The year was 2000, the event was relegation from the top flight, and the future was bleak both on a football and economic terms. The club – Sevilla of Span. Such was the mood when a little known former goalkeeper Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo better known as “Monchi” was appointed as the clubs sporting director. No one could have foretold what a remarkable success story that appointment will turn out to be 20 years after. The name of Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo or “Monchi” may not be familiar to most of you, but this is a man who has been a cornerstone of the recent successes of one of the top teams in Spain.
As a player Monchi – an alternative Spanish name for someone called Ramon – spent 11 years at Sevilla, mostly as a back-up goalkeeper. He played 126 games for the club – the only one he represented – until his retirement in 1999. The following year, he was appointed to the role he has since made his own. At the time, with no experience and with Sevilla in the Spanish second division, Monchi studied other clubs’ methods in order to seek inspiration for his own. FC Porto and Lyon were among those he looked at – clubs who won titles, sold their stars and started over again. He was given two key objectives, develop the club’s youth policy so that the club could develop their own stars of the future, and implement a scouting system that will allow the club to spot potential stars before any of the big clubs do. On both counts Monchi has more than exceeded his brief. In terms of youth development, Sevilla have developed some of the finest young players in Europe over the past few years. The club’s academy has overseen the development of the likes of Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos, Diego Capel, Jesus Navas, and the late Antonio Puerta. Some of these players have been sold, but others have stayed and undoubtedly helped the team develop. Sevilla’s academy is now one of the most productive in Spain, boasting 400 players across 22 youth teams. It is now a rival to the much vaunted academies of Real Madrid and Barcelona, which is itself testament to the work of Monchi. For scouting, Monchi has created a intricate network of over 700 scouts around the globe, all designed to help Sevilla spot and sign the brightest prospects in world football before any of the big clubs become aware of them.
Sevilla didn’t spend a penny on transfers during Monchi’s first two years yet still managed to build a team that returned to La Liga. It wasn’t until the following season, in 2002, that Monchi was given the green light to make his first investment: 500,000 euros on full-back Dani Alves, who first arrived on loan from Brazilian club Bahia. Six years later, Barcelona would pay about £23.5m to sign a player who was arguably the best in his position for a decade. And so began the Monchi Revolution.The main lesson was to accept losing your best players, but make sure you replace them with someone of similar quality for a good deal less money. Sevilla have enjoyed 20 consecutive seasons in La Liga and, on Monchi’s watch, ‘sell to grow’ has firmly become their philosophy. Star players haven’t tended to stay long – but usually long enough to lift a trophy. Their recent trophy haul is impressive:
Copa del Rey winners in 2007 and 2010;
Uefa Cup winners in 2006 and 2007;
Europa League winners in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2020.
Monchi had a major hand in it all, despite briefly leaving for a two-year spell with Roma between 2017-2019. By the time he left – seeking a different challenge – he had helped the club earn around £180m in profit from transfer dealings. The signing of Ivan Rakitic is perhaps the standout of several typically shrewd moves executed by Monchi and his team in the south of Spain this summer.
The Croatian midfielder was signed for about 2.5m euros in from Schalke in 2011 and left in 2014 for Barcelona in a deal worth about 20m euros. In September, Sevilla agreed a nominal 1.5m euro fee to take him back, now aged 32.
Because of Monchi’s success at Sevilla, an increasing number of football clubs have tried to follow their model. Clubs such as Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Monaco and Ajax have flourished… and make even more profit than the Andalusians.
Others have preferred to rely on Monchi disciples, such as Victor Orta, who spent seven years under his tutelage and now fits in well with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.
But big transfers remain the strategy favoured by many others.
That’s the case of Chelsea, who drew 0-0 with Sevilla in the club’s earlier Champions League meeting at Stamford Bridge this season. Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy all signed for a total of about £222m this summer – could all feature at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Wednesday evening against Sevilla.
He has complete control of all transfer dealings and youth development, which frees up the manager to deal with the team. But unlike what Ramos found when he was at Tottenham, Monchi discusses player recruitment with the manager and enjoys very good relations with his managers. Rather than forcing players onto a manager, Monchi works in tandem with them, finding players whose profile and style fit into the tactical make up of the team. As a result, if Sevilla, who are not a relatively big club, have to sell, then often they will have cheaper replacements already lined up-an example being the signing of Konko to replace Alves. As a result, Sevilla are able to sell established stars, yet the club still remains competitive, with cheaper signings being brought in to replace them. As a result Monchi’s system means that the club continues to evolve and continues to compete at the highest possible level on the smallest possible budget. While in England the fashion is to denigrate the work and role of a sporting director at a football club, the example of Monchi provides a perfect template for how a sporting director should work. Here is a man who often works in the background, dealing with much of the off-the-field work, leaving the manager to deal with the team, and often gain the bulk of the praise when success is achieved.
But what should not be in doubt is that were it not for the vital work of Monchi, and the system he has put in place, then Sevilla would certainly not be in the position that they find themselves in today. For all the praise and acclaim Sevilla’s managers deserve, it is Monchi’s work that powers everything the club achieves.