Sporting Director of Betis since the 2020-2021 season, Antonio Cordón has been an integral part of the exciting season experienced by the Verdiblancos and has signed up with the Andalusian club until 2024. Before the derby against Sevilla FC at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, the 58-year-old recounts his journey as a PE teacher to today, going through the last title of champion of France acquired by AS Monaco.
Proposed by Antoine Donnarieix, at Benito-Villamarín
The season so far has been wonderful. Since last year, Betis have been doing things in the right order. At present, we are the only Spanish team still involved in three competitions, it is a real source of satisfaction and we will continue in this dynamic. Of course, this derby reflects a capital importance for our city, our supporters. As a professional committed to football, I see this as a particularly stimulating encounter. I want to see a great show, especially since our opponent will also have a great season.
Let’s talk a bit about the former Ligue 1 players at Bétis: Nabil Fekir and Youssouf Sabaly. What do you think of their respective roles in the team?
Regarding Nabil, everyone knows that he is a fundamental part of the team’s growth. We are really happy with his performance, and I feel that his interest in the city and the well-being of his family are also important to him. His brother Yassine is with Betis Deportivo, he also works at the lower level and we see that he has good professional and human qualities. When things go well, we have to sediment that and continue to take care of the comfort of our players. We also apply as a family, and that goes for Sabaly. He has brought a lot to Betis since his arrival because he is able to play on the left and on the right of the defense. Also, his integration is phenomenal: he learns Spanish very quickly and we have the impression that he has been part of the team for years. His injury sidelined him for a long time, but we now think he can be a starter if the coach decides.
“I touched on all football-related functions, beyond management. I drew the lines on the grounds, I organized the room, the plots, the shirts. It was the start, I had to combine the tasks to earn a little more money. »
You are a former PE teacher from college. How did you manage to become sporting director at Villarreal?
I love football, and sports in general. I managed to obtain the coaching titles at the national level quite young. From there, I touched on all functions related to football, beyond management. I drew the lines on the grounds, I organized the room, the plots, the jerseys. It was the start, I had to combine the tasks to earn a little more money. As soon as I arrived at Villarreal, I started from the academy where I went from coach to scout in the Madrid area, then from scout to analyst for the first team before reaching the level international. These seventeen years spent at the club (between 2000 and 2016, editor’s note) gave me important background. With Bétis, we are on a good path and we will see what happens next.
Such a long collaboration in the same club is unusual for a sports director these days. What linked you so particularly to this club?
It’s an almost family bond with Villarreal. At the beginning, we had the project to build the sports complex and we realized it in the but to improve the infrastructures and the formation. In this, I feel very attached to what we have achieved together during all these years. Again today, I wish the best to this club. I kept a lot of friends, I learned a lot there. Over the years, Villarreal has become something of a role model.
You then spent time at the head of the sports department of AS Monaco in 2016-2017, a season in which the club finished champion of France and semi-finalist of the C1. How did you live this experience?
It was something incredible. But when we started, things weren’t that simple. With Leo Jardim, we built a team from inside the locker room and that was what I wanted to convey to the club: individuals are one thing, but the group remains the central force. That year, it was the collective aspect that allowed us from the start of the season to begin this positive dynamic and to garner confidence in a very healthy way. For example, Morgan De Sanctis was our third goalkeeper, but he brought a lot of good humor to the dressing room. Also, the insertion of Mbappé during the season made us change our system of play by going from a center forward to two points. With hard work, the team made this exceptional performance possible. Bernardo Silva, Lemar, Sidibé, Bakayoko, Fabinho, Moutinho, Jemerson, Glik, Raggi, Subašić, Falcao, Dirar… Everyone worked for this memorable season.
Today, do you still recognize the style of this Monaco, or has everything changed?
I still watch their matches, and I like that because I know that some friends still work for the club. But honestly, I think the team has changed a lot since then. There are other managers and a new sports management. If the club is still successful today, the credit goes to others.
Among the elements you signed during the summer of 2016, Kamil Glik (11 million euros, Turin), Djibril Sidibé (15 million, Lille) or Benjamin Mendy (13 million, Marseille) are your most expensive recruits. Did you already have in mind to compete with Paris Saint-Germain for the title?
No, it came during the season. There was the desire to improve on the previous season which had been difficult (eliminated by FC Valence in the preliminary round of the C1, beaten 6-1 by OL on the penultimate day, editor’s note). The idea was not so much to sign big players, but to change the structural vision of the club. It was a fundamental thing for Monaco. Of course, the profiles you are talking about had to bring added value to the group and that turned out to be right.
You notably recovered Radamel Falcao on his return from loan from Chelsea after a season with little recovery from him. After two difficult seasons for him and two serious injuries, what convinced you to keep in the squad with confidence?
Confidence was mostly the coach’s job. For my part, I was aware of the technical quality of Falcao, and that went well beyond the physical aspect. Falcao in the box is a killer. It does not matter if it arrives with speed or not, the ball ends up in the net whether it is thanks to the head or the foot. He has an extraordinary ability to take advantage of a space.
During this famous season, the Falcao-Germain duo started, but gradually, you noticed the emergence of Kylian Mbappé at the club. Did you honestly think that his progression curve was going to be so dazzling?
It was really important that Valère Germain could stay at the club, because he was inventing the initial Monegasque style. Throughout the season, he has brought a lot. Mbappé was a youngster who had just won the Gambardella with the U19s and he settled into the first team. From his first training sessions with the professional group, Mbappé was a different player. Little by little, he imposed himself quite clearly in the team and he had to have his chance, it was obvious.
“The economic management of Mbappé was the domain of Vadim Vasilyev. He saw the offers arriving during the season and he sometimes asked me: “Do you think we should let him go now? How much do you estimate his worth?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to say! »
With such dazzling progress in Monaco, you had to quickly manage the Mbappé dossier, highly coveted by several clubs, including Barça, Real Madrid and PSG. How are negotiations of this type going with such desired players?
In reality, Mbappé was focused on the sporting theme, namely his integration into the group and how to make himself as useful as possible. He was also concerned about his studies. The economic management of Mbappé was the domain of Vadim Vasilyev. He saw the offers arriving during the season and he sometimes asked me: “Do you think we should let him go now?” How much do you estimate its value? » Honestly, I didn’t know what to say! (Laughs.) And finally, it was quite difficult to predict such a good sale.
Why did you decide to leave the club only one day after your departure?
I am a man of challenges. After this fantastic season, I had the opportunity to manage four teams simultaneously in Italy, Spain, Portugal and China (Parma, Granada, Tondela and Chongqing Lifan, editor’s note). Honestly, this challenge really provided me. Who were the people who have already done this before? It was new work, something innovative. With Parma and Granada, we managed to access the first division. It is a satisfaction.
“Longoria is a person who comes from the roots of football, he has invested a lot to achieve what he is doing today. In Spain we know that Pablo has already succeeded. »
Recently, your compatriot Pablo Longoria went from sports director to president of Olympique de Marseille at just 36 years old… What do you think of his trajectory?
He is at a higher stage than mine! (Laughs.) Everyone has their trajectory and their way of progressing in the world of football. Longoria is a person who comes from the roots of football, he has invested a lot to achieve what he does today. In Spain we know that Pablo has already succeeded.
And president precisely, you think about it for the future?
To be honest, I never asked myself the question. The work of sports director is very intense, I imagine that that of president must be even more demanding. Right now, it’s not in my head.
Proposed by Antoine Donnarieix, at Benito-Villamarín