagine how big his impact was on Maccabi Tel Aviv. After that, he had to change the coach and the president asked him to be the coach for some games and I was his assistant. It was his first experience as a coach and we had to help him a lot because he knew a lot about the football game but he didn’t have experience as a coach on the pitch. We collaborated very closely. It was very easy to work with him, he really gave us the chance to offer him our best and we had a lot of success. We did not lose any games, we had only one draw. Of course, it was a temporary situation and he went back to his position as a sport director once he found a new coach for the team.
“When Jordi left Maccabi Tel Aviv, the fans displayed a tifo in the stadium. For the sport director, that does not happen in the football world, and I was really shocked by the way that he understood the mentality of Chinese people, as well”
After that, he went to China as a coach because he liked the experience of being a coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv and he told me ‘Albert, I need you here’. I said ‘Ok, I will come for some months just to help you’. I was really shocked by the way that Jordi Cruyff understood the mentality of Chinese people, because it is an absolute different way of thinking. It was one of those moments when I thought ‘this is so clever, so intelligent, because we have this European football style of coaching and the way that the people in China, the players, the board members, the staff act, is absolutely different’.
At the beginning Jordi would say ‘Here we have to do this and this, and this and this, and I would say ‘Jordi it’s not like this, but he would say ‘Believe me, trust me’. And he convinced me as he always does. And in the end, he was always right, and because of that we saved the team’s category at Chongqing. I always say that we kept them in the first division in the Super League in China because of how Jordi visualized from the beginning how we should do things there, where it was absolutely different from how we should do it in Europe.
At one point in your career, you decided to study the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute. What expectations did you have and what did the program give you?
I am a very curious person. I like to develop myself not only as a coach but as a person and as a professional. I always had it very clear that if I wanted to be a good coach and a good sportsman, I had to know all the sides of the football game. That is why when I had the chance to get the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, I did not doubt even for one second.
Johan Cruyff Institute changed my life because I was a football coach and I studied at the university, but I learned so many things that I did not know about the sports industry regarding marketing, communications, finance, and a lot of areas that really helped me to develop as a person. I am the person that I am right now because I had this fantastic experience at Johan Cruyff Institute when I studied the master’s and because this was an inspiration, and then I was much more curious to continue studying to develop myself. People at Johan Cruyff Institute opened my eyes. I really enjoyed my time there, it was really inspirational. I got a lot of knowledge and now I am a much better professional because of them.
“People at Johan Cruyff Institute opened my eyes. I really enjoyed my time there, it was really inspirational. I got a lot of knowledge and now I am a much better professional because of them”
It is a reality that the vast majority of football players neglect their education because they trust that football will give them enough to live on for the rest of their lives. But only a small percentage manage to do that. How can that way of thinking be changed?
First, we have to explain that football is not forever, and one thing is money and other thing is education. That is what I explain to my kids. I do not know if they will get some money when I die, but I want to be sure that they are really well educated, because in the end, if you are educated and you have money, you know how to handle it and when you don’t have money it also helps you to come back.
“One thing is money and other thing is education. There is one statistic that says that more that 50-60% of athletes in sports around the world lose almost all their money in less than five years. That is why we have to explain to athletes that education goes first”
There is one statistic that says that more that 50-60% of athletes in sports around the world—and it does not matter how many zeros there are after the one, we are talking about millions of euros— lose almost all their money in less than five years. That is a very important statistic, and that is why we have to explain to athletes that education goes first. Of course, they have to combine it with football, basketball, handball, or any sport they play, but they should also take care of what they are going to do once they stop playing their sport. And that is something that everyone should really take care of, because usually their sports career ends when they are 30, 32, 35 if they are lucky, and that means that they still have 30, 40 years, and that is a lot of time. Something that I have learned, and I am 53, is that life changes really fast and you have to be ready when life challenges you and the best way to solve that is education.
Is the football industry too selfish with young talents by thinking that they should only devote themselves to their playing career and neglect their future beyond football?
I really think that the demands of football clubs on their players are very selfish. They should think a lot more about, not the football player, but the person, because behind every football player there is a person and we do not know if all of them can play professional football, and how wisely they will handle in the future the money that they have made in their careers. There are not too many players that can stay 10, 12 years at a professional level. That is why I really think that it is the responsibility of the club to take care of the player’s education and offer them the time during their daily duties to study, to support them and to encourage them to study, to prepare themselves for the future. At the end, what happens in football is that we receive the kids when they are young, maybe eight, 10, 12 or 13 until 20 years old. For me, this is one of the best periods of their lives. And we don’t know, as football coaches, as clubs, if all of them will be professionals, but still, we have a big responsibility. That means we have to try to help them to be professional footballers, of course, but also, we have to be sure that we will give them something for the rest of their lives. And this is a big responsibility for the clubs to take care of, from my point of view.
“I really think that it is the responsibility of the club to take care of the player’s education, to support them and to encourage them to study, to prepare themselves for the future”
What do you think of Johan’s motto that athletes well trained in management should lead the sports industry?
I absolutely agree. Everybody who practices sport when they are young, they really develop a lot of skills, not only leadership but also self-responsibility, to follow their aims and dreams, long-term vision, doing everything they have to do to achieve what they are looking for. I think this is really useful for the sports industry, and of course there are people that maybe were not athletes and can be very good in the sports industry, but the athletes for sure. We have to take care of them, and we should use all these skills that they have been training when they were young and their experience in the sports industry.
Do you think football business managers should understand their industry better?
Yes, of course. If you have a lot of knowledge, you will take better decisions, because you are able to understand better the people around you. This is the same, the more you know about the game, about the football industry, about the different areas of the game, the better decisions you will take. That is why I really recommend to everybody who wants to stay in the football industry, to try to understand the game as much as possible. That will help them a lot to increase their chances of being successful.
“The legacy of Johan Cruyff will be eternal. He inspired modern football, he showed us the way, and now we have to develop it. That is our responsibility”
There are methods and philosophies that last in time and Johan seems to be timeless. Cruyff Football is a very important part of his legacy. What are the goals for the future?
First, I really think that the legacy of Johan Cruyff will be eternal. He inspired modern football, he showed us the way, and of course now we have to develop it. That is our responsibility. That is why it made a lot of sense to create this platform with the name Cruyff Football, because it will help all coaches to understand the way of thinking of Johan Cruyff. They can use this inspiration to develop their careers all over the world. Cruyff Football is a platform that aims to make sure that the legacy of Johan Cruyff is available to inspire coaches all over the world and that is what we are trying to do. To give everybody the chance to access all this very specific and unique information, excellent content that you will never find in books, to be sure that this very high value information, with all the knowledge that Johan Cruyff had, stays with us forever.