For 14 years as a player, David Cobeño Iglesias was tasked with preventing goals. He started his youth career as a goalkeeper for Rayo Vallecano with stops at Real Madrid’s lower ranks along with Sevilla and Almería before winding up back in Vallecas where he would retire in 2016. When he took over as the Director of Sport at Rayo Vallecano, his main task was to find goals for a team that seemed allergic to them. If goals were the allergen, Cobeño is the antigen.
Beg and borrow club
A prospector in the field of finding goals, he has struck oil and his acuity when it comes to scouting, contacts within the game, personality when it comes to convincing the scouted players to join and his ability to keep these players happy once they do arrive are just some of the things that are setting Cobeño apart in the early stages of his career on the administrative side of football. The new Monchi? The shoe, or glove perhaps, certainly seems to fit.
This, however, is far lower stakes Moneyball; no better place to start your career as a sporting director than at Rayo Vallecano either. It is like doing your apprenticeship to be a prison warden in Alcatraz, or learning how to swim by being dropped into the middle of the Atlantic and told to find your way home. Speaking to Pepe Mel about the financial insecurity of managing Rayo, he told me “we all knew what the situation was.”
Rayo might be referred to as a selling club but to correctly label them, you might get closer to the truth by saying they’re a ‘beg and borrow’ club.
Problems with relegation
Rayo suffered from relegation two seasons ago after their longest spell in the top flight and not just the fact of being sent down a division with less television money, exposure and glory; they suffered with having a bloated wage bill with players on massive salaries, who felt they were too good to be playing in the segunda. Many of them wanted out but had just been accomplice to a relegation and nobody wanted them. Rayo’s failure to change the dynamic and convince the players that they had a plan to get them an invite back to the top table was jarring and if it wasn’t for Míchel arriving at the tail end of the season, a further relegation looked like it might have been on the cards. That has all changed.
Cobeño knew the dynamic was wrong too, “We’re doing things right. We have not offered too many renovations because we have to renew the squad. It needs a breath of fresh air,” he said. Upon being appointed, he added, “As of today, nobody has asked to leave. Last year there were instances of people wanting out but now they are optimistic of this being a worthwhile project.” And it’s only getting better.
This season the talk emerging from the dressing room is promotion. Nothing else will do and they’re playing like a team who know they’re good enough to achieve it. No team in the segunda is taking more shots, only four teams are making the keeper work harder and they’re becoming smarter about it too with only Valladolid scoring more inside the penalty area.
Last season, under Jose Ramon Sandoval, who had success during another stint at the club, they were seven points worse off than they are at this point in the season – the difference between a playoff spot and mid table mediocrity last season – and had also scored five less goals. The most important stylistic change is that Rayo now have one. And Cobeño is the man who brought the players in to make it work.
He needed to find goals, for a start, but he needed to find players further back the field that would allow for the goal-getters to thrive. He was tasked with making sure that Míchel could remain devoted to his Paco Jemez-esque attacking philosophy. Getting goals without assessing and upgrading the defence would have been like bolting the front door and putting a welcome mat at the back for potential intruders.
Cobeño’s new players
Emiliano Velazquez may never make it at the very top of Spanish football and this was evident from his time and lack of chances at Atletico Madrid but he is strong, stable and capable enough to have earned a move to Getafe and a loan to Rayo last summer. Cobeño worked quickly to get the Uruguayan to remain in the capital and helped him solidify the centre of defence. The 23-year-old is a weekly starter under Míchel and an upgrade on any defender the club has in their
In Raul de Tomas, Monchi brought in a striker who commands attention. He is big, burly, quick and excellent with the ball at his feet. Raised in Barajas, and playing with Real Madrid for a spell, Cobeño brought in a reference point in attack, sold him on the idea of attacking football and that’s your number nine locked down.
Another understated gem is the signing of Unai Lopez on loan from Athletic Bilbao. The undersized midfielder has a wide-ranging repertoire of passes and is being deployed on the left of a four-man midfield. His willingness to get forward and play as an unorthodox left-sided midfielder causes problems and he surely has a bright future ahead of him in the top flight.
The jewel in Cobeño’s crown, however, is Oscar Trejo. A luxury is how he is defined on the terraces. He is the brains and the brawn up front for Rayo. He scores and assists, or is heavily involved in goals at an equal clip and many suggest a call-up to Argentina is not out of the question. Trejo is the best player in the division and holds the whole thing in place.
What strikes is the speed at which Rayo installed him as the sporting director after retirement. The 35-year-old has adapted to the role with ease but it seemed that Rayo always knew that would be the case. This never seemed like the type of appointment of someone who wanted to stay in the game for the fear of missing it and picking a job they might be good at. This screams of someone who was made for the role.
Monchi, a former goalkeeper with Sevilla, brought an unprecedented spotlight on the position of sporting director with his work at his former club. He blazed a trail that ensured the lion’s share, and possibly even more, of the praise landed where it belonged. It might no be a coincidence that Cobeño’s stint in Sevilla occurred at a time when Monchi was laying the seeds for helping Sevilla rise the ranks in Europe.
If Cobeño can manage even a fraction of the success that Monchi has had, Rayo will be back in LaLiga in no time and playing beautiful football in the process.