Sergio Reguilón: Big Names, Big Games


It’s not very often you can sit down with a player and discuss going head-to-head with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, sharing a dressing room with Harry Kane and Karim Benzema, being coached by Zinedine Zidane and José Mourinho, and winning a European cup.

But Brentford defender Sergio Reguilón does exactly that, as he makes himself comfortable in a chair in the first-team meeting room at the Robert Rowan Performance Centre, reflecting on his first three months with the Bees and his glittering career, in general.

It’s hard to know where to start when, as alluded to, you look through the illustrious list of the players and managers Reguilón has played with and against.

However, one name catches the eye immediately – but not for the reason you might think.

Sat just between Joe Hart and Jordi Alba in the alphabetic list of his former team-mates is a former Brentford player, who, upon further research, he played with during his time on loan at Spanish third-tier side Logroñés during the 2015/16 campaign as an 18-year-old.

So, the name is posed to him, not expecting any sort of reaction, seeing as it may have been nearly a decade since he had even thought about the ex-Bee: “Joel Valenica?”, Reguilón confirms. “Yes, I know him! I have a funny story.

“When I arrived at the club, Joel just said to me, ‘Mate, come to my house if you don’t have one’ – so I lived in his house for a week while I settled in at the club!

“He was a good guy, a very good person, and a top player, particularly in 1v1 situations, I remember.

“He’s now playing in Poland but we lost contact; that happens a lot because I’ve played in a lot of teams, I can’t speak to everyone, it’s difficult which is a shame.”

As Reguilón mentions, he’s played in a lot of teams and, when you take a quick glance at his former clubs, some pretty prestigious ones too: Real Madrid, Sevilla, Tottenham Hotspur, Atlético Madrid, Manchester United. And, now, Brentford.

The first in that list, 14-time European Cup winners Real Madrid, is where Reguilón began his career, as he joined the academy of the Spanish giants, which saw him live the life that every young football fan can only dream of.

When asked how he was scouted by Real, he explains: “In Spain, you can do a test to join Real Madrid when you are young, but it’s thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of kids trying to go there.

“I did a fantastic game, I got to the next step and got to go to the training ground with the best players around a similar age to me. We did small games, I played fantastic again, and they gave me the chance to sign for Real Madrid when I was seven.

“When I eventually got into the academy, I realised I was so lucky because everyone wanted to be where I was – playing for Real Madrid.”

Asked how he ensured that he was selected over all those other children, he states: “I don’t know, maybe because I was better?! I’m not sure, I was young but I’d played football all my life and I just had the quality in that moment.”

Reguilón initially played for Real’s reserve team, Castilla (either side of his season-and-a-half loan spell with Logroñés), where he made 48 appearances in Segunda División B, the former third tier of Spanish football.

On getting into the Castilla squad, he says: “I was on to the next level. You are close to being professional, you are in the second team of Real Madrid.

“It’s a big step but, of course, I see many Castilla players that don’t make it to the first team. It’s difficult but, in my head, I knew I was too close not to make it, I had to give it the last push.

“The most important thing for the last push is your head. Okay, you can maybe get a good contract when you are in the under-23s but it’s not enough – you have to look ahead and fight to be a professional footballer in the top division.”

As you can imagine, there were some special players in that Castilla squad alongside Reguilón. Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid), Borja Mayoral (Getafe) and Mariano Diaz (Sevilla) are just a few names that the Bees man highlights, along with current Arsenal captain Martin Ødegaard, who joined the Castilla squad in a much-talked about deal at the age of 16.

On his former Real Madrid team-mate, Reguilón states: “I have a good relationship with Martin, he is a top player, fantastic boy.

“He came to Real Madrid when he was very, very young. At that stage, I think it was too young, he had too many people looking at him.

“There was a lot of pressure. Everyone wanted him to do some skills and impress, but he needed to just start simple to gain some confidence.

“But he’s had a great career and the move to Arsenal was the right one because the football they play is very, very good for him and now he is captain, he’s a key player, and I’m very happy for him because he’s one of my friends from football.”

And it wasn’t just talented players he worked with at Castilla – he was also coached by Zinedine Zidane, a manager that went on to win three Champions Leagues on the spin, having won numerous trophies, including the Ballon d’Or during his playing days.

“Zizou, wow,” says Reguilón. “He was a top player and I think it was clear that he could become a manager.

“When you are training with him, you feel that quality, you feel that every piece of advice that he gives you is for something, it’s because he knows, he was on the pitch.

“You get his words with a special feeling. Every word that he says, you can’t pay enough attention to it.

“He’s not necessarily a tactical coach; it’s more that he knows the players, he knows the dressing the room, it’s about the atmosphere that he creates.”

Asked if he was starstruck when he first worked with him, Reguilón smiles: “When Zizou is training with you, of course!

“He’s a top manager, you can see the results, he won three Champions League in a row! He’s one of the best managers of all time.”

Reguilón eventually worked with Zidane again when he was promoted to the Real Madrid first team ahead of the 2018/19 campaign; the season after they had beaten Liverpool in the Champions League final.

The full-back was now training with some of the iconic players that were involved that night, something he at first struggled to get his head around.

Reguilón recalls: “When you are training with Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, what can you say? It’s amazing. You have to pinch yourself.

“I would wake up and go to training with the biggest smile on my face.

“You are thinking you are in a dream. But then you realise that you are playing football and you have to get to the level of them, which is so difficult.

“But, to be honest, their quality helps you a lot. In one of my first training sessions, I did a s*** pass to [Toni] Kross and he did a perfect control to make it look a lot better!”

Ramos, who captained Real for six years, and Marcelo, the legendary left-back, were two players that Reguilón worked most closely with and, understandably, tried to milk for all their knowledge and expertise.

“[Ramos] is a top professional and he’s got a top mentality, as you can probably tell from the outside,” says Reguilón. “I played closely with him, I was with him with the national team too. He’s a legend and is probably the best centre-back ever. He won everything.

“And Marcelo gave me some tricks, of course. One thing he would say is, ‘When you’re crossing, try to do it between the legs because, normally, the players try to block the cross like this’. Those types of details are things I still think about now.”

It’s hard not to talk about Real Madrid and not mention El Clásico and Barcelona, something which Reguilón played in twice. And it’s hard not to talk about Barcelona without mentioning Lionel Messi, who Reguilón faced on four occasions.

Speaking about the illustrious Argentinian, he admits: “You don’t know how to defend him, it’s impossible. I don’t know how many players or how many teams that he has played again, tell me one that has stopped him – you can’t, it’s not possible.

“He was so strong when I played against him. Very, very strong legs, he’s so powerful. The quality, the control, the vision, the passes, the last passes, just everything! He’s one of the best to ever play.”

Despite the calibre of his team-mates and opponents in La Liga, Reguilón insists that nothing could have prepared him for the quality of the Premier League when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 2020.

“The Premier League is a different world, to be honest,” says the defender. “The football is different, it’s difficult. The football is so fast, many transitions, people are strong, you have to think quickly.

“When I first joined Tottenham, we went to play against Burnley: it’s difficult to play there. We played against Crystal Palace: it’s difficult to play there. That can be said about nearly every team.

“You know all the big clubs but, when you come here, you maybe don’t know how difficult it is to play against every team.

“In my first season, it felt like every team had a top winger that was fast and strong. I was thinking, ‘F***ing hell, this is difficult’.

“Not every player is ready to play in Premier League. You can see many players arrive here and then, one year later, they have to go.”

José Mourinho was the manager to sign Reguilón for Spurs, bringing him to England, and it only takes me to say the name of his former boss to illicit a response from the 27-year-old: “He is a top guy. He goes through every small detail with his players, he takes care of you. He is so friendly, you can talk to him about everything. Even if you’re at home, he’ll text you, send you a meme! It’s so funny.

“Again, what can I say? He’s another one of the best managers of all time.

“I’m sad that he’s not currently at a club. I always love to see José on a touchline, somewhere.”

After Nuno Espírito Santo’s briefly replaced Mourinho in the dugout at Tottenham, Antonio Conte was the next elite boss that Reguilón would learn from.

Just seven days into training under Conte, the Spaniard joked that it was the “worst week of his life” – so what on earth went on?!

Reguilón explains: “That whole year was very, very tough! The training was unbelievable, the distances that we run was… wow. I remember I was running 10km and 11km just in training, which is more than in one game.

“Antonio is the craziest man I’ve seen with tactics, with training, with meetings, with everything. He’s a winner so, when you lose, it’s better not to talk with him because he’s crazy!

“You have to go to those extreme lengths to play under him and I did. If you don’t learn something from Antonio, it’s because you’re stupid.”

Another manager Reguilón learnt a lot, and perhaps the most, from was the boss who initially promoted him to the first team at Real Madrid, before signing him on loan at Sevilla.

“[Julen] Lopetegui had the biggest impact on me,” he reveals. “When you are young, you almost need a manager to say, ‘Okay, this will be my boy’.

“If it wasn’t for Lopetegui, I wouldn’t be here because he gave me the opportunity to play for Real Madrid. I still keep in contact with him to this day.”

He adds: “Lopetegui is more tactical and more passionate than some of the other managers I’ve had.

“He was the manager that took me into the Real Madrid first team during pre-season, he said, ‘I want this guy’. And that was my dream, to be part of the first team at Real Madrid.

“His results at the beginning of his time at the club weren’t good, they sacked him, but then he went to Sevilla and told me that he wanted me with him there, too.

“And everything was perfect: I won the Europa League with him. That was a fantastic year and he’s a fantastic coach.”

Elaborating on that Europa League win in 2019/20, he adds: “It’s the best experience I’ve had in football.

“It was my second year as a professional, we were a good team with good people, good dressing room, and to beat all the opponents that we did: Roma, Manchester United, Inter Milan, some crazy teams.

“After we won the final, I remember calling my family. They started to cry and then I started to cry! It was an incredible moment.”

Diego Simeone (“every day, every small game, he loves to win, he loves to compete”) at Atlético Madrid and Luis Enrique (“he is currently one of the best coaches in the world… I like his style of football a lot”) with the Spanish national team, who he currently has six caps for, are just two of the other world-class managers Reguilón has had the privilege of working with during his career.

So, having worked with Brentford head coach Thomas Frank for just over three months, how does the Bees boss compare?

Reguilón says: “I love him as a person but also as a manager because, as a manager, he has clear ideas on how he wants to do everything.

“Before I joined, we talked about everything. He knows that I want to play, that was the most important thing.

“Of course there are other things, like the city, the training ground, the league, the players, but the most important thing is that I want to play and he wants me to play.

“The results haven’t been the best but, in every game, we have been close to winning, close to drawing.

“If we play our football, we can compete with everyone. But it’s the small details that are making the difference; that’s what we need to improve.

“But working with Thomas has been great. He knows how to treat the group, how to treat the players.

“For example, during our meetings after a game, he loves that everybody talks about a goal, an action.

“And it’s like a small family here, we try to fight for each other. When I’m on the pitch, I think, ‘Okay, let’s fight for these guys because I feel part of this’. This is really good; I’ve never had that in my career.

“That is an aspect that, if I become a manager, I will copy from Thomas because he’s really top in that aspect.”

So, the obvious question to finish on, in that case, is whether Reguilón can, indeed, see himself in the dugout one day?

“I don’t think so,” he responds. “Most of the top coaches are midfielders, not left-backs!

“But I do understand football, I think my career and the people I have worked with has helped me understand management, too.

“I try to get the positive things from all the managers I’ve worked with. Every coach has different things you take from them.

“But the main thing I have learnt across my career is that winning mentality.

“I’m from the academy of Real Madrid – you normally win every game, every year, winning is normal. And, when you don’t win, it’s a mistake, it’s s***.

“And that has been the common theme with every manager I’ve worked with: they have a winning mentality. That’s the most important thing.

“But, in my mind, right now, I want to finish my playing career! Give me eight, nine, 10 years more. But, after that, I don’t know.

“Maybe I’ll have a year on the beach with an orange juice, sit back, and say, ‘I miss football, I have to come back’…”.


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