The mastermind behind Auckland City FC’s 7 consecutive OFC Champions League victories, Ramon Tribulietx has been managing the Navy Blues from the City of Sails since 2008. The Barcelona native spoke to FBTG about hostile fans in Rabat, Catalonian succession and the future of Football in Auckland.
Can you give a brief background to yourself, as a player and manager?
I played for the club. When I was a player, Auckland City didn’t exist. It was Central United which is the same club, basically the same people. The new national league started in 2004 I think. The people that started this club are originally from Croatia, so they see the game in a bit of a different way, less physical, a bit more technical. They wanted to implement a different style. They knew I was that type of player so they thought “maybe that’s the way to go?”. That’s how the opportunity came across, back in 2008. I never would have thought I would have been so long here.
In Spain I had a little stint in the second league and in the third division and then in the lower leagues, like the Primera Catalana which is just below the third division. I played until I was 33 and then I took up an opportunity as an assistant coach in 2005. I always liked to talk on the field and thought that I would one day like to lead things from the dugout. That was my style of Football; viewing everything. Analysing everything. That’s why I thought “let’s take this opportunity” back in 2005.
You mentioned briefly the difference in styles between Croatians, Spaniards and the people of the South Pacific. Can you elaborate?
In Spain, a lot of teams playing today are very physical and have a very physical approach. But where I come from, Barcelona, we try to do things in a different way. We love the technically skillful players rather than the physical players. We like to keep it on the ground. That’s my background as a player and this is why I prefer to coach in the same way. Making sure that my teams try to play from the back, be patient on the ball and hold onto the ball for longer than the opposition. The Croatian side of things, maybe 50-50? You know, Croatians are very physical, very strong people. But they like to play good Football. They also like to keep the ball. And in New Zealand here it’s very different. It’s slowly changing but traditionally the style of Football here has been very direct and very physical. A lot of contact. A lot of fouls.
You’ve also coached in the Solomon Islands?
Yeah well I just gave them a hand basically [for the] Nations’ Cup in 2016. I’ve always thought that these people in the islands have a lot of raw talent. I always thought that I could help them one day maybe. The opportunity came up and I thought “why not?”. We qualified for the semi-finals of that Nations’ Cup which was very good. It was quite an enjoyable Nations’ Cup, a different experience for me.
How do the fans compare down in here, in Auckland, in New Zealand, and then in this region? What would your impression be?
The fans you mean? Whoooar, we got good crowds here. I mean it’s a small ground. We got quite a few supporters that stand on one of those corners. They’re quite lively but other than that, people are very quiet. People in New Zealand don’t really follow live sports too much. If you go up to the islands, you might get 15 or 20 thousand people watching the games. They love the game. In New Zealand, the interest is growing. It has grown a LOT since I came here. It’s still not the number one sport and again the mentality of the Kiwis is not…. as I said, they’ve got a lot of things to do. This is a beautiful country, so the crowds they get here can’t compare to the crowds you get when you go to the islands. You get massive crowds and the people are very wild, very loud. So probably one of the differences [is that] the atmospheres on the islands are very good.
Football in Auckland has quite a big following. Is that because it’s a more multicultural city?
Probably. It’s a big city. 1.5 million people and as you said, more multicultural. People from Asia, Europeans…. I’m from Barcelona. This club is Croatian, sort of Croatian-Kiwi. So here in Auckland there is a very strong Football mentality. Also in Wellington, you’ve got a lot of clubs as well, so you’ve got different centres across New Zealand where the game is played. The game is growing, especially in the youth levels. I think it’s the number 1 sport. The most played sport in New Zealand, more than rugby.
You don’t find you compete against Rugby to take kids into Football?
I’m not too sure about that. I know Rugby is in the blood of the Kiwis, you know what I mean? So that’s gonna be there forever. And fair enough. I think we need to coexist. Why not? Why can we not coexist? They’re the number 1 sport and people feel it in their blood. Football is a different story but why can we not be right up there? We’re growing.
Wellington Phoenix play in the Australian A-League. Do you think that Auckland as a city could host an A-League franchise?
I think this club would love it. Our president has manifested that already. We’re interested, that’s the next step probably for us. This club has grown a lot, especially after so many Club World Cups. We are internationally now well known. We’ve got a very strong brand internationally so we would love to have an opportunity like that. We’d love to expand ourselves and grow bigger. Competing in a league like the A-League would be fantastic.
The FIFA Club World Cup has taken Auckland City and yourself to such far away destinations as Morocco, Japan and the UAE. Those experiences, those away days; what’s that like for the players, yourself and the people going with the club?
Fantastic. You feel at the top of the world for 10 or 15 days. It’s a great opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world. In 2014 in Morocco, that’s probably my best experience in my life as a coach and as a player. Finishing 3rd in a competition compared to those clubs that we have to play against…. Real Madrid, and we beat Cruz Azul in the game for the bronze medal. We won that bronze medal against a club that is probably a hundred times bigger than our club. On paper, it’s impossible. But we did it. We’ve had an unbelievable period of 8 years that we will not forget.
And dealing with the climate? With hostile locals fans in Morocco for example?
I remember when we played the local team in 2014. Our player was taking the last penalty. The atmosphere against him was unbelievable. I mean, I’m from Barcelona. I used to be a season ticket holder. I used to watch all the games, and that noise was unbelievable. Terrible, but at the same time unbelievable. When we go play up in the islands, the climate is different, very hot, a lot of humidity. It drops your levels down. It’s very difficult playing at your best when you’re put into those conditions. So we’ve had to play in different circumstances in different countries. It is the way it is. We just put a lot of effort into preparation. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
Your future managerial ambitions? One day back in Catalonia, in Spain, in Europe?
Look, I’ve been asked that question many, many times and I’ve always said, I’m very happy here but I’m also ambitious. We’re human beings and if we don’t keep stepping forward, sometimes we take the risk of dropping out. It’s the 10th season in a row here at Auckland City but I’m still loving it. At the moment there’s nothing to change. One day, when the opportunity comes, for sure, I’ll be happy to consider it.
What are your views on Catalonian independence and its ramifications for Spanish and Catalan Football? What do you imagine happening in the future?
It is very difficult to answer that question right now. I think I would need an hour (laughs) to answer that. I’m from the outskirts of Barcelona and my family is still there. The situation right now is not very good, with the Spanish Government posting the 155 article by which they took away the autonomy basically. To be honest, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if Catalonia will or can be independent one day. What is definite is that we need more a bit autonomy than the autonomy we’ve had so far, and the situation can’t carry on that way. It’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for Catalonia and it’s not good for Spain.
Thanks for talking to us Ramon.