Angelino has become RB Leipzig’s leading figure this season. FTF spoke to his ex-coach at NAC Breda where the Spaniard first blossomed into life.
RB Leipzig’s bald headed dynamo, Angeliño, is quickly developing a reputation as one of the best full-backs in the world.
But back in 2017 when Angeliño had considerably more hair not many would have predicted his rapid trajectory. Except for his coach at NAC Breda.
For Stijn Vreven, it has not been a surprise.
The Belgian still remembers sitting in a video conference preparing to call him over to analyse their next opponent.
‘Before games we always show players individual clips of the players they will go up against,’ former NAC Breda coach Stijn recalls to First Time Finish.
‘So one day I called Angeliño over and I told him we will look through his opponent and analyse him, which foot he prefers, what acceleration he has and etc.’
Angeliño’s response was not one Stijn expected.
‘He said: Coach he has to look to me. I never look at my opponents. I don’t care about them. After the game he will know me.’
Stijn laughs as he recalls the memory.
‘Of course at that moment it was really strange because I didn’t know his quality and just how good he was but in most cases he was usually right.’
The moment was one of many over the course of a season which confirmed Stijn’s perceptions of Angeliño’s special talent. A trait marked by his insatiable belief in his ability.
‘Confidence is one of his biggest strengths,’ Stijn agrees.
When 20 year old Angeliño arrived at NAC Breda, it was after having spent four years in Manchester City’s youth set-up.
He had come on the back of detours to New York, where the Spaniard learned from the likes of Pirlo, Lampard and David Villa to hone his talent, as well as brief stints in his homeland at Girona and Mallorca.
Angeliño had not set the world alight in any of those adventures, but Stijn Vreven saw a raw talent in the Manchester City youth prospect.
‘We had a co-operation with Manchester City at the time,’ Stijn recalls. ‘We saw several games of Angeliño and you didn’t have to know so much about football to see he had something extra to offer us. So we were immediately convinced.’
When a new player arrives at the club, they usually keep their head down and heed the advice of their new boss, but with Angeliño things were not always straight forward.
‘He was unusual,’ Stijn says ‘We saw immediately that he was not an ordinary player. Angeliño was a little bit special in everything. He did not just say ‘yes’ to the coach, he always asked questions and wanted good explanations for everything. He asked me about what to do on and off the pitch.’
Stijn saw this right away in the first training session.
‘We were doing a drill and he was on the opposite side of the ball as a full-back. I was expecting him to shift to the centre more and the first time I told him this he just said: But I didn’t have to do this with my former coach. And I told him: Okay but I’m your new coach and I have new ideas and we play with four at the back so I need you to defend.’
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Fast forward to the present day, most watchers of European football will be well aware of Angeliño’s perchance for surging forward from the back. His goal-scoring record at RB Leipzig is a living testament of his ability.
But back in 2017 the Spaniard was a full-back without a professional goal. Granted there were some flickers in Manchester City’s youth academy including a hat-trick against Leicester in the Premier League 2.
Nonetheless, in the summer of 2017, Angeliño had been without a goal for a year and a half at any level.
The jury was still out on him.
Yet with Stijn’s willingness to work his tactics around the Spaniard at Breda Angeliño was able to spark to life and develop a reputation which is now renowned across Europe.
‘We played with a back four, but when we saw that Angeliño offered us so much going forward, in ball possession I instructed him to play really as a left-winger. My left winger was always playing as a midfield player in between the lines and my right full-back was really a defender.’
That formation gave Angeliño the freedom to thrive on the pitch. He left the club with 10 goal contributions in 35 games.
‘When I think about him it is simple [what makes him so good]. He really likes to play football, he just liked to train.
He liked to practise passing and crosses.
And everything he does in training he does in matches too.
He likes to express himself on the pitch and show how good he is everyday. That’s a a huge thing for a player. You’re going to get better and better if you always want to do your best.
He showed everyday that he has fun playing football, that is his biggest quality,’ Stijn explains.
When discussions arise about Angeliño people are quick to talk about his ample offensive assets. And rightly so. But amidst all the talk of his brilliant attacking ability, his defensive skills are often undermined.
According to Statsbomb via FBref Angelino ranks in the upper 70% percentile for successful pressures in Europe’s top five leagues.
He has also attempted 4.92 tackles per 90 via Wyscout with a 59.26% success rate which is not a bad return considering his position on the pitch.
Defending has not come easy for Angeliño though. It was something Stijn had to drum into his game at NAC.
‘His defensive positioning without the ball was much better at the end of the season,’ Stijn says.
‘At the beginning when he was with us I had a feeling he only thought about attacking. It seemed like defending was not exciting enough for him.
But at NAC we had to defend. So I talked a lot with him about defending.’
Having played most of his professional career as a full-back Stijn knew one or two things about the role.
‘At the beginning Angelino was always open in the defensive transitions. So we had to work with him to close the passing lines between the centre-back and the full-back.’
We had to force him to try to stop crosses too. And make him understand that it was a part of his job. We talked a lot about defensive things.’
It was not always easy.
‘At the beginning it was a bit difficult but when he recognised he was going to become better and we gave him lots of compliments about his defending, he liked it more.’
‘I think at the end of the season the balance between being a good defender and a good attacker was more even. Maybe something like 60% – offensive and 40% – defensive.’
‘We were the youngest team in the league and the fact that we didn’t have problems about staying in the Eredvisie was for a huge part thanks to Angeliño,’ Stijn reminisces.
When the former NAC Breda coach thinks about his time in Holland and his former protege he is still in awe.
‘He has something extra, a brilliant left-foot, fantastic crosses and excellent at free-kicks.’
‘I spent 17 years as a professional player but I cannot remember if I saw anyone able to hit the ball as well as him. His left-foot is world class and his technique also. He very rarely needs a second touch to control the ball.’
It’s something Angeliño practised day and night according to Stijn.
Angeliño’s hard-work and belief in himself is why the Spaniard has been able to get so far in his career, despite some early step-backs and despite Manchester City turning him away.
The boy from the beaches of Galicia, is now one of the best in his position in the entire world.
His 8 goals and 11 assists in 31 games so far is a huge testament of that.
Still just 24 years of age, there’s more to come too.
The next step will be a senior call-up to the Spanish national team which has so far proved elusive.
And then even the Meisterschale is not out of the question come the end of the season.
‘I think when you keep working hard like he does and you are open minded for advice. I told him, for me, the sky is the limit,’ Stijn concludes.
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