Christian Méndez Lacárcel: “The performance of the national team is being unbeatable”
Christian Méndez Lacárcel is the new men’s and women’s beach soccer national coach.
Ahead, he has the great challenge of qualifying for the 2021 World Cup in Russia and winning it. Something that shouldn’t be new for him as, making history, he already achieved it with the women’s team in 2019. This Murcian is eager to climb right to the top and has the discipline to make it!
Your career started in 11-a-side football where you even played in the Swiss first division. How would you summarize your experience in 11-a-side football?
I have played football since I was 8. I started at the Nueva Vanguardia club in Alcantarilla, where I was born. When I was 15 years old, I started playing for the Atlético de Madrid’s youth academy and from there the Real Valladolid, the Lorca and the Cartegena, until I had the opportunity to sign for a Swiss first division team, the Servette Football Club Gèneve.
The club ended up being downgraded due to economic problems. So, I decided to return to Murcia to play in the third and second B division. At the same time, I became a local police officer to have some stability. I was always precocious in balancing football and work!
With all this activity, how and when did beach soccer come into your life?
I started playing beach soccer thanks to the persistence of the sports director and the president of the Football Federation of the Region of Murcia. I used to take it as a holiday with friends, until in 2011 when they asked me to go to Roses to a competition and Joaquín Alonso, who was the national coach, signed me for the national team.
At first, I thought it was a phone prank, but it wasn’t! So, I started learning, watching videos, training… I balanced it with 11-a-side football for many years, until I decided to only focus on beach soccer.
But a beach soccer goalkeeper is quite different from an 11-a- side- goalkeeper…
It’s very different! In beach soccer, the goalkeeper is essential as, besides stopping, blocking and deflecting the ball often initiates the attacks and counterattacks with the ball and the foot. It has evolved and the goalkeeper is increasingly influencing during the attack. He is becoming more important, therefore, the goalkeeper must meet many requirements, also the psychological one, to know when to push, when to attack, not to fall apart when he makes a mistake, etc.
Another thing that is different is the playing field. In beach soccer the surface is uneven, the bounce of the ball is unpredictable and the goalkeeper participates more. On the other hand, in 11-a-side football, the goalkeeper can be 4 minutes without participating in the game and his actions are few.
Before taking over Joaquin Alonso’s position you were managing the Women’s National team and the U21 Women’s National Team. What did you learn from this professional experience?
I have learned a lot! I had never worked with a women’s team not even as a coach, so when in 2018 I was given this opportunity, the first thing I did was to gather information about the players, study the clubs they were playing, their positions, watch their games, follow them and, mainly, ask them to help and guide me while I was preparing myself to become a professional coach.
"I wanted the players to believe in the project and to feel heard, and that was the key to success. To me, the psychological and emotional part is very important, if that is well covered, 200% is given on the pitch."
You should have worked on it very well, because in 2019 the Women’s national team won the Arena Games, making history for the national beach soccer. How do you remember it?
Getting to the World Arena Games was already a challenge! We entered at the last minute because we lost the first two games of the European qualifier that were played here at Futbol Salou in May 2019.
"But I always told the girls that there wasn’t any national team working as hard as they were working and that they should believe in themselves."
In the end, we made it to the World Cup. We were not the favourite ones as there were countries like Russia, Brazil or the United Kingdom, but we already had the experience to manage games where we started losing. In fact, we started losing all the World Cup games, but the players already knew that by staying calm, concentrating on the game and believing in themselves, they could turn it around.
"The final was amazing, the most satisfying experience I have ever had in beach soccer, apart from my début! Now, my goal is to be able to repeat it with the boys."
Another example of the importance of psychology in sport!
The emotional and psychological factor is fundamental. To me, it is the key. It is not the same to know that a player has a problem in his or her home, that he or she doesn’t sleep well, that he or she is taking care of his or her sick mother or that he or she has another job and kids to look after to a player that comes here with no baggage and that only plays beach soccer.
Having that knowledge of what is happening to them outside, gives me information about who I can demand more and who needs more motivation.
The key to the success of the under-21 girls and boys, who have been European champions twice, has been that they have believed in themselves.
After the achievement with the women’s team did you ever imagine that you could become the successor of Joaquín Alonso, who is something of an institution in beach soccer in Spain?
Not really! Joaquín Alonso had long been involved, he had achieved a lot of victories and had trained many players. I was with the under-21 girls helping him in what he needed me to do and I didn’t expect it. Notwithstanding I was studying and learning so, once the opportunity has been given, I will do my best not to waste it.
What is the main challenge of the Spain men’s national team right now?
The first challenge of the men’s national team is to qualify for the World Cup. Since in 2020 we haven’t been able to compete nationally or team gatherings, we have carried out annual follow-ups of the players analysing minutes played, types of injuries, incidents, analysing their games, etc.
Based on this information 20 players were called for the first gathering for general training. In this second gathering, there are 14 players and in the third, the idea is to gather the 12 players that most likely will compete for the qualifier.
And after a year of inactivity due to the pandemic, how do you see the national team’s health?
I’ve seen them very, very well. We are working with real professionals, despite beach soccer is not recognized or not well paid. Players are aware of how hard it is to be here. Besides, they know me, we have been teammates and know my level of demand.
Before gatherings, we send them a 15-day work plan for them to prepare physically and mentally. Besides, every day I follow up with all the players, I give them feedback and I refer them to the physical trainer or the physiotherapist if they need so.
"Since we can’t work together all year round, my idea is to follow them up thoroughly, like if we were a club. And I must say, that their performance is being unbeatable."
Besides being the national team’s manager, you are a local police officer. Can you combine both professions?
For the time being, I am combining both, with a lot of work and little sleep. My passion is beach soccer and my profession is being a local police officer. However, it is my police officer profession that provides me with the stability to be where I am.
This is the fourth time that beach soccer brings you to Cambrils Park Sport Village and Futbol Salou. What do you think about your stay and the sports facilities?
The facilities are unbeatable. We have two pitches with great sand, a changing room, a fitness centre and we are only 10 minutes walk from the Resort. Also, the staff is very friendly and makes us feel at ease at all times.
Everything is being taken care of, the flags, the lines, the machine is used on the sand twice a day…And then at the Resort, we are quiet and outdoors. The food is very good, the staff is friendly and the location is perfect. We are comfortable, in fact, it is the fourth time we have come back in just over a year!
Thank you very much and we wish you every success, Christian. For many more gatherings at Cambrils Park Sport Village and Futbol Salou!