Enter Alberto Gallego, a bold Spaniard who brings a track record of success in lower division domestic football in his home country.
Gallego burst on to the lower division American soccer scene with a difficult task: the revival of failing Rayo OKC. In an interview with Neil Morris, Gallego memorably raved about the clubs tumultuous budget, overspending on fireworks, and lack of any sense of direction, much to the mortification of NASL fans. With Rayo now seemingly all but dead, Gallego looked back on the difficult task fondly, as it appeared to have helped him get to where he is today: New York.
“Rayo OKC was a very particular situation because I was working in Spain with Rayo Vallecano, and I was assigned here to a club with a lot of problems, as you know. Rayo OKC was barely alive at the time. It was another great challenge for me. We even made the semi-finals, we had the playoff against the New York Cosmos. They thought it was a very tough game, and that was probably a reason why Gio called me to come here.”
As with many pieces of the 2017 New York Cosmos, Gallego was brought in by Giovanni Savarese himself. His return to the NASL, his move back to America, his dive back into head coaching, all started with a simple phone call.
“I remember I was in Spain, having dinner with my wife, and he called me and said he wanted me to be his first Assistant Coach. I had to think about it because I was the technical secretary at Rayo Vallecano, which was a good place to be and a job I liked to do. But, finally, I decided to come and face the challenge.”Only in New York for a few months, Gallego has taken to his new job quicker than many before him. Attend one Cosmos training session and Gallego is far and away the most vocal individual from beginning to end, chastising players for not getting drills correct and motivating them to grind through possession exercises. During matches, Gallego can always be seen standing next to Savarese on the sidelines. Between halves, Gallego always takes a player aside before entering the tunnel to talk tactics and what went right (or wrong) on the pitch. This exuberance, Gallego says, comes from the situation at hand.
“As you know, the Cosmos are building a new team. It’s difficult for us to teach them to have more possession of the ball. They have to notice, with that energy, exactly what we want. Here, I’m trying to help Gio with the players, to make trainings that help them learn as fast as possible how to have possession of the ball. All exercises are thought during the day and are very complex, so it’s very important that your tone of voice and your expressions are confident so you believe what you do and what you say.”
These teaching sessions have not come without pupils being absent. The squad problems at the Cosmos are well written about: Eugene Starikov, Amauri, Carlos Mendes, Ayoze, and others have graced the unavailable list in recent weeks. Gallego, however, is not one to make complaints. All is not lost, he says.
“All of the teams could give a list of the problems they have. We don’t want to cry about it. It’s true though, it’s real. Eugene is off, he was not in very good shape. Carlos Mendes is starting to get in the lineup. All of the players are important for us. We had a tough job to put them together. Every game we must do some surgery to put every piece together without damage against good teams.”
“It’s been tough. Every minute, every second counts for us right now. We are at a good level, but the good news is that our roof is very, very high. We can reach this roof during these months. Maybe other teams have touched their roofs. We still have a distance to get it.”This struggle does not come without some fun, either. The Cosmos will be facing Valencia, a prominent La Liga club, in a friendly in mid-July. While many have voiced unfavorable opinions about the match, Gallego can’t stop grinning when asked about the opportunity.
“I’m so excited about it, we’re all so excited about it. Valencia is one of the top clubs, not only because of the titles but the organization, the structure. For the Cosmos to face a club like Valencia is a pleasure. We feel very flattered about it, and it’ll be something to learn of.”
“People think this will be a friendly match, but facing a club like this will help the team grow. I would hope to play more friendly matches against clubs like Valencia, maybe from France or the Premier League. That would be good for us to keep growing and know what level we are at.”
Following his infamous stint at Rayo OKC, Gallego appears to have a new lease on his career at the Cosmos. He comes in to work every day with a smile, attempting to talk with all of his players individually either before or after training sessions. After the stress and tumult of his previous front office gig, Gallego seems at peace, truly sinking his teeth into this opportunity besides Savarese. He admits the challenges, but brings all of his energy each and every day to face them.
“It was a challenge for me since the beginning, but all of the expectations of the club from me are true. I am very happy here. The organization is very good. I get along with Gio with all of my ideas about soccer, how to play, 100%. I am so happy so far.”