Growing up in the small fishing village of Candas in the Asturias region of Spain, Pablo Muniz dreamed of a career in football from an early age and ended up as an opponent of some of the greatest players in the world.
But Muniz was not on the pitch when El Salvador faced Argentina in a 2015 friendly. He was the Central American side’s tactical analyst on a journey that has taken him all the way to Thailand for the last three years, first with Bangkok Glass and then with Suphanburi.
Muniz recognized early on that he did not have the talent to make it as a professional player but, inspired by his football coach uncle, his mind was set on following his dream.
“When I finished high school, I chose a career in sports science and I went to study in La Coruna – one of the three top sports science courses in Spain,” he said.
“At university, I met one of the most important people in football for me. Angel Vales was my tutor and he became assistant coach to Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and was external tactical analyst for Vincente Del Bosque with Spain. I was like a sponge with him.”
At university, he would also meet Ricardo Rodriguez who later managed two sides in Thailand and was instrumental in bringing him to Southeast Asia. First, he stayed in Asturias and found opportunities closer to home.
After finishing university, he joined Sporting Gijon for a summer camp and was soon offered the role of fitness coach with the development set-up. He then progressed to the youth team, where he got his first taste of tactical analysis.
“At Sporting, I was working with “Pitu” Abelardo, the former Barcleona centre-back,” he said. “We spoke about the fact that although we were in Segunda Division B, we did not have a tactical analyst. Although I was still fitness coach, I started to prepare analyses of our opponents.
“When I stopped working at Gijon in 2013, I made the choice to invest in my career. Although I had the title ‘tactical analyst’ on my CV, it was not my official role.
“I decided to do a postgraduate course in Sports Code at the University of Granada, so I could officially be recognized as a tactical analyst. I had some time out of work after my studies before the teacher on my postgraduate course got in touch to tell me that Albert Roca – former assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia national team – was looking for a tactical analyst with the El Salvador national team.”
Muniz successfully applied for the role and when his old friend Ricardo Rodriguez first called, there was a tournament to prepare for.
“When I was in El Salvador, Ricardo Rodriguez called to ask if I was interested in a move to Suphanburi,” he said. “At the time, it was not possible as we had to play the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Gold Cup 2015, and Olympic Games qualifiers.
“Before that tournament, we were up against Argentina in a friendly and you don’t imagine when you are a kid that you will have a moment like this. We also played against Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile side in their last friendly before winning the 2015 Copa America.”
Unfortunately, Lionel Messi was injured for the Argentina match and watched from the sidelines in the 2-0 defeat in Washington, but La Albicelestedid feature global superstars like Carlos Tevez, Angel Di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain.
With Roca set to move on, it was time for the next stage in Muniz’s career. Again, Rodriguez came calling, but again the timing was inconvenient.
“Roca left the El Salvador national side and Ricardo called me again after he had moved to Bangkok Glass,” he said. “This time I said yes and I was excited about the move and working with him because I knew he was a very good coach.
“At that time, they were league leaders but Ricardo wanted me to move in one week. However, I still had one more game with El Salvador in Canada before returning to sort out my affairs in El Salvador so the timing was wrong again.
“Bangkok Glass’ form started to dip and Ricardo lost his job but I then got a call from Ricardo’s replacement Aurelio Vidmar and finally, two months later, I was in Thailand.”
The players and the head coach obviously have the highest profile at any club, but the role of the tactical analyst has become increasingly crucial in the age of statistics and marginal gains. It is an all-consuming role, with responsibilities for carefully studying both opponents and the club’s own players.
There is also live match analysis with Sports Code, sending information to the bench in real time clips about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that can be seen in the match. At half-time or just after the match finishes, the staff or players can view clips about tactical observation or individual actions.
“The two core duties are the opposition reports and the feedback to our players after the match,” Muniz added. “For the opposition report, I prepare a SWOT analysis. For this, I watch four matches minimum of the opponent and try and understand the things the team repeats in, for example, their team structure or build-up play.
“We need to give our players the two or three most important points about attacking and defending and identify the key points in defensive and attacking transitions. But we cannot give them an overload of information. It has to be as specific as possible for each player’s positions.
“In the day after a match, we will present the first report about our next opponents in about 8-10 minutes of video. There will be information from the four matches I have watched about their key players and their set-pieces.
“Later, each payer will receive three-minute clips of the opponents’ defending and attacking patterns. All players have access to a cloud and we have LINE Groups where we can share folders with the clips. Each player has access to an individual folder tailored to their needs, while there is also a specific one on set-pieces, which can be particularly important for the goalkeeper.
“In these folders, there is also individual feedback for the players to help them understand their areas for improvement. We use In-Stat and I sometimes have 1:1 meetings with the players to discuss the feedback and the stats.”
Giving feedback obviously requires some sensitive man management skills, but Muniz feels that early reservations can soon be overcome.
“At the beginning, some of the Thai national team players were wary of an unknown tactical analyst and I was sensitive to that so always had meetings in private,” he said. “They could be a bit defensive because you are highlighting their weaknesses. Later, they understand the practice and they come to you to talk about the clips they are sent after the match. They recognise this is all done to help them become better players.”
The schedule of Thai football can make for a relentless job, requiring the viewing of up to 12 matches per week.
“When we have league games at the weekend, a cup game in midweek and another league game the following week, I have to watch at least 12 games.
“The day after the game, you give feedback, the following day there is a report on the opponent and set-piece practice. The next day there is a match and then you repeat the same thing.
“Even if we officially have a day off after a match, I have to work on setting up the folders and the head coach will maybe want to see the clips later in the evening. During the season, there is never a real day off.”
Three years in Thailand have given Muniz a good picture of the strengths and weaknesses of Thai football, and he feels improving the foundations is the key to long-term improvement.
“Thai players have very good individual technical skills,” he said. “It’s a pity because the clubs don’t attach enough importance to academies. The clubs need to adopt and follow a process, which starts with investment in academies instead of the first team.
“Players in Thailand often lack tactical knowledge because the academy system is not good enough. Clubs need to set up academies with a clear plan, the right staff and give power and support to the right people. There they can teach the players about football, nutrition, healthy routines and given them the right sporting education.”
Despite the challenges of a role that requires a keen eye for detail, a strong understanding of relevant technologies and sensitive communicative skills across languages in a foreign culture, Muniz continues to thoroughly enjoy his involvement in sport he loves.
“It can be a stressful job but it is my passion. I am privileged to be working in my passion even though there are difficult moments as in any job.”