We could well spring a surprise
Erwin “Platini” Sanchez was one of the best Bolivian footballers of all time. The midfielder appeared in the 1994 World Cup and played for Benfica and Boavista last October, 37-year-old Sanchez has been Bolivia’s national coach.
Q: You have accepted the position of Bolivia’s national coach at a difficult time, following a period of frustration. What are you hoping for?
Erwin Sanchez: I know it’s not easy and that it wasn’t the best moment to take on the job. But that’s exactly when you should be helping your country – when the going gets tough. I intend to reverse the misfortune that our football has suffered in recent years.
Q: Did you ever think when you were a footballer that you would one day become a coach?
Erwin Sanchez: To be honest, no, because I was offered the manager’s job while I was with Boavista, so it came as a surprise. I was recovering from a knee injury at the time and I’m the type of person who seizes an opportunity whenever it crops up. It was my second serious injury and there was very little time left on my contract and only a few years left for me to play. So I threw myself into the work and at first everything went like clockwork. Then problems started popping up and the contract was terminated in March 2004. Now this new opportunity with the national team has turned up and I think I can do my bit.
Q: People are drawing their own conclusions and don’t think Bolivia will make it to the World Cup. What would you like to say to them?
Erwin Sanchez: They can carry on thinking that way … (he laughs). We could well spring a surprise. To do that, we’ll have to improve by playing as a team and working hard. To achieve all that we need commitment from players, coaches, officials, journalists and fans. Together, we’ll manage to bring about the change we need.
Q: How do you view South American football in the run-up to the 2007 Copa America and the 2010 World Cup qualifiers?
Erwin Sanchez: I see it improving, although in Bolivia it has stagnated. Brazil are still a fine team and so are Argentina. It’s no coincidence that Ecuador have qualified for two consecutive World Cups. Venezuela have come on in leaps and bounds thanks to very solid groundwork and that could take them to the World Cup. Perhaps a new start will help Bolivia recover its optimism.
Q: Do you have the players to reverse the poor performances of recent years?
Erwin Sanchez: Everyone harps on about change when they take up a new post. We have also initiated change, but slowly and surely. We can’t talk about restructuring just as a slogan. Six players have already made their senior debut. We’ll keep at it gradually, but without rushing things. The players should know that reaching the senior team is a great honor and not as easy as it used to be.
Q: Do you already have a pool of players, or are about to form one?
Erwin Sanchez: We haven’t got a basic squad yet. But we have players who showed they were willing to work hard during their first training session and didn’t mind the demands that the coaching staff put on the. I realized that that was a good way to start. Let’s hope that we can keep up this approach and go about it with our usual humility so that we can take things forward.
Q: How important is the Copa America in your plans?
Erwin Sanchez: it will be an important parameter because we’ll be calling on everyone available – not just those playing in the national league but also those playing abroad. That will help us to decide which players will be taking part in the World Cup qualifiers.
Q: You were a very talented player. What version of “Platini” Sanchez we will see as a coach?
Erwin Sanchez: Everyone loves an attractive game of football. Sometimes a talented player emerges, but what we need to do is to establish a team identity, something that has been lacking so far in our football. That’s our first goal – to help Bolivian players grow in confidence and play in the same manner away from home as they do at home. We may be weaker than some opponents but we have our own weapons and that we’re capable of beating anyone.
Q: What type of football will you develop in Bolivia?
Erwin Sanchez: I’m hoping I’ll have a team that knows exactly what it’s doing on the pitch. And one that has its own playing style, as I said before, and considers itself the equal of anyone. I want players who believe in themselves. Most of our coaches used to be forwards so we have an appetite for goals. A match without goals is unattractive.
Q: You know European and, of course, South American football inside out. How do you rate the game of world level?
Erwin Sanchez: I think European football has contributed a lot but it places the emphasis on the physical aspect of the game. You see players there who are very well built and who have the edge over players with flair like the South Americans. The Europeans a physical advantage over us.
Q: What can you do about that? Can you work on it or is it a question of mentality?
Erwin Sanchez: We already have professionals who are physically strong. South Americans are more comfortable playing attractive but slower football. But Europeans play more directly, moving practically straight from defence to attack so, in comparison, European players are more effective.
Q: Bolivia won their first match under your leadership by beating El Salvador 5-1 in La Paz. That inspired a surge of hope throughout the country. What is your message to Bolivian fans?
Erwin Sanchez: Many people were dubious about our potential. Obviously, after that great start, we don’t think everything will be such a walkover. Actually, we haven’t achieved anything yet. But hope has been rekindled among the fans and that will boost our sense of responsibility because they will expect us keep playing at the same level. I can’t promise that, but it will be possible to obtain results that will allow us to dream of better things to come.