Angel Rangel Interview – Swansea Catalan Football Legend

Swansea legend Angel Rangel invited me to his house to talk about his career at Swansea City Football Club.

Tatey tells me that you were a bit soft in the first couple of training sessions when you first joined the club. What was it like?

I probably was. It is hard to remember. I remember where we were, we were in Fairwood but before there was a training ground. There were just a couple of fields, cows everywhere and us training in the middle. I do remember, obviously when I joined in 2007, the League One team at the time was pretty much all British boys and Tatey was one of them. Monk, Ian Craney, Robinson, Leon, and they were all used to the physicality. I wasn’t the softest of the foreign boys because we had Andrea Orlandi with his long blonde hair.

Tatey did say that you toughened up quickly!

Well, you’ve got to haven’t you, but I do agree, I probably was a bit soft.

It must have been a seriously big move for you. You were 24, I don’t want to know how much money you were on, but we were in League 1, so it wasn’t as if you were David Silva moving to City on £80,000 a week. Did the club make the move easy?

A totally different story to David Silva or what happens with any of the Premier League players these days. I paid 70% of the sale of my transfer to come here. My team wanted 15,000 Euros, Roberto said that Swansea could only afford 5,000 and so I said that I’d put the 10,000 in. What I said was that I’ve signed a two-year deal, take £100 a week off my wage and that covers that. I started like that. When I converted it from Euros to pounds then I was on more money than when I was in Spain and so financially it was OK to go and to see what happens.

After that, as soon as I landed here, people were friendly although got my name wrong. Roberto kept everything down to earth, I had to wash my own training kit, which we weren’t doing as a semi-professional team in Spain and so that shows how humble he was. We didn’t have a training ground; we were sharing the gym with members of the public.

Did you not speak much English?

No. Lakey (Huw Lake) picked me up late on a Thursday night from the airport and talking to him on the way back, I thought my English wasn’t too bad, but he was obviously trying to help me. When I joined the lads, I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Had you been to Swansea before?

No, I’d never been to the UK.

You agreed to join us without ever setting foot here?

No, I’d never taken a flight before I came here. I lived in a small village near Barcelona, working as an accountant. I was 24 years old and for my first professional contract, it was worth it (the risk). I know Roberto could sell anything and so on the phone I thought that I was signing for Manchester United. I remember it was 2 am when we came into Swansea and I said that I wanted to see the Liberty stadium and that was it, I was sold on it.

Did you know Roberto before?

No, he called me, and he explained everything to me. I was playing for Terrassa in Spain at the time, and I had two sides who came in for me. They were Swansea in League 1 and Atromitos, who were one of the top 6 sides in Greece. I thought UK or Greece? But because Roberto spoke to me directly, I chose here.

Do you know how many games you played that season?

52, I think.

52, bang on. That takes some doing though, first season over here. I can’t say whether you were soft or not but for a Spaniard to come straight over into League 1 and play 52 games. That’s hard work! More than anyone else apart from the keeper

Before that, my matches in Spain were around 30 games a season and I came here and played 52 straight away and I ended up with a double hernia. I had to have an operation. I missed the last couple of games of the season against Bristol City and Gillingham away (when we got promotion). The following season I missed a couple of games at the start because of it too.

I carried on with that {injury} for a couple of years, because of those 52 games. Roberto was savage with me. We had a cup game away to Fulham, we drew the home game and so went up to Craven Cottage to play the replay. I was sick, physically sick on the bus on the way up and he still wanted me to play. He made me play every game.

We were so good that season though, wasn’t we?

We walked the league didn’t we. We had a good team. Roberto did a fantastic job, the recruitment, signing the right players. Ferrie Bodde in midfield alongside Leon and Joey Allen being brought through. Dorus at the back was brilliant. The back 4, apart from me, they had all been there for a few years and so it was a good core of players. We signed Paul Anderson on loan from Liverpool and he was rapid.

When you see the squad, you’re like flipping heck. And you don’t need to be a top team to get promoted from league one all you need is a philosophy, good organisation and a bit of quality and I think we had all of that.

That squad was special, when you look back at the squad, we had a number of players that went on to play Premier League, that don’t happen that often and so you were obviously better players than the league that you were playing in?

Yeah, and that’s down to recruitment. Kevin Reeves was there with Graham Jones and Roberto Martinez when they scouted me. I don’t know whether you know that story? But their flight was delayed by 4 hours and so they came to watch a game near Barcelona that I was playing in against Benidorm. They had a striker who was scoring goals for fun, that guy scored 2. I assisted one and had a cracking game and so they ended up going for the full back for the other team. That’s unusual isn’t it!

And if it wasn’t for that, you’d have been in Greece! Having played in the lower Spanish leagues. How does it compare to here?

The highest I played in Spain was League 1 level compared to here. It is more tactical; sides are set up not to get broken down and to play counter attacking football. As you go up the divisions it is more possession based, La Liga etc. but the division I played was more about not getting broken down. Whereas here, we wanted to dominate games.

We hear about the physicality, but do we lack other aspects? Were you amazed at how bad some footballer’s technique was in League 1 for example? There must be some parts that we are far worse at? Were you ever looking at players and thinking ‘your rubbish!’?

Not rubbish. Nobody was rubbish. I’d say that the foreign or European players would bring in something different. Doesn’t mean that they are always better. If I look at Leon then I suppose he is the exception, he was one of a kind. He wouldn’t lose the ball. The vision, the pass, always short, not long but always accurate.

Is he the best player you’ve played with?

In terms of consistency and how long we played together yes. If you go to quality goals and all that then maybe Gylfi Sigurdsson or Michu but with 11 years together, I’d say Leon yes. For the European players Ferrie Bodde was different to any other midfielder. Even Jason Scotland, I’d never seen a striker like him, he was big, but he could go left or right, didn’t like to run but he was deadly in front of goal. Maybe the British player would be physically stronger a bit rougher but a bit rusty on the ball! Ha-ha

The following season, we did well and then Roberto Martinez left. Truthfully, did you think he may take you with him?

He did tell me that was his intentions, but the club wouldn’t allow it. Obviously, Jordi Gomez and Jason Scotland went with him, but he said that I would too. At the beginning I believed it, but I think that’s what he was like. He would talk, talk a good game but then would he do it? I’m here, I was here, and I was really enjoying my football at Swansea and so I wasn’t concerned. We knew that we had a good team. Roberto said to me when he signed that in “4 years’ time this club would be in the Premier League”; It happened.

As a fan, I bought into Roberto Martinez. He said once ‘I had to be forced out as a player and I’d need to be forced out as a manager’ before leaving for Wigan. I remember feeling let down and it sounds like he did the same with the players?

Yeah, I know that I wasn’t the only player that Roberto said that he would take to Wigan too. When we got promoted, Roberto tried to sign me, but I was happy here and Huw was always good with me as well. I will always be grateful with Roberto for bringing me to Swansea to start my professional career but He was quick to say stuff, but if you don’t mean it then don’t say it.

Do you stay in touch with him?

We have spoken a couple of times. When I retired, I got a little video from him, but I messaged back and he never replied, that was that.

Was that in Spanish or English?

In Catalonian.

Is there much difference?

There are similarities but it is like English and Welsh.

And are you pro-independence for Catalonia?

I am a little bit. Catalan is my first language. Everything is Catalan in my hometown. At the same time, I am Spanish but all my life I have Catalan in my head.

When I talk about you in the magazine now, do I call you Catalonian or Spanish?

Catalonian is good.

Did things change for you under Souza? From a spectacle point of view, it wasn’t as exciting. Were you asked to prioritise defending more?

No there wasn’t much going forward. You could see the games; it would be 0-0 or we’d win 1-0. I think in 46 games we scored 40 goals which says everything. I was frustrated because he never wanted me to go beyond the halfway line. The first 2 seasons that I was here was a case of ‘if you score 3 then we will score 4’ and now he would shout at me when I wanted to overlap Nathan – but that was my game. You have to adapt, that is what we are there for, but it was frustrating.

It was a strange time that because it was almost a unique situation where all parties were happy when he left?

I give him credit. He helped the full backs defensively. Myself, Bessone, Painter, Jazz and Matty Collins and the same for Leon. Pablo was a holding midfielder like him, he’d won the champions league twice, he knew football and he did help us defensively as a team and individually, but I think he just wasn’t for the Swansea way.

Brendan came in. Promotion. Did you know how much things would change after the Reading game?

Yes. I think so. Things moved so quickly that season. We got promoted and that’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for all our lives and then you start to think ‘what’s going to happen next?’

My contract was up. Norwich came in for me who had got promoted with us. Wigan and Roberto came in too and then there was Huw Jenkins and Swansea. By then I really wanted to stay in Swansea. Brendan was in Lanzarote and he messages me saying that ‘I want you, I need you’ and that’s all I needed.

How big is the step up? We see yo-yo clubs now. The gap between the Championship and Premier League. What is it like to play in?

Massive. In all aspects. I’ll give credit to Brendan because he got us ready for the next level. He was talking about “the next season – if you get promoted” while we were in the Championship.

But it was a huge jump. You are playing against Hazard and Gareth Bale when the season before I was playing against a player I didn’t even know. The stadiums. You know that you are on Match of the Day and so if you make a mistake, you are going to be scrutinised. All that is added pressure but what Brendan made sure is that we were psychologically good.

We had a psychologist coming in every 2 months or so working on positivity. If you lose the ball, make sure that your body language is right, otherwise players know, and they will target you. Look at the opposite cross bar, that way you are standing tall and proud. It doesn’t matter who we are playing against, doesn’t matter if its Man City or Sunderland, we play the same way. That’s what made us strong in a way.

Is every aspect better? Or is anything easier? Obviously when you are playing against Eden Hazard then he’s better going forward but do you get more time on the ball yourself?

As a full back, I always felt that the top players that we were playing against were lazy when we had the ball. Juan Matta at United or Hazard at Chelsea, if I could get forward then me and Nathan were always two on one because they wouldn’t track back. Gareth Bale was the same. Whereas when you’d play Sunderland then you knew that this guy is not going to leave me alone. However, when you play top clubs away from home, they might be rubbish for 60 minutes or so but then they can score 3 or 4 goals in 10 minutes when the crowd gets up.

Meeting Laudrup. What was that like?

My hero. I was nervous myself; he was one of my heroes as a Barca fan, him and Koeman. He became manager and I thought that he would be a typical ego-centric guy and he was literally the humblest guy I have met. A quiet guy, laid back, respectful to everyone. A man of not many words but when he spoke, he made sense.

He was cool, wasn’t he?

He was. We were neighbours as well. I was sad when he left, his wife was lovely. He was the perfect man for the Swansea way. I agree with people when they say that Brendan had great attention to detail, and Michael didn’t. Defending was something that he didn’t care about, he would say ‘use your own knowledge for that’. In training it was all about going forward. But he was great for me, and it worked.

You must have played in that West Ham game, his final one. We were poor defensively in that game. Defending deep, Andy Carrol winning headers. Was that his tactics?

That wouldn’t have been his tactics, that would be up to the players. A couple of weeks before, we had a tense meeting with staff and players, I’m not going to name names, but players were having a go at him that he wasn’t showing passion. That when we lost, he wasn’t unhappy. But that was Michael. When we won the league cup, he wouldn’t show emotion like the last few managers, going over the crowd after a win. Michael was classy, feet on the ground, you don’t need to be super high when we win or super low when we lose.

Zidane does the same doesn’t he?

Exactly, the same generation. I think that was taken the wrong way by some of the British players. If you lose 3 games in a row then you need to be tough, that’s the British way. We lose, you need to work harder in training. That’s not always needed.

Was there a click? I heard of a divide at the time between the British and the non-British players.

That was an issue. The first season of Laudrup, we had four Spanish players; myself, Michu, Pablo and Chico. Small group, we blended in very nicely. Second year, he brings in 4 more. That’s 8 players, half the team. Half don’t speak English. When you are winning games then people don’t mind that you don’t speak English but when you lose then it’s a problem. Spanish players, some were arriving late for training, Michael wasn’t really angry about it, and everything added up and I think that was a part of the problem. Playing in Europe as well.

Unfortunately, that West Ham game, we lost in a bad manner and Michael flies to Paris the same day to see his daughter or his son (I can’t remember which) who wasn’t well. Everything was taken out of proportion and that was it; he was gone. For me it was the players because he didn’t do anything differently from the first season. The best football that I had was under him. He took my game to the next level.

Obviously, Monk came in. What was that like for you?

It was tough with Garry because he was a great captain and a great teammate. He was on the right-hand side of defence with me for years and so we had a good relationship but for some reason he stopped believing in the Swansea way. He had Pep Clotet as an A-licence coach because Garry didn’t have the licence to be a head coach. He jumped into the first team being the main guy, but Pep was doing the tactics. But it (the tactics) was like I said we’d see in Spain, hard to break down.

We had players that wanted the ball and to dominate games. But he didn’t want that, the main thing was to stay up. Following season, he got rid of 6 Spanish players, brought in the British, tougher, physical players. It worked for a year, but I think that was from the momentum we already had. We were all a bit disappointed with how things were changing. We’d won the League cup and slowly it all went away.

What’s it like having a captain who is your manager the next day?

He was still treating us the same. Individually, I would go to his office, and I’d say that he was the same guy. When it came to decision making, I said that I think you should really think about the Swansea way. I felt like I could say it, but he wouldn’t listen.

Ashley Williams at that time, was he agreeing with you or with Monk?

To be honest, I don’t know. He was obviously captain and him and Garry had many meetings, but come Saturday, it was more about the results than the style.

Around that time, we seemed to go as a club from being one that was enjoying itself to one that needed to stay up no matter what?

I agree. As soon as you lose the philosophy then you are in trouble. We went from signing Michu for £2.5 million; one of the best around, Chico who was brilliant for us, Hernandez was class. We went from that to players that cost three times more because we had turned into another Sunderland or Aston Villa. Sam Clucas for £15 million, Baston for £20, Gomis was free but his signing on fee was ridiculous.

All we could offer players now was the training facility. Whereas before we had that plus a great philosophy which the fans loved. Success wasn’t guaranteed but it’s more likely without huge pressures. Obviously salaries, you go from low wages to 60-70,000 a week and you were left thinking ‘where are we going?’

Garry thought that Leon and I were too old to be playing at 32. Nathan Dyer should have been playing every week. He took our confidence away. Although I don’t think it was Garry, it was Pep. After that, three players who were the core of the team for years on that right hand side were out. Nathan goes on loan to Leicester, I had 2 years on the bench and Leon didn’t play much.

Even against the lower teams, we didn’t try and keep the ball. It went worse from there, whatever you try. Whoever you bring in. I think that Guidolin did great for us, passionate but I don’t think that he was physically fit. Some players weren’t happy too because managers are supposed to be the first at training and the last to leave. Like Laudrup, he would just come in for training and then leave. Which upset some players.

Bradley was a great man, but it didn’t work out for him. He is a really good man with good values though. Some of the players came at the wrong time. Roque Messa for example, he could have been the next Leon but the Swansea way had gone.

As players, how did you feel when the takeover happened. Did you feel that things would change?

Good question. Maybe it did. When the Americans took over, big players got sold. Ashley Williams got sold just beforehand to make the books look better. They took over and as a player, you could see that Huw wasn’t making the signings anymore. The Americans knew nothing about Swansea. So, I thought who is making the signings here?

They basically gave that power to the manager who I think was Paul Clement at the time. Huw did so much before that. You are always going to get some bad signings but overall, he did amazing and with the Americans, there wasn’t that person in place. No philosophy either.

I heard that they invested £100 million without knowing that you can get relegated. I don’t know how true that is. Like in the MLS in America! I wouldn’t be surprised.

That would make sense! What is your greatest personal achievement as a player?

It has to be fulfilling the dream of being in the Premier League. My first senior year in Spanish football I was in the fifth tier of the Spanish league and so to go to the top and play nearly 200 games is my biggest achievement.

You were the first choice right back for the club season after season. Manager after manager trusted you, liked you. That is so rare in football. To be able to keep different style of managers happy. Even Leon Britton couldn’t do that.

Up to Laudrup yeah. I can’t complain. They maybe had the reference from Huw Jenkins saying what I’m like as a player and a person. First season 52 games, my first big injury was at 27. Brendan said when he came back for Tate’s testimonial, he said that he had to show clips of me playing to the Liverpool full backs because they couldn’t play out from the back. He said that he tried to sign me too, in the January after he signed Joe, but the club said that they couldn’t replace me.

A few years at Liverpool could have been nice though?

Yeah, but I wouldn’t have been here for eleven years then. I would have had more money but with no disrespect to Joe, I don’t think that he enjoyed his football in Liverpool like he did here.

Certainly not Stoke. Who was the best manager you played under?

My best football under Laudrup ,he took me to the next level as a footballer. Brendan took us to the next level, kept us in the Premier League.

What was it like coming back as the opposition?

It was nice actually. I was really nervous. They say that you are more likely to pull a muscle in a game like that because of the emotion. It was great, to hear both sets of fans cheering your name. You don’t get that very often so that was brilliant. I know we lost 3-0, that was my third game, and I was so unfit because I had 2 months without a club leaving Swansea. It felt great, to get the appreciation from the fans, them appreciating me when I was here and after, it was great.

What are you doing now?

First of all is family time. Which is the most important thing to me. I Spent three years in London with QPR, missing stuff, and so it’s important now to be here. I knew retiring would be mostly about them.

That takes me to Ponty academy where my son plays under 12s. last year I was helping coaching the under 12s because my boy was playing a year up. This year he’s decided to play to his own age group and so I said, ‘ok I’ll take the head coach role’ and I’m loving it.

We’ve got a good group of boys with lots of quality. The academy is run by Kevin Hodder and his brother Andrew is head of development. They have been there 10 years, the academy from under 8s to under 9s I think. They are very professionally unlike the other ones like Briton Ferry – I must mention them because they are our rivals! Ha-ha

My daughter is with them!

Oh is she! Maybe take that out then?

I’ll leave the banter in. I don’t let her read this magazine anyway – too many swear words! How seriously do you take the coaching?

I do take it seriously. That’s the problem. I am very competitive, and some parents tell me ‘I think it’s a bit too much’ but I say, ‘do you want to win?’ because I know how the crowd are upset when they don’t win. All I know is that its results driven and I’m trying to prepare the kids so that in 2 years’ time, two or three of them could be in the top academy and so I’m preparing them. Simple rules like don’t be late, work hard, show respect, the values which I’m trying to implement. You will need this as a professional too.

And life skills really

Exactly. You go to grass roots, and you see the difference. Sometimes seeing parents shouting at players on the pitch, arguments etc… Here it is ‘I’m the coach, you are not the coach, no parents on the pitch. Parents and players don’t talk during the game, we have 3 coaches there, we need to keep it professional. I do feel like I’m more suited to a professional environment. It’s good to be there to help my son develop, as a father he doesn’t listen but as a coach he listens, but I think it’s great to see other players developing too, they have lots of potential. We have had 4 games so far; we have won 3 and lost 1. The other academies have been together for 4 or 5 years and know each other very well and so we are doing good.

Do you have a formation which you play for the players or do you fit the players into a formations?

I think it’s a bit of both. It is 9 aside football. I was playing a back 3, one CDM (defensive midfielder) and because the boys know FIFA we use this terminology. Then one CAM (attacking midfielder) and a front three.

But then I look at the players that we have got, and I think that I don’t think that we can really do that. So, all that I have done is switched to a 3-4-1 because we were way too open and exposed. I have two wingers, two flat midfielders and now we are really good. We still keep the ball. You protect the back three. It depends on the game too, on Sunday I think we will play with a right footer on the right and a left footer on the left but sometimes its switched to cut in.

What I did in the summer, because it is hard, we only had 2 hours a week training and so I would do videos and send them into the group. We also have a video camera of the games and so I do an analysis of that.

You are properly into it then?

Yes, because that is all I know. It is working and so why have a difference between academy and graduates?

I assume that you train in Pontardawe?

No, we don’t actually. We train in Pentrehafod and also Penyrheol because there aren’t enough facilities in Pontardawe. We have a lot of age groups, and we can’t all fit onto what is there. It is obviously quite a way out of ponty. This is for both training and for home games. We play the other sides, and they all have their academy within their area.

I hear that they are going to build a school on the pitches that remain in Pontardawe too. I find it strange to be honest with you. The parents and everyone are buying coffee’s, maybe heading off to do a bit of shopping while the training and matches are going on and although we are Pontardawe, none of the money is being spent in the Town and as a club, we need to pay Pontardawe’s money to use the facilities outside of it.

It is obviously going to get worst if they build the school on the fields too. I know Alan Tate has spoken about the importance of keeping the fields and I hope that they listen. There needs to be more pitches in Pontardawe to play football and certainly not less.

Is this a steppingstone from under 12s to seniors?

What do you mean seniors? In Ponty?

Just into general management?

I have rejected a couple of chances to go into the professional game. One being the First Team coach kind of thing, not a manager. Which I think is really what you need to do first before you go into management. You can’t go from playing to being the manager. I know Garry did it and it worked for him for a couple of years, but I think that its important to educate yourself.

I’m discovering what type of coach I am, the methods in training, how I talk to the boys and all that. Maybe in a few years’ time when my boy is 15-16 and I don’t need to coach him anymore and my wife says that I need to go and do something new.

Do you see yourself improving as well?

As a coach? Massively, yeah. It is a nice environment to learn because if you lose a game then there is not that much pressure. I did a session with Nathan Dyer yesterday for the first time, he hadn’t done one before, with his boys team – under 9s at Ponty. He loved it, he said that he needs to do more, and it reminded me of where I was a year ago. From then until now I’m a different coach, how much I have come on. How confident I am, how we are set-up, the boys get the message from me very quickly. That will be Nathan in three months’ time for example.

The good thing for us is that is that we have played the game at the highest level. So, we can use that knowledge, other people who have managed for longer have more experience in how to talk to the boys, how to get a message across and so we need to learn that.

Then in three or four years’ time then maybe he will be the manager and I will be the assistant or the other way around. It could be.

Obviously, you get on well. You got on well on the pitch and off it too?

Oh yes. He’s still in Swansea. We see each other almost every day.

A massive thank you to Angel for giving me his time for this interview. He’s a genuinely, really nice guy and I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that.

It always makes me proud of our city when people like Angel stay here. He has come here from sunny Catalonia, he’s lived in London with QPR but this is his home. Nathan Dyer the same. They earned Premier League wages, they could pretty much move wherever they want to but they stay here. I love it!

Be proud of where you live everyone!

We don’t know how lucky we are!!!!!!!