Rodolfo Borrell‘s love for football was nurtured by long days passed as a youngster watching players train from the balcony of his family’s apartment in Rubi, a short train journey down the coast from Barcelona.
It was there he laid the foundations for a career that would take him from Rubi to Liverpool’s Academy in Kirkby via some of the greatest footballers on the planet.
During his first coaching spell at local side Cornella, where he oversaw the development of children aged six to nine, Rodolfo set his heart on coaching at Barcelona and one day he decided to do something that would set the ball rolling on ensuring he got his dream move to La Masia.
“I organised a meeting with the parents and explained to them that I was an ambitious coach that wanted to represent Barcelona,” Rodolfo told the Official LFC Weekly Magazine. “They looked at me like I was crazy.
“I said to achieve that, this team needed to be magnificent. With the help of parents in terms of extra training, we could achieve anything. Rather than doing two days, we would do four days while also arranging extra activities like swimming.”
Within months Rodolfo’s team was putting 10 goals a time past helpless opposition, and his youngsters had become the talk of the town. In January 1994 Barcelona scouts came to see for themselves just what all the fuss was about.
“When I saw the scouts, I realised this was everything I had been working for,” he said. “As always we were magnificent and by half-time we had a healthy lead. And at half-time a guy from Barcelona told me how impressed they were.
“They told me they wanted my Cornella to play them in a trial match for everybody. So we went there a few days later and beat them 5-0. A little Cornella team beat Barcelona with Barcelona not really crossing the halfway line.”
A display of power, poise and possession football ensured Rodolfo was offered the job at Barcelona and his talent shone through as he made a swift ascent through the youth coaching ranks. However, one factor would prove a constant hindrance to his progress there.
“I spent one season coaching at the Barcelona school, one season with the U11s, two years with the U12s, four seasons in the U14s and three seasons with the U-16s and two with the U-17s,” said Rodolfo. “But the truth is, unless you are a famous player, it is very difficult to progress as a coach beyond that level.
“When I became the first person who wasn’t a famous former player to break the line of the 16s and become U17s coach — that was a big thing at the club.”
During his time at Barcelona, Rodolfo coached some of the finest payers in world football. The backbone of his all-conquering U14 squad from 2000-01 comprised of Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi.
“I was fortunate to coach many of the great players in world football we see now,” admitted Rodolfo. “You can never say that a player is 100 percent going to be a professional footballer. You cannot raise a teenager’s expectations. His belief has to come from within.
“Ability always comes first when you are young, But later, mentality is just as important. Obviously, I knew the parents of all these players. I knew they were coming from good families in terms of structure. Good mentality, focus and discipline — they had the right balance between studying and playing football.”
He soon realised that he could not progress further than the U-17s with Barcelona and so opted for a change, making the switch to Greek side Iraklis along with former youth coach and colleague Angel Pedraza. However, it would prove to be a turbulent time for the former Barcelona pair.
Pedraza was sacked quickly, and Rodolfo took up the reins as manager, only to part company with the club after a respectable run of results.
But Barcelona came calling once more. A phone call this time, from Jose Ramon Alexanko, the man who lifted the European Cup as Barcelona captain when the club won the trophy for the first time under Johan Cruyff in 1992, confirmed the offer.
“He wanted me to go back as an international scout and in the summer, take over at U-17 level again,” said Rodolfo. “I was very pleased. I travelled a lot, eastern Europe, central Africa.”
In the summer of 2009, Rodolfo received another phone call which would alter the path of his career and bring him to England.
“Hello, I’m Rafa Benitez. Do you know who I am?” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“I did not know him personally, only from the television,” admitted Rodolfo. “He told me his vision for the academy and that Pep Segura would be involved. Would I be interested in coming? I did not know. Could I leave Barcelona for a second time?
“He said I would be in charge of the U-18s, which was a promotion. I discussed it at length with my wife. I could not turn Liverpool down. I think I am the only person in the history of Barcelona to choose to leave the club twice.”
Rodolfo’s first task was to ensure the reserve teams at Liverpool were playing more regularly than just once every three weeks.
“Since I have been here, there has been an improvement in many areas of youth development generally,” he explained. “For example, two years ago the reserve team squad had just one game every three weeks.
“It is very difficult to work day in, day out with the right focus and motivation — the right mentality to improve every day — if you don’t have a game at the end of every week.
“I have never been in this situation before, but if your next game is in three weeks’ time, how can you prepare for that across three weeks? Thankfully, this has been corrected. The arrival of the NextGeneration Series has been very positive [because there are more games] and with the help of our secretaries at the academy, Danny Stanway and Zoe Ward, we worked very hard last summer to reschedule everything.
“I told him the aim must be to have a game week in, week out for the benefit of continuity. He did a great job. We played 31 official games last season with the Reserves. This is very, very important.”
One player who Rodolfo has nurtured during his time on Merseyside has been Raheem Sterling.
The youngster joined from Queens Park Rangers in February 2010 with a reputation for pace and flair and the talented winger became the club’s third youngest player of all time when he featured as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat to Wigan on March 24, 2012 — aged 17.
“There is a lot to be positive about,” insisted Rodolfo. “We have a lot of very good players with different attributes. A lot of people talk about Raheem Sterling, but there are others of course — players that have played under me and are now with the first team a lot more.
“I have had the pleasure to be Raheem’s only coach since he arrived here [from QPR], progressing through the ranks. I am pleased to see the player has made a lot of improvement in many areas.
“Obviously talent is talent and he came with many, many interesting things; that’s why he was signed by Liverpool Football Club. But we have been working hard with him on improving parts of the game where he could get better. It is important to get the right balance between the talent and everything else.”
Another of Rodolfo’s Liverpool proteges has been local lad Jon Flanagan, who came to the attention of most Kopites at the age of 18 when injuries meant he was handed a shock debut by Kenny Dalglish against big-spending Manchester City at Anfield.
“Flanno is another type of player,” said Rodolfo. “When I came to the club, with Pep Segura and Frank McParland, it is true that almost no-one expected anything interesting in relation to our first-team with Flanagan at that moment in time.
“We tried to give him good advice. He took it on board and worked really hard. He has great determination and passion for the club. He’s a winner in all the tackles. With the right focus, he has shown he can be a very good player in the first-team. This is a pleasure for me because the club brought me here to help with these kinds of things as I had done before.
“So I am grateful and thankful of the efforts from the players like Flanagan, Robinson and Sterling too. They haven’t already made it, but they are around the first-team and with hard work they can improve.”
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com