It is a common misconception that the flow of people between the UK and Spain is one way traffic, but the slightest scratch of that surface and you will find that there are Spaniards aplenty among the tourists and – sit down – some working over there. Most football fans will shout out the names of global superstars including Silva, De Gea, Fabregas, Mata and that Guardiola chap, but there’s also one from our own community who is making steady progress in the Premiership as a coach.
I met Pablo Santis Mandiola in his hometown of Totana on a Friday night in November surprisingly. He had been given special dispensation to attend the wedding of his cousin on the weekend that his work colleagues were facing a resurgent Chelsea team. When he walked into the restaurant for our interview he was greeted like a celebrity by staff and customers alike and it was clear to see that he is a very popular character here.
Pablo is Chilean by descent and is the son of the former Chilean International striker Fernando Santis Mandiola. Fernando came to Spain after the 1984 Olympics, which was the culmination of a season in which he had scored 35 goals, when he was signed by Las Palmas and helped them to gain promotion into La Liga. He subsequently joined Cartagena and played for them until his retirement in 1992.
Although Pablo was born in Chile he was brought to Spain one month later and the family decided to make their life here after Fernando’s playing career ended, viewing the opportunities in Europe far greater for the family. Fernando began coaching the Cartagena U18 and U19 squads and was soon approached by Olimpico Totana to become their head coach. At this stage Pablo, who is one of three brothers, was also making ground as a player and played locally for Lorca and Elche before moving back to Chile in his quest to play professional football.
As things were not going as well as Pablo had hoped, he decided to change tack and to start studying to become a coach. After passing his Sports Science exams, Pablo took and passed his football coaching badges which led him to a job in the leisure centre in Totana and managing the fitness programme in the Olimpico Totana Academy.
Pablo realised that if he really wanted to open doors around the world that he needed to go and live in the UK. As his Sports Science studies had involved a lot of English, he felt that this was an excellent chance to escape the rut he felt he was stuck in and learn the language too. Pablo’s girlfriend, Miriam, was also in a position where she could make the move and knew that a better command of English would help her in her pursuit of a teaching career (now in full flight in Totana). The couple left Totana and moved to London with €2,000 and set about finding work before their meagre amount of cash was swallowed up by London living. Pablo found work cleaning and working as a pot man in bars and Miriam enrolled on a full time English course as well as working as a Nanny and teaching Spanish. One night Pablo saw a DJ being paid and saw an opportunity to earn money from what had been a hobby during his teenage years in Spain. He started to push himself as a DJ and eventually was given a trial and subsequently a residency in a gay club in Soho. With the wolf now being kept from the door, Pablo returned to his first love and completed his Masters Degree in High Performance Football. Towards the end of his Masters studies Pablo struck up a conversation with a mature student on the same course. Over the last few weeks of their degree the two became good friends and Pablo was surprised to discover that his new friend was the club doctor at FC Barcelona (yes, the one with Messi, Suarez etc). One year later Pablo received an unexpected call from the doctor. FC Barcelona had bought 500 GPS devices from a company in Almeria which track the players’ movements and feedback useful information to the coaches and fitness staff. The company and the club needed help and the doctor introduced Pablo to them and assured him that by working with them he would open a lot of doors for himself.
Pablo joined the Almerian company and set up the systems for FC Barcelona. Other clubs were keen to use this technology and Pablo was working with elite football clubs across Europe. His work led him to Watford FC and here he made a contact with the Academy coach Armand Kavaja. After a few meetings talking about different ways of training and football, Armand received a phone call appointing him as head coach to the Watford FC Ladies team. His first appointment as head coach was to name Pablo as his assistant.
In January 2018 Marco Silva was sacked as Watford’s first team coach and fellow Spaniard Javi Gracia was appointed. Pablo saw this as an opportunity to move on to working with the men and asked for a meeting with Juan Solla (Gracia’s right hand man) and told him that he felt he could do a job for him helping with two of their injured stars in Gerrard Deulofeu and Nathaniel Chalobah. Pablo analysed the two players and wrote a report on their injuries for Solla. He was called in and showed how the staff worked and, although he was impressed, Pablo felt he could improve their systems and started to collaborate on a twice weekly basis with Solla watching training and offering his advice. At the end of the first year Pablo was invited to Solla’s house for dinner as a show of gratitude for his hard work. Solla also told Pablo that he intended to help him in his quest to join the club’s staff. In July 2019 Pablo received the call and was appointed as a Performance Analyst.
Meeting with Pablo you get a real sense of his determination and cannot help feeling anything but pleased for him that he has achieved his goal of working in football at the highest level. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that he has even higher ambitions now. Even though he is the only member of the non-coaching staff who works with the players, Pablo wants to go on to work in a more tactical role rather than his current physicality position and ultimately to be a coach.
On a personal level Pablo is an engaging character and a smile is never far from his face. Where many of us expats are a long way from moving back to the UK, Pablo views it as the land of opportunity and feels that he would probably not have fulfilled his potential if he had stayed here. Out of curiosity I finally asked Pablo whether he considered himself to be a Chilean or a Spaniard and his answer surprised me. He said “I consider myself a citizen of the world”.