Willy Sagnol: Georgia’s Passionate Coach Ready for Spain Clash

Willy Sagnol: Georgia’s Passionate Coach Ready for Spain Clash

Willy Sagnol spends six months of the year in Georgia. For a Frenchman who otherwise lives amid the sedate vineyards of Bordeaux, that is a long time on roads overcrowded by cars and cattle.

Does it drive him mad? Not at all. Rather, it is the manager’s inspiration behind a national team who have won hearts and minds and, against the odds, a place in the knockout rounds at their first major tournament here in Germany.

‘When I took the team three-and-a-half years ago, it took me a little while to understand the culture of the country,’ Sagnol tells me over the phone ahead of Sunday’s game versus Spain.

‘The Georgian people are made out of emotions, with lots of ups and downs. I wanted my team to look like the country. They are all very proud to be Georgian. It is a small country that has been smashed so many times in their history. They are very patriotic, they want to die for their country.

‘It was important that our way of playing was a reflection of that. We try to defend very hard all together. As soon as we recover the ball, my players know they have freedom to do everything they want. We want to attack quickly – it fits our players and our culture.’

Willy Sagnol spends six months of the year in Georgia as coach of the nation’s football team

Sagnol is adored by Georgia supporters after taking the nation to the European Championship for the first time

Sagnol is adored by Georgia supporters after taking the nation to the European Championship for the first time

And the roads back in Tbilisi?

‘If you drive in Georgia, don’t even look for one second on your phone! Anything can happen! If there are two lanes on the road, they are going to create four out of two. You can meet goats or cows on the motorway. 

That is Georgia. There is always something happening. On the road, politically, in their sport. You have the feeling they never sleep! But that is our team, we never stop.’

Sagnol, 47, was a World Cup finalist in 2006 and won five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, as well as the Champions League in 2001.

The job the former right back has done in taking Georgia – ranked 74th in the world – into the last 16 of the Euros is remarkable. But does the dream end on Sunday in Cologne?

‘Whatever happens, we have already won our European Championship,’ says Sagnol. ‘But of course we can beat Spain. The history of football is made from surprises and dreams coming true. But we know who we are and where we are coming from. Spain is maybe the best team in the competition, so it is a massive challenge. We should not focus too much on the name or the players, we should focus on the performance we are going to give.’

If they are to pull off what would rank as the biggest shock in this competition’s history, Georgia will need Napoli star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia to shine.

‘I love his personality,’ says Sagnol. ‘He is full of respect for everyone. But on the pitch he is such an animal. He wants to get better and works so hard. For a manger, it is so easy to have a player like that. I just speak with him to make sure he’s OK, and he does the rest. All of my players are the same. They have given me so much. I am very privileged.’

Sagnol was a World Cup finalist in 2006 and won five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich

Sagnol was a World Cup finalist in 2006 and won five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich

Georgia qualified for the last-16 after producing a stunning shock win over Portugal

Georgia qualified for the last-16 after producing a stunning shock win over Portugal

Sagnol is hoping to extend Georgia's stay at the competition when they play Spain on Sunday

Sagnol is hoping to extend Georgia’s stay at the competition when they play Spain on Sunday

Sagnol – taking time to chat with Mail Sport from the team hotel – delivers all of this in a delightful English accent, like a country squire. Where has that come from?

‘I guess from my wife. She is English, from the Cotswolds. We met 20 years ago when my English was poor, so I learnt from her.’

Last week, Sagnol chose one choice English word, somewhat hilariously, to hit back at one or two critics of his team selection in Georgia. ‘T***s’ he called them, and in repeating the word to me it is hard to take any offence given the elegance of his elocution.

Sagnol revealed to Mail Sport that he has ambitions to one day manage in the Premier League

Sagnol revealed to Mail Sport that he has ambitions to one day manage in the Premier League

‘Sometimes, in Georgia, politics interferes with our lovely football world. The word “t***s” came to describe certain people who were a bit too loud for me in the last days and weeks.’

And the inspiration?

‘My wife! I will blame her. She used it a couple of times and it stayed with me!’

For now, Sagnol is happy with the cows and goats but, one day, he says the Premier League would be nice. Much like the team he currently manages, he would certainly bring colour and charisma.

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