FEATURE: Biggleswade United's principled boss Cristian Colas seeks success with style
PUBLISHED: 17:35 11 October 2017 | UPDATED: 18:26 11 October 2017
"You can't play progressive football if you don't take risks - the easy thing would be to tell my players to kick the ball high and long and fight for the second action'.
So says Biggleswade United’s young Catalan coach Cristian Colas. He is sitting in the team’s changing room after a 4-2 victory over neighbours Stotfold FC on Tuesday evening.
At his feet lie the detritus of his trade, discarded tape for patched-up ankles and mud brought in by the studs of his players.
The tiled walls behind him are moist to the touch – a by-product of the steam generated from piping hot showers on an autumnal evening, that although mild, reminds you winter is approaching.
His men are refuelling with pasta in the clubhouse next door. The area is full of beers and bonhomie – both activities for the fans, just the latter for the dedicated players. While club chairman Chris Lewis is happily serving teas and pints to the ever-growing throng of supporters.
The slight Colas sits in a corner of his workplace and quietly shares his ethos. But don’t confuse a mild manner with a lack of passion – and of a teak-tough determination to succeed in this beautiful game of ours.
His team raced into a 3-0 lead by the half hour mark at homely Second Meadow – an unprepossessing ground fringed by trees and their golden leaves.
But he is not satisfied. “You cannot do anything in football without principles”, he says. “We have to be clear on that.
“If we planned on Saturday to kick the ball long we will lose. I am completely sure. “Because we haven’t got the players for that methodology.
“If you look at our last few games we’ve been dominating - but because we take risks in terms of the way we play we conceded late goals. It’s clear – if we want to play football we need to take risks.
“If you look at our game against Stotfold, we actually scored six – four in their net and two in our own net because we take risks. But I won’t change the way we play.”
The visitors pulled a goal back just before half time after United scored through the talented on loan Stevenage starlet Claudio Ofosu on five minutes.
David Iwediuno doubled the lead on 27 minutes before Nick Elliot unleashed a well-directed long range strike that won’t be bettered at any level all season.
But Colas, who had earned his 3rd level UEFA Pro Licence by the time he was 23 was not happy.
Stofold grabbed a second to make it 3-2 early in the second half and his team had to fight to keep the lead. In the last minute the visitors contrived to miss a well-worked chance culminating in the striker narrowly thudding wide a low cross from only yards out.
United made them pay and Immanuel ‘Manny’ Eze netted the fourth to seal the match with seconds remaining.
Colas said: “If we had conceded at 3-3 then they would probably have won the game because the momentum would have been with them – but I don’t want to think about that. We were really unlucky in the first games of the season. It’s part of the game.”
The 33-year-old former coach of Spanish Third Division sides CD Masnou and CE Europa is adamant how he wants to play.
And this non-league boss – that some say is a version of a fellow Catalan also receiving plaudits in English football - is certain.
As he speaks Colas is oblivious to the mud and grime being swept from the changing room floor, consumed as he is by a football philosophy.
To this observer – who has attended Pep Guardiola’s tactical masterclasses during post-match press conferences at the Etihad - if you close your eyes and forget the humble surroundings you could be at Manchester City hearing the icon hold court.
Colas shares his ethos. “If you want to play from the back we need a good ball-playing centre-back. I want all my centre-backs to completely understand what I want us to do – and that they have the skills to be able to do it.
“I will never complain about the decision-making of my goalkeepers – if they fail it is my responsibility and my responsibility alone because I am ‘forcing’ them to take risks.
“Sometimes we might play it long and fight for the second action, but it will be planned beforehand and it will only complement what we are trying to do.
“It depends on the profile of the players we have on that pitch. But the main thing we are trying to do is get the centre-back to play the ball out from the defence.”
Colas has pushed a creative midfielder into defence this term. He explains: “With Matt Cooper this season we can say he’s a good invention by dropping him into the centre back position – because he’s a midfielder. And as a midfielder he knows how to read the game and knows how to keep possession.
“He’s got great decision making, he’s got a great selection of long and short passes. And he wants the ball as a centre-back – he’s essential. If you have a centre-back that wants to build from the back the first ball from the goalie has to go to him.
“If the ball goes long we don’t have the players to win that second ball – that’s why it’s essential to have that centre-back who can play.
“Remember we always have the option to play it back to the goalie and to switch the play and go again. Of course we need to link our actions within different lines. How to receive. How to make the right decision.
Against Stotfold for example we did what I wanted for 30 minutes. Then at 3-0 up we stopped playing simply. We wanted to do our own thing. And we started to lose our ‘essence’.”
That is one thing you can never accuse this passionate football man of doing. He is too grounded for that.
For a Catalan to up sticks and move to chilly Finland to manage third division side PK.K.U shows a dedication to the trade not many can match at his level.
He says matter-of-factly as he can – as if speaking it quickly will remove the last vestiges of just what a gamble it was. “I left Barcelona in 2012. I got my UEFA approved badge at the age of 23 so when I said to my dad and mum that I’m leaving for Finland – I quit my relationship with a former girlfriend, I quit my job in a bank, my mortgage, I quit everything – and my dad said: ‘Cristian it’s too late, we thought it could have happened before.
“’I said ‘yes, but I’ve got a chance now.’
“I’ve had terrific support from my family and my friends – they’ve always stood with me and encouraged me. After every game do you know they check the Biggleswade United website for the results? They follow games through our Twitter account.
“I’m must be one of the luckiest people in the world to have such support, abroad and in England. I want more of course but I appreciate what I’ve got.”
And what has he got?
A team that is being hailed for the quality of their football. A team on the rise at an ever-growing football club – backed by some big names in football including highly-respected Sky Sports broadcaster Guillem Balague who is proud of his countryman – but also expects the high standards Colas sets himself to be maintained in every game.
Balague is putting a shift in of his own with his genuine love of the club – not to mention the long hours he spends behind the scenes helping out on top of taking time out from his busy schedule to cheer on the boys too. And that’s on top of his ever-growing ‘Wall of Fame’ in the clubhouse where football royalty are pictured with the shirt, with even the god-like Maradona happily signing the top.
As Colas adds: “We are developing all the time. We look to see if players ‘fit’. The principles are basic but it is difficult to develop here in England because of the formations that have been traditionally used – and the lack of training time to change them in general.
“Things are changing slowly but for players who have played one type of methodology for 15 years it is difficult to change their way of thinking, their way of playing.
“Biggleswade is a ‘crazy’ area in terms of attracting new players – we’re far from MK, far from Bedford, from Luton, from Stevenage. So it’s difficult to recruit new players, but we’re trying.
“I am so proud of our team, and our staff here. Everyone is working together to achieve what we are trying to do so I can’t complain – well, maybe I complain a little when we lose…”
It’s clear the engaging and articulate Colas – let’s not call him the non-league Guardiola for he is his own man – is undertaking a quiet revolution in this leafy corner of Bedfordshire.
After leading the team to their highest-ever finish in the Spartan South Midlands League – Step Five in the dry parlance of the Football Association, or the ninth tier of English football in old currency – the team is unbeaten in 90 minutes for 12 matches.
They sit a handy ninth and with games in hand on the leaders but Colas – like Guardiola – always wants more.
“People say I’m never 100 per cent happy because I’m always looking for more – but that’s just my personality. I want to win every game. I always want more. I always think about the next game and want to improve.
“Am I happy? Let’s call it half–happy. I think I will be happy at the end of the season if we achieve good results.
“But it’s dangerous to relax – I don’t want to relax because we relaxed at 3-0 up and it could have cost us. I feel like it’s always 1-0 and you can’t relax at 1-0.
“I am demanding – of myself and of my players. And my staff are the same. Let’s say 70 per cent happy!”
United, who are attracting new fans every week, are on the rise – and it’s in no little part due to Colas’ desire for improvement.
As the interview draws to an end he adds by saying with conviction – with a sentence that should also form part of his philosophy: “I’m lucky”, he says.
“I’m working in my passion, developing something in a nice environment with nice people.
“We’re all in a struggle to do our best. I always remember where I’ve come from – but I also want to move forward, I want to grow.”
The impressive Colas, as ever, is being true to his word. For this talented Catalan there is simply no other way.