Ex-Málaga and Ipswich legend Pablo Couñago talks about his experiences in Spain and abroad.
It has always been a dream for me to became a footballer since a I was a little boy. When I was called by the national team at the age of 15 I realized that my dream could be true.
What was the experience like when you played for Celta Vigo for the first time?
I remember that I was very excited because I was only 16 years old and it was a very happy moment.
How would you describe your time at Celta, and do you think your experiences on loan at Numancia and Recreativo helped shape you as a player?
I was very young, everything passed by very fast. It was the moment when finally my dream of being a footballer came true. It was a learning experience.
At Numancia and Recre was my first time away from home and family, for a 18 year old boy it could be difficult but that made me grow as a person and made me realize that that is the life of a professional footballer.
You helped the Spain under 20 team win the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria as the top scorer. Do you think the team exceeded initial expectations, and were there any players in that team who you were sure were going to become world beaters?
Yes, top 8 was our target!
Sure, Xavi was top class already at that moment, he was one of the most talented players and playing with him for me was very enjoyable. Casillas at that moment was good but nobody thought that he will became the best keeper on the history of Spain.
What were the initial thoughts running through your mind when you first heard that Ipswich were interested in you, and did you find it difficult to adapt to the new surroundings?
ITFC were top 6 in the premier league so I didn’t have any doubt. They were performing very well. So, although I had other options it was easy to choose (the best decision I took in my career!)
The adaptation to the football was easier than the style of life as I didn’t speak any English but the club helped me a lot to settle in the town and to learn the language.
How would you describe your two stints at Ipswich, and did you find it difficult to move back to Spain in between?
Two different stints, both very exciting, most of the time I felt so happy and enjoyed playing football. There were some difficult moments so I decided to go back to Spain, once in Spain and in spite of playing La Liga I missed Ipswich and English football so I took the opportunity to come back to Ipswich when I finished my contract with Málaga.
It is difficult to choose, probably my second season after relegation. Personally it was a very good year for me, for my performance. I started feeling so beloved for the fans. Hearing the stand singing my name for the first time was a magical moment for me.
Many players move from Spain to the Championship and end up leaving within a season or two – what physical and/or mental traits do you think made it possible for you to succeed for so long in such a difficult league?
I consider myself very easy going. I don’t need much to settle away from home. I’m mentally strong and like simple things in life. I’m a quiet person and that helped me. Physically I adapted to English football because I was strong and fast in short distance.
You’ve subsequently played in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Finland, with stints at Spain in between – how were you able to assimilate in such varied football cultures and do you think you will be interested in more international offers in the future?
Since I had a family (my wife and two sons) it is easy for me to settle when I have them beside me.
Vietnam was the most difficult place because of the climate and long trips.
Do you think that playing abroad put you, and Spanish players in general, at a disadvantage in terms of getting selected for the national team?
No, I don’t. Nowadays all players are visible for the managers.
Currently, Alondras are just two places off the relegation zone in the Tercera – what is the atmosphere in the dressing room at the moment and how confident are you of avoiding the drop?
Right now we are finally saved from relegation so the atmosphere is more relaxed.
What are your plans for the future?
I will play at least one more season, as I feel fit enough and I still enjoying the game.
My future plans are keeping involved in football, sport director, scout, manager… I’m already getting the preparation and knowledge to do that.
What do you do in your free time?
First I’m a dedicated father. I love being with my kids! Playing sports is my hobby, especially basketball, paddle tennis, and tennis. And of course watching football games!
This interview was reproduced from the Hinchas y Jugadores project. You can read it here.