Quique Setien has seen his stock skyrocket ever since he took over at Real Betis. We take a look at the enigmatic genius, who is receiving a lot of fanfare
Zdenek Zeman is not a name most football fans are associated with, especially the ones who casually follow the game. Those who do know of him treat him with a kind of wonder and respect that humans probably had for the sun when they first set their eyes on it.
At Foggia, Il Bohemio would develop a cult in Italian top-flight football in the latter half of the 80s that has since remained unaffected by the embarrassing riches of modern football. Zeman was not everybody’s cup of tea; he once said that he would rather lose a game 5-4 than take a 0-0 result.
His side’s spectacular 8-2 loss at the hands of Fabio Capello’s legendary AC Milan side in 1992 has become a story of legends in the circles of Calcio. Foggia had actually led 2-1 at half time but Zeman’s unrelenting focus on attack-based football all the time capsized his ship and caused his team to concede an astonishing SEVEN goals.
It did not affect him the least, for his unwavering belief in his philosophies may have cost him games, and even silverware. But, at the end of it all, he left a mark on the Italian game that no one has matched. About 30 years later, and some 2500 kilometers away, Quique Setien is advocating a similar cult at Real Betis.
Born in sunny Santander in 1958, Setien was the quintessential journeyman mid-table midfielder. He broke through the ranks at Racing Santander, and played under the tutelage of Luis Aragones at Atletico Madrid while also representing Spain at the 1986 World Cup, although he did not make an appearance at the Mundial.
He then moved to Logrones, then came back to Racing and finally hung up his boots at Levante. He was never a household name, but one look at his game would tell you that he was technically brilliant and that he would make an excellent manager someday. And, that is exactly how his story has transpired.
Currently in his second season with La Liga outfit Real Betis, Setien has developed quite a fan following amongst fans that follow the Spanish game regularly. His expansive, fluid style of football has caught the eye of pundits as well, many of whom fancy him to take up a job at a top-tier club very soon.
The 60-year old is as close to Zeman as it is philosophically possible, with attack being his sole forte although he claims to be inspired by Johan Cruyff’s Total Voetball concept more than anything else. In fact, so deep is his admiration for the Dutch legend and Barcelona’s style of football that he recently claimed that he would give up his fingers to have played under the legendary Cruyff.
With him in charge, Betis finished a respectable 6th position in La Liga last season and slowly, they have turned into one of the most exciting and interesting sides in European football. Their recent 4-3 win over Barcelona further underlined Setien’s pedigree.
In fact, so impressive was his side’s showing that Sergio Busquets sent him a signed jersey saying how much he appreciates Setien’s style of play and focus on playing football the right away. The respect is mutual, for much of the manager’s style is inspired by the school of football that has made the Blaugrana a force to be reckoned with.
In his own words, he understands “football through the ball” and that is perhaps the only and best way to define his ideology. Setien generally employs a 4-3-3, where the focus is almost always on attacking, moving the ball quickly and pressing opponents high up the pitch.
When on the ball, Setien likes dropping his defensive midfielder into the backline in order to create a 3-man defence. This, in turn, helps the ball to be moved easily from side to side and change the angle of the attack. The full-backs then push further up the pitch while the wide forwards tuck in, which gives his side room to exploit the full length of the pitch.
Having done so, three distinct zones are formed on the pitch by Betis: the first one is the backline which has two centre-backs and a temporary one who are all comfortable on the ball and always provide the option of a back pass; the second is of the two central midfielders who provide options down the middle while the third one is a front five that usually includes the two full-backs.
In this manner, Betis create numerical superiority in the opponent’s half that gives them options to change the angle of the attack as and when they please and drag the opposition defense all over the place. It is a system that the chess-loving Setien has seemingly worked on all his life, and it provides exhilarating entertainment when it functions flawlessly.
A thinking man’s manager, Setien’s philosophy has been brought to life by a set of gifted players, the standout among whom is Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui. He was a revelation for Japan at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has carried his good form into the season.
Inui is capable of playing both wide and at the heart of the midfield, and he breaks defensive lines with unparalleled ease. Playing wide, he often cuts in and finds pockets of space that gives him room to control the game and pick the best passes in any given situation.
William Carvalho is another player who has come into his own under Setien, bossing matches from the middle of the park and justifying his hype to the European audience. The Portuguese has bags of energy and is exceptionally good at recycling possession, which has seen him become a midfield fulcrum for Los Verdiblancos.
It helps having a coach like Setien, who has a proven CV for remarkably improving the quality of the players guided by him during the process.
There is no question that Betis will find it hard to break into the top half of the La Liga table this season – they are currently ranked 14th. Due to their lack of quality in defense, it has been rather straightforward for most teams to penetrate them – even Barcelona on one of their worse days this season scored three past them.
However, with Quique Setien in charge, it is certain that they will continue to entertain and dish out memorable performances one after the other, much like how Zdenek Zeman’s teams did back in the day.
There is little place in the modern game for sentiments, with the priority always being on winning regardless of the style. But, as long as football has coaches like Setien in charge, there will always be nostalgia, and perhaps a whiff of fresh air in this intoxicating world of money and silverware.