The referee blew, signalling time. One gentleman dressed in navy blue kicked out in frustration, two others allowed their chins to drop to their chests. One by one, all eventually turned to look in the direction of Ramon. As professional as ever, he gave away little emotion while shaking his counterpart’s hand. Yet nobody realised that this was to be his last match in charge.
Unless you are a Kiwi, the name Ramon Tribulietx is unlikely to be familiar to you. Yet hisstatus in Pacific Football is nothing short of legendary, and his legacy at Auckland City FC will endure long after all individuals he has worked with have moved on from the organisation.
That surname betrays Mr Tribulietx’s Catalonian roots. Born (20/9/72) and raised in Barcelona, Football naturally became a keen interest at a very early age. In his youth he displayed a real aptitude at an intellectual and technical style of playing Football, signing his first adult contract with UE Sant Andreu. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but a move from Spain to New Zealand would have appeared a strange move back in 1999. Central United FC, a semi-professional Northern League side that plays through New Zealand’s winter months (the northern hemisphere’s summer months), came through with an offer to play in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. His first spell at Central would prove to be ultimately unsuccessful. After breaking his arm in a matter of months, Ramon chose to return to Spain. Mr Tribulietx’s first stint in New Zealand as a player was viewed almost universally as a failure, yet it was nothing short of critical in establishing contacts in the right places that would eventually allow him to become one of the greatest young managers around.
It was at this stage back in Spain when Ramon made his first foray into management. He studied a degree in physical education back in Catalonia, before earning roles as assistant manager at three separate Catalonian sides in three consecutive seasons between 2005 and 2008. His performance in his homeland caught the attention of former employers Central United, who hired him as assistant manager in 2008 under player-manager Paul Posa for the Auckland City FC team; Central United‘s sister outfit for the summer season, 9 years after he left New Zealand. Ramon would prove very effective in his first two seasons in this role, yet Posa’s retirement in 2010 would in time prove to be a blessing in disguise for employees and fans of Auckland City. Mr Tribulietx was eventually offered the full time position as Auckland City FC manager (though as co-manager in the 2010/2011 season).
While his journey to this position had been anything but straightforward, 2010 marked the dawn of the “Tribulietx Era” in domestic Kiwi Football. Under Ramon Tribulietx, Auckland City FC has emerged as the dominant force in not only New Zealand but also Pacific Football. The records broken by, trophies collected by and accolades bestowed on the team that Mr Tribulietx built speak for themselves;
seven ISPS Handa Premiership premier titles
seven consecutive OFC Champions’ League titles between 2011 and 2017
five Charity Cup victories
bronze medal in the 2014 FIFA Club World Cup, after having narrowly lost to San Lorenzo in the semi-final.
That last one is a particular source of pride for Navy Blues fans. Auckland City’s third place in the Club World Cup is the single feat that many see as the club’s highest profile achievement. Many would argue that the Football played in the Pacific is the lowest standard in the world, thus for the club to progress in the competition that pits the theoretical best of each continent against each other is a clear indication of the calibre of Football that the Navy Blues have been able to achieve under the stewardship of Ramon Tribulietx.
Ramon has also proven himself capable at managing national Football teams. He worked as the technical consultant for the Canada Women’s Olympic team for the 2012 London Olympics, helping the rank outsiders to third place in the competition. Additionally, he spent a good degree of time working with the Solomon Islands national side in preparation for the 2016 OFC Nations Cup. His status as technical adviser with the Wantoks stands out as a further feather in his cap.
By their own high standards, Auckland City had a poor 2018/2019 season. In spite of finishing in first place in the league and winning the premiers, the Navy Blues tripped up in the ISPS Handa Premiership semi-final to rivals Team Wellington. Furthermore, in the OFC Champions’ League semi-final, the club came unstuck away to AS Magenta. With only 10 men in the second half, the New Caledonian side scored a late winner to secure their place in the first ever all Caledonian OFC Champions’ League final. In time, this would turn out to be Ramon’s final match in charge.
A cynic would identify the 2018/2019 season as the reason behind Ramon Tribulietx’s departure, but in an official press statement released on the 5th of June 2019, Auckland City FC has ominously cited “significant changes to its financial structure” as the driving force behind the divorce. Make of that what you will, but we certainly hope that the results of the season just gone have in any way influenced this decision.
Now is the time to speculate what happens next. Of the two parties, ACFC has the harder task. Not only will the directors have to attract a manager of similar ability in order to guarantee the success they have come to expect, but they also need somebody who understands the internal club culture and appreciates the challenge of the slower-paced yet physical nature of Pacific Football. A low budget and the relative low level of prestige of New Zealand Football mean that foreign managers will be difficult to attract. Auckland City will probably have to either poach existing managers in New Zealand, or promote junior members of its staff.
Mr Tribulietx’s achievements in New Zealand make him a hot prospect for any club with major ambition. 7 consecutive Champions’ League titles make him one of the greatest Football managers of our time; nobody else has achieved this. His talents and ability to structure a successful and competitive team using limited resources are in no doubt, and I suspect that potential suitors are already knocking on the door.
Europe is an entirely plausible option. The native Spanish speaker hinted at a potential future move back to Catalonia and/or Spain when we spoke to him last year. If this were the case, this relatively unknown figure would likely have to start with a lower division side to confirm that his style of management suits the Spanish game, yet his achievements with sides from Canada and the Solomon Islands are demonstrative of his ability to adapt to alternative styles of play. Give it some time and the larger clubs may well be knocking on the door.
On a late Summer Tuesday evening, we arranged a short interview with Ramon Tribulietx at Freyberg Field, Central United and Auckland City’s home ground down on Kiwitea Street in Auckland. The training session was coming to a close as I arrived, so I took a spot in the stand and waited. One by one, Ramon would address each of his players individually as they made their way back into the changing room, taking his time to address any concerns they may have had. Once all were off the field, I made my way over and he greeted me, a small-time blogger and aspiring writer, with all the professionalism and attention that he had paid to his staff.
He took the time to answer my questions articulately and with much consideration, and agreed to a brief photo-shoot before I shook his hand and made tracks. Ramon Tribulietx’s talent is possibly only outshadowed by his compassion and professionalism. Such a character is very effective when it comes to managing younger individuals who lack self-confidence. As pleasant as it may be to spend time in the company of Mr Tribulietx on a personal level, such an ability to build rapport with people is just another weapon in his arsenal.