Farias: South American qualifiers are like a difficult university
Still in mourning, the Bolivian coach spoke with FIFA.com
He remembered Cesar Salinas and spoke of the pain his death provoked
Looking ahead to the qualifiers he says the team “have possibilities"
Cesar Farias is still in shock. The death from coronavirus of Cesar Salinas, the president of the Bolivian Football Federation, was a heavy blow for the coach of the senior team, who is still trying to come to terms with the news.
"It’s very sad what happened, and you feel powerless and very frustrated at having no answer to the imponderables of these moments. I would like to express once more my sincerest condolences to his loved ones," the Venezuelan tells FIFA.com.
Farias admits that "talking about football helps to cope with the situation, as it was through football that I knew him". Unsurprisingly then, the dominant theme of our conversation is the start of the qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, scheduled for October.
This will be the third World Cup qualifying campaign for the 47-year-old. In the first two, as coach of his native Venezuela, he collected 38.33 per cent of the available points across 14 games in the South Africa 2010 preliminary competition, and 41.67 per cent over 16 matches in that of Brazil 2014.
With a green light to begin preparations in early August, Farias aims to improve on those numbers and lead Bolivia to their first World Cup since 1994. In conversation with FIFA.com, he spoke of this objective, the challenge of working in the midst of the pandemic and other issues.
FIFA.com: Professionally, what have you been able to do during the pandemic?
Cesar Farias: Confinement has allowed us to keep developing. We’ve been working a lot, researching, exchanging knowledge with colleagues, chatting daily with the players. We took advantage of the time – it was like an intensive course in elite coaching.
What have you been talking about with the players?
The best teams are always very close. If you talk to world champions like Nery Pumpido, or World Cup coaches like Xabier Azkargorta and Francisco Maturana, they’ll agree that the management of human capital is essential. So, we strive to establish a common language, with values and principles that give us a collective strength.
What work guidelines have you established with them, and how?
In terms of physical training, they each have a personal plan because they all execute it in a different area, and we adjust it almost daily. On the tactical side, we look for methods of virtual teaching that work, and then adapt them to our needs, reinforcing concepts through repetition, auditory and visual sequences, and verbal and written instruction. We draw on neuroscience exercises, questionnaires and everything we can get our hands on.
Can you give us an example of an exercise?
In one exercise we give them a barrage of out-of-sequence photos that they have to arrange correctly, like a puzzle. Thus, we seek to assimilate defensive concepts, such as marking with three or four defenders, formations near our area or in midfield, as well as attacking concepts, such as triangular advancement or creating the desired openings. They could also involve situations that occur in both halves, such as the dead-ball scenarios.
Isn’t there a risk of information overload?
Not if you use an exercise well. We've almost done a coaching course for the players. They should all know that a match has some 120 interruptions, that at Russia 2018 exactly 45 per cent of the goals came from dead-ball situations or that a corner requires 24 seconds to be taken. They must assimilate the data and make use of it.
And the same applies to us. We studied Romania's golden generation and how they qualified for three [successive] World Cups, just as IR Iran did, starting out with locally based players. We even studied the process of world champions France. We are gathering data to profile them with our players.
In your previous positions, you promoted a number of youth players. After the fine performance of the Bolivian U-23s in this year’s Pre-Olympic Tournament, what role will these young players have in the senior team?
They are and will continue to be an important part of the team’s formation. It’s not a question of me being brave [in picking them], but rather that there are good reasons. In terms of mobility, their performances are at a very high level, and if they can perform like that in La Paz, then it will be difficult for any team to take points away from here.
Who has stood out?
Víctor Abrego dazzled: he played three games and scored two goals against Brazil and one against Uruguay. Henry Vaca, our captain, is a left-sided attacking midfielder who covers the entire pitch. Sebastian Reyes has been a very prominent centre-back. And Roberto Carlos Fernandez, who can play out wide or in the middle, has the quality to play in one of Europe’s top flights. We have faith in them.
Do you subscribe to the idea of playing one team at home and another away?
We don't believe in one set system, although in the past that has worked for us. In the qualifiers for Brazil 2014, we [Venezuela] used two squads and took four points from Bolivia, beat Argentina and drew in Colombia and Uruguay. And we believe both in internal competition and that the largest army beats the smallest.
Besides, post-pandemic, football will be different and won't have the same dynamic. There will be some fear of contagion, of testing, of getting on a plane and traveling to a foreign country. We'll have to learn to live with that, and we'll need a lot of players.
Are you worried that only now you have permission to resume training?
The forecast was that we’d start two months earlier, because 90 per cent of players are locally based, and the aim was to turn that 'weakness' into a strength. By starting in ten days’ time, we are still within the timeframe envisaged to do something important. It was key because there are rivals who have had three months of practice, official matches and we start our campaign against Brazil and Argentina.
Are there positives and negatives with opening fixtures like that?
There's nothing wrong with it if we can start preparing now. Facing Messi and Neymar in four days is a privilege. But I don’t want to just get my photo taken with them, I want to beat them! No one can take away that hope away from us.
How do you assess the overall qualifying landscape?
Right now, I don't see any one team that’s gone ahead, we're all in development. In this context, Bolivia have other possibilities. But the South American qualifiers are a difficult university, especially for smaller countries. We're going to have 18 different challenges and won't be able to relax.
Finally, how will you approach the third World Cup qualifying campaign of your career?
When I started, I was the newest arrival and faced coaches such as [Marceloi] Bielsa, [Alejandro] Sabella, [Oscar] Tabarez, [Jose] Pekerman, Bolillo Gomez and [Sergio] Markarian. Today I have almost 100 senior games under my belt, and with the exception of Tabarez or [Reinaldo] Rueda, no one has overseen more South American qualifying games. Maybe I have fewer years’ experience than others, but I've already been there and I want to bring all my experience to the Bolivian national team.