Big Interview: Ramon Tribulietx

Words: ACFC Media

Thursday 6 June 2019

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The most successful coach in Auckland City FC's history, Ramon Tribulietx, opens up on his time with the Navy Blues as he departs the club after 11 years service.

The Barcelona-born Tribulietx came to Kiwitea Street in 1999 when he pulled on the famous colours of Central United as a player and from there a long standing relationship was developed that would see Auckland City FC dominate New Zealand and Oceania football for 15 years.

Humble beginnings

No domestic coach has won more local or international honours and his trophy haul of 25 major honours will unlikely be beaten in his lifetime.

His journey began when he took the assistant coach role under Paul Posa in the 2008-09 season.

Auckland City FC lifted their second OFC Champions League title after sweeping aside Koloale 9-4 on aggregate to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup while on the domestic front they snatched grand final victory in the ISPS Handa Premiership after finishing second to Waitakere United in the league.

Tribulietx was a key figure as the Navy Blues notched two wins at the Club World Cup, disposing of hosts Al-Ahli 2-0 courtesy of goals from Chad Coombes and Adam Dickinson before tumbling out at the quarter-finals in a 3-0 loss to Atalante.

The Navy Blues finished on a high when they toppled African giant TP Mazembe in the fifth-placed playoff in a 3-2 win.

The following season proved a major disappoinment with Auckland City FC eliminated from the OFC Champions League at the group stage and bowing out of the ISPS Handa Premiership in a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Canterbury United after finishing top of the league.

The journey begins

That defeat meant major change for the club and Tribulietx was named joint head coach alongside Aaron McFarland for the next campaign.

The appointment sparked a period of upheaval at Auckland City FC as the technically gifted Tribulietx set about a radical change to the club.

GOAL!!! John Irving v ES Setif - FIFA Club World Cup 2014

via GIPHY

"A lot of hard work went into making the club successful but none moreso than at the start when we changed the playing philosophy and style of the team.

"I am proud I was able to convince people there was a different way to play football.

"I came to a country and a club that saw football in a different way so my task to achieve change was difficult.

"I put a lot of energy into that transformation and I am happy with the outcome," he told www.aucklandcityfc.com.

One of those challenges included getting amateur players with fulltime jobs to commit to training in a professional and fulltime schedule.

He also had to convince a core group of players who preferred an up-and-at-em British style of football that there was another way.

It wasn't easy.

Changing habits, changing culture

"The challenge in preparing an amateur team to a professional standard always means there are clashes between those two worlds when you try to bring them together.

"When you try to merge those worlds you run into a lot of challenges which is perfectly understandable and normal.

"It takes people out of their comfort zone and it can be a difficult and exhausting process.

"I had a lot of people in my time who helped make that process happen like Colin Cook, David Firisua, Ivan Vicelich and the club.

"You normally remember the most recent years rather than the start.

"It's a period where you have to earn respect from everyone and you can end up clashing with people.

"The players are the stars of this story"

"But the players are the stars of this story, whether they were there from the start of my tenure or there at the end of the journey.

"I've had so many good personalities and players to work with during my time.

"James Pritchett stands out for me. James epitomised the work that was required during that period of change.

"James grounding was very much in the traditional New Zealand style of game but he worked very hard to adapt to the changes and he gave everything to that challenge.

"I asked the players to see things in a different way at that time and some people can adapt to this and some can't but James gave everything to that process," he said.

Tribulietx's first shared campaign saw the club to it's third OFC Champions League title after a comfortable aggregate win over Amicale while there was a grand final defeat to Waitakere United as the Navy Blues cross-town rivals picked up their second consecutive national title.

FIFA Club World Cups

The club appointed Tribulietx as head coach as they took on Kashiwa Reysol in the Club World Cup in Japan, losing 2-0. The OFC Champions League was retained for the first time ever, the second title in a run of seven consecutive Oceania title victories between 2011 and 2017.

Only three national league grand final titles were secured during this time despite Tribulietx finishing with seven first place finishes in the league out of eight campaigns. Only once during his tenure in 2012-13 season did Auckland City FC finish lower than first.

While winning Oceania titles and embarking on Club World Cup campaigns were obvious highlights, Tribulietx also signed top level talent.

Roy Krishna, Ryan De Vries, Albert Riera, Angel Berlanga, Enaut Zubikarai, Mario Bilen, Darren White, Chris Bale, Tamati Williams, John Irving, Tim Payne, Cam Howieson, Clayton Lewis, Joao Moreira, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi were all picked up to strengthen the squad, while Emiliano Tade, who would go on to become the club's all-time leading scorer fought long and hard from fifth choice behind Manel Exposito, Luis Corrales, Adam Dickinson and Daniel Koprivcic for the honour.

There was heartache along the way. Last minute defeat to Raja Casablanca (1-2) and Kashima Antlers (1-2) at two editions of the Club World Cup in 2013 and 2016 were painful lessons in the cruelty of top level football, the latter moreso after Daewook Kim had given Auckland City FC the lead after a header from a Tade free-kick.

The last defeat at that level, a 1-0 loss to Al Jazira in a match dominated by the Navy Blues, was a sore point.

Disappointments on the international stage were offset by eyebrow raising wins over professional sides like FC Seoul (1-0), Kitchee SC (1-0), Central Coast Mariners (3-1) and the Wellington Phoenix (1-0).

The Miracle in Morocco 

Auckland City FC's international reputation was galvanised when Tribulietx led the club to it's most famous achievement - a bronze medal finish at the FIFA Club World Cup 2014 after wins over Moghreb Tetouan, ES Setif and Cruz Azul. But for a bobbling ball late on in the semi-final with San Lorenzo, Auckland City FC may have faced Real Madrid in the final.

"My best memory was the bronze medal in Morocco - that was an unbelievable achievement given the level we had to reach to compete with professional clubs of huge potential and standard.

"We reached a level that is difficult to get to and we finished with a medal. For a club of our size to achieve that on the highest stage possible it will remain in my head for the rest of my life.

"The greatness of what we achieved will probably never be matched by a club from this part of the world. It is still something that resonates with me on an emotional level.

While the Navy Blues focus looked beyond Oceania's shores, Tribulietx returned the ISPS Handa Premiership trophy to Kiwitea Street with back-to-back grand final victories in 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. He added a third in 2017-18 alongside seven title wins that included the longest run without conceding a goal in National League and OFC Champions League history.

The club also went unbeaten in all competitions for 16 months with only defeat to Al Jazira blotting Tribulietx's copybook.

Speaking with Tribulietx it's clear it will take some time for him to not only absorb the enormity of his achievements but also the emotions, a side of his character he has been at pains to conceal throughout his tenure, always preferring to soberly focus on the task at hand with a clear mind.

Saying goodbye, saying thank you

"When your time at a club comes to an end you always have to learn a few lessons and I have so many people to thank for their help.

"The coaching staff have been excellent throughout my time here, in particular Paul Gothard, Riki van Steeden, then first as a player,then as an assistant, Ivan Vicelich.

"There have been many people involved since the start and I am grateful to all of them for their contribution.

GOAL!!! Ryan De Vries vs Cruz Azul - FIFA Club World Cup 2014

via GIPHY

"But the main person to acknowledge is Arthur Egan. Arthur is a phenomenon in this world - Arthur helped me understand the New Zealand mentality and treated me with fantastic respect and friendship throughout my time with the club.

"I learned so much from Arthur about life and I owe him a lot of respect. I appreciate the opportunity and support everyone on the club committee gave me to coach the team, to create these memories," he reflected.

"The biggest influence on me during my time with Auckland City FC was Colin Cook. Without Colin's support I wouldn't have been at the club or supported when things were difficult at the beginning.

"Colin always believed in me and during the period where we went through big changes that support was vital. When I started we trained twice per week and it was a challenge to change those habits and in Colin I had someone who was like a second father.

"He provided important mediation to help people understand that changes were needed.

"I also want to mention David Firisua who is someone who was very good to me. David is a great person, a very honest man and he was always positive about how we tried to prepare ourselves," he said.

The future

With his watch now over, Tribulietx's thoughts turn to the future. What next for him?

"I don't want to rush into anything just yet but I am looking at one or two options that I've not taken up in the past for different reasons. Now it's time to open a new door in life that will motivate me to raise my own levels as a coach.

"I'll take time to reflect on the season just gone and once I've done that I'll see what my next move is.

"As for this season, we were one match short of where we wanted to be. People focus on winning trophies and medals and if we had made it through to the OFC Champions League final then it would've been a very good season.

"We won 17 games and drew one in the ISPS Handa Premiership which for me is the true measure of a team's quality over the course of a campaign. To do that with 11 new players is never easy.

"It's been a long journey and I'll need some time to digest that I'm moving on. I'll take time to reflect on what's been a fantastic journey. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not but I always gave my best to Auckland City FC," he said.

Ends

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