Jaime Molina (Estepona, 15 de junio de 1961) got a lifetime opportunity back in October 2018 when ex-teammate David Almazán ‘Pirri’ offered him a job at the Shanghai Shenhua Chinese Super League club academy Under-19 team. Jaime, who is an ex professional footballer for several teams in the 1st and 2nd division in Spain like CD Málaga, Atlético Marbella, CP Mérida, Espanyol, Las Palmas and Numancia and current coach and manager did not have to think it twice. He headed to China with a huge experience both on the field and the bench in order to meet a new football and live a great experience.
He has conceded an exclusive interview to ELXIIDEAL where he tells us his story. Make sure to suscribe to our YouTube channel so you do not miss out on any of our content.
Guillermo Bermejo: Which moments of your career do you always think of after 15 years in the Spanish Football elite?
Jaime Molina: The four times I went up to La Liga ( CD Málaga, 87-88; CP Mérida, 94-95; Las Palmas, 99-00; y Numancia, 03-04) might be the most important moments of my career, but in the end the aspect I value the most is the people who stay with you after football. The debut and the farewell are the moments that have stick in my memory the most (both his debut and farewell were against the same team, Deportivo de la Coruña), but overall I choose all those times when I meet with my teammates and friends in order to remember a lot of experiences that I have had throughout my journey in the football world.
Question: How does a footballer feel at the time of his retirement and why did you choose to coach?
Answer: I was pretty sure that my last season as a professional was going to be the one after I went up with Numancia, so my mindset was ready for the moment, it was not traumatic at all to end daily practices and knowing that I would not share a looker-room with my teammates anymore. On the other hand, I had it clear that I wanted to keep myself in the football industry, so I got my coaching license and suddenly I had an opportunity to be the assistant coach at CD Mérida and then once I graduated I became the head coach thanks to the President at that moment Pepe Fouto. It was a very soft transition.
Question: In Spain you have managed to go up as a coach with Villanovense in the 2010-2011 campaign (3rd to 2nd B) and Marbella in the 2013-2014 season (3rd to 2nd B), but the biggest change in your career came when David Almazán ‘Pirri’ offered you in October 2018 to be part of the Shanghái Shenhua Under-19 team staff. What did that moment mean for you, what went through your mind and how did you make the decision to accept to move to China?
Answer: I did not have to think it twice. The change is huge because you move to a different country and need to get used to a new culture. First of all you need an interpreter when coaching because your players do not even understand you. It his a tough experience, but at the same time very enriching.
“The change is huge”
Question: How is the working system in the Chinese football academy? What level did your players have when you first arrived and what are the differences towards Spanish football?
Answer: Their coaching style focuses to much on the fitness part and each player just worries about the part they need to do. In China it is said that Chinese people are very good when the net is in the middle but they tend to struggle when the nets are on the sides. It is a very individualist society from a personal lifestyle point of view.
“Their coaching system is mostly based on fitness”
When playing team sports, each player just takes responsibility in their job and forget about the rest. For example, if someone´s position is right back, they think that that will be their position for their entire life and just focus on learning what their role must be, but they do not care about anything else. This is the mentality that David tried to change at first when he joined them, to make a team instead of 11 separate players, and the change was huge because many of them are very talented.
“It is a very individualist society”
Question: If we think about the Chinese Super League, we have seen two different phases in the last few years when China has tried to improve their football level: at first they started to sign foreign players for very high prices (Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Carlos Tévez have all played for Shanghai Shenhua), but then they realized that their National team was not going to get better with this strategy, as that is their main goal.
This way, they began to set rules for foreign players trades such as having to pay the 100% of the cost of a foreign sign for more than 5,8M euros to the Chinese Football Federation, so the final price doubles up; three million salary limit for any foreigner in the league; no more than four foreigners for a game call-up and no more than three on the field at the same time; at least two Under-23 must be in the roster for a game. Do you think that going from buying talent to making it is the right way for China to become better at football?
Answer: Their biggest obstacle is their individualist mindset. They have realized that signing top players has not made any difference on the Chinese football. This is why they thought that they should take part at schools. Coaches were at first Chinese ex profesional footballers, but that did not work either, so they started to bring foreign coaches in order to form players from a young age. This is when the quality improvement has been noticed. Outcomes will come if you keep working on the club by pointing out the importance of focusing on the team so each player adds his talent to the squad.
There was a moment when Tévez was the player who had the highest salary in the world. That did not help Shanghai to improve because the key was in the academy. In the end, when those players reached the first team where all individuals, they were not a team. Those players could add part of their talent but not take it all out, that was not possible, so they switched the strategy as their set a three million annually salary limit so players that were now coming really wanted to be in China.
“Tévez did not help Shanghai to improve”
Question: La Liga has established some agreements with China through TV rights in order to build a football culture. Have you perceived during your year in China that people like and watch football?
Answer: There is passion for football. You go to see a Shenhua game to the stadium and the atmosphere is incredible. Shanghai Shenhua Stadium is exclusively for football, they do not have running tracks or any other sports modality facilities, it is a very nice stadium. They like to watch European football in China, specially the Premier League and La Liga, despite the fact that time zone sometimes makes it hard.
“There is passion for football in China”
Question: Do you think that the National Team will improve through this new strategy in Chinese football based on making talent from a young age?
Answer: I think it is a good strategy, but I still believe that they need to fix some aspects in the National Team Academy. They treat it like a club, they choose the best players and call them up for months and take them to other countries to play friendly games, but the place where you really improve is playing for your club and making shorter trips. Struggle is real when they play against other countries from Asia. I believe that they should work more on local competitions.
“They treat the National Team Academy like if they were a club”
Question: how did you live the Covid-19 boom in China and how did affect your job? Would you like to return to coach Shanghai Shenhua?
Answer: The club allowed us to come back to Spain once the national lockdown was ordered, but our intention was to return in March, which unfortunately was impossible. There have not taken place any academy competition since then as well. Of course we would love to go back and they want us to return, but it all depends on how the situation develops in China. The information we get is that they have control over it, but things need to get better here so they let us return.
Question: Do you know when will competitions resume?
Answer: Competitions go from March to November in China, so we suspect that they will not resume until 2022 apart from maybe some tournaments before then, and I guess that with everybody vaccinated.
Jaime Molina receives our official T-Shirt that you can also get by contacting us.