Up-And-Coming Coaches: José María 'Guti' Gutiérrez Hernández
Written by Hasan Karim
From back-heeled assists to being a tabloid darling, José María Gutiérrez Hernández - better known as Guti - was something of a cult hero during his playing days. The Spain international was lauded for his ability to produce truly magical moments, however, he was often criticised for his lack of consistency on the field as well as his persistence for getting into trouble.
Guti spent 24 years of his life with Los Blancos, progressing through their youth academy at a rapid rate. Following his first season with the C team, he would earn a call-up for Spain’s under-18 squad to take part in the European Championship. The side would go through the tournament unbeaten with Guti playing a starring role, scoring in the final against an Italy team containing Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini and Francesco Totti.
After joining Real Madrid B the following campaign, Guti wouldn’t have to wait long before receiving a call-up to play for Los Blancos’ first team. Making his debut under Jorge Valdano at the Bernabéu, it would be the start of a 15-year service with more than 500 appearances, 77 goals and 15 trophies.
Despite being called the most talented player in the squad by Ronaldo Nazário, there were many colleagues and managers who often stated that Guti preferred to focus on his looks than his ability. Michael Owen and Steve McManaman highlighted how he kept a mirror next to his locker in the dressing room, and Fabio Capello also spoke of Guti’s attitude issues. During the Italian’s second tenure as boss, he wanted to test who would follow orders. The exercise was simple, he commanded his players to wait in the centre circle prior to training with Capello purposely turning up 15 minutes late, to see who had listened. Upon arrival, he found all but one player in the centre circle - as he gazed over toward the dugout, he found Guti lounging on the seat avoiding the Spanish sunlight.
The story with Capello was just one of many - Guti was well known to enjoy life off the pitch. He labelled himself a ‘bohemian,’ he openly said: “if I don’t go out now, when will I?” and during his final season in Madrid, he told the press of his intentions to retire on a beach in Thailand. However, beyond the outbursts and partying, the Spaniard was adored by many Madridistas and endeared himself to fans with his versatility on the pitch - often being played out of position but consistently putting a shift in. So fond of him were the supporters that the Ultra Sur regularly sang about him, as well as names such as Raúl, Beckham and Juanito.
Following his retirement in 2012, Guti’s move into management wasn’t something that happened immediately. But the intention was there. The now-former player openly stated his desire to coach - with his main dream to occupy the home dugout at Real Madrid.
He would officially start his coaching chapter with Real’s youth setup in 2013. Working his way through the ranks, it was his Juvenil A team that made people sit-up and take notice. He led his class of 2016/17, a side which featured Achraf Hakimi and Fede Valverde, to a domestic treble. Following their impressive performances, many were tipping Guti to find his way into a Spanish top-flight dugout before long. However, he would instead move to Turkey with a return to Besiktas in an assistant manager role. The two experiences shaped him in different ways. While Juvenil A was actually more about developing players than winning, his main frustration at Besiktas was his inability to make decisions, as he was number two to Senol Günes. Guti was starting to paint the landscape, to figure out the puzzle, and this stint in a tough league miles away from the comforts of Madrid helped him mature: “You know that everyone has their personality, their different way of playing, they come from different countries, from other cultures and all that is complicated.” Especially for a member of the coaching staff. Increased responsibility then, for a squad of 24 or 25, not just Guti himself.
And his desire to mould his team to his vision of beautiful football was also developing: “I know that I would love to see something similar to how I moved on the pitch. If not, I will have to adjust. It is true that in many moments, you will not be able to play that way, that I will have to adapt to the players I have.” Intelligent players, like Guti, adapt to different roles, and so do coaches to different tactics.
After just a year, Guti returned to Spain to take up his first senior managerial role at Segunda side Almería.
Here’s a team who had been in LaLiga as recently as 2015 and who had even finished eighth under Unai Emery in 2008, but who had changed coach practically every year over the last decade. Even as last season ended, three different coaches departed before Guti arrived, admittedly amidst some uncertainty. Club supporter Joshua Séan Johnston was one of those concerned: “I was a little bit worried, especially as I was surprised with the sacking of Pedro Emanuel who I personally was quite content with. We were on a bad run of form but we were still in contention with the leaders of the division.” Expectations of promotion had been emphasised throughout the season, after a summer takeover of the club by Turki Al-Sheikh.
Leading a team that was still alive in the promotion campaign, Guti immediately set to work on imposing his ideologies and tactics, something which impressed the fans as Johnston would allude to, pointing out Guti’s implementation of a two-striker system from the off. With 32 goals scored in his 18 games in charge, Guti clearly saw unlocked potential in his side’s attack.
However, it hasn’t been absolute plain-sailing for the former Los Blancos man. Guti has been sent to the stands on a couple of occasions for his protesting on the touchline, he has also had some bust-ups in the press. From questioning officials to lambasting his team's desire to gain promotion, the Spaniard was also himself questioned over claims he had been partying with players - he replied to the allegations by stating if they are proven, he will resign and repay all his wages earned so far.
When it comes to his managerial career so far, Guti is being hyped as a potentially great future coach, with an already strong background from his time as a Real Madrid player, and having showcased an impressive skillset and understanding of the game. Despite some criticisms more recently, having gone on a six-game winless run between late January and late February, both the Almería board and fans seem largely happy with him, having arrived at the club in the middle of the season. Joshua told La Liga Lowdown: “I don't feel that he has been massively criticised, there is much more of a positive relationship with the team and fans with this board than there ever was with Alfonso García [the previous president], and if the league does end up resuming and Guti can lead us back to Primera, I'm sure any criticisms he has had will be long forgotten.”
“Don't call me Guti, call me José María Gutiérrez" were the words from his unveiling. Whilst the sporting world lies waiting with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Guti’s Almería remain in a play-off spot in Segunda - should the opportunity present itself, we could soon see his skills tested within the top flight.
The future is bright for Guti, off the back of his success with Madrid’s youth side and his strong performances at Almería, he is showing he could follow in the footsteps of his esteemed former colleague Zinedine Zidane. The former Spain international was indeed linked with the hot-seat prior to Zizou’s return, suggesting that his former employers are keeping tabs on his progress. With Raúl still yet to make a mark with Castilla in the division below, will Guti beat his compatriot to the top job? Time will tell.
To learn more about Guti’s journey, and other world-class players who’ve gone into coaching, check out our podcast here to see how the likes of Diego Forlán, Xabi Alonso, Raúl González and Xavi Hernández are getting on with their own coaching journeys.