One-on-One: Nazareno Velez - Geylang role is big opportunity for me

The Eagles' new assistant coach opens up to Goal Singapore about his passion for coaching, singles out Ridhuan Muhammad as the club's best player and aims to be Chelsea manager
S.League supporters will see a distinct South American flair running through Geylang International when they take to the pitch this season.

Eagle head coach Vedhamuthu Kanan flew to Argentina in November last year to bring in the trio of Joaquin Lopez, Franco Chivilo and striker Leonel Felice as they look to improve on last season's ninth-place finish.

But the Argentinean influence will also extend off the field and on to the sidelines, with the appointment of Nazareno Velez as assistant coach to succeed Md Noor Ali.

The 27-year-old Buenos Aires native looks younger than his age, but brings along extensive experience having embarked on a coaching career when he was 20.

Coaching over playing

"I started working in Argentina seven years ago, coaching and training kids," Velez told Goal Singapore when we met him at Bedok Stadium on Monday.

"In Argentina, the children start training at six years old in a small camp. I trained there, then I [went on to] coach six, seven and eight-year-old kids at River Plate.

"After that, I worked one year at Deportivo Espanol, a team in the third division, where I coached 10, 11 and 13-year-old kids. Then I worked at Neuva Chicago's Under-16s for [the last] four years."

The affable Velez also revealed that it was natural for coaches to start out from a young age back home and that he turned to it as a career because of his love for football, having failed to make the grade as a professional.

"In Argentina, football is very competitive; there are a lot of players and some players were better than me," he chuckled.

Coming to Geylang

Velez was in charge of organising the player try-outs when Kanan was in the country and when the latter offered him a chance to work in the S.League, he did not hesitate to take it.

"I think it is a very important opportunity to be a second (assistant) coach for a first division team and this is a big opportunity for me," he asserted.

"I hope to be a first division coach in the near future. I prepare a lot. I study and watch a lot of matches; I read books about Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola [to learn more]."

When asked whether it would be difficult to guide players who are older than him, Velez responded that there would be no problems as long as he knew what he was doing.

"If the players see that you know the sport, they will listen to you, but you must demonstrate that you are professional and you understand the game," he confidently said.

As for the team itself, Velez singled out former Singapore international and club captain Ridhuan Muhammad as a "very good" player and aims for the Eagles to do well when the league begins.

"The defensive aspect is good, but I think we need more work at attacking better," he observed. "But the foreign players are good and for the local players, there are some with experience. We are working to have a good season."


Velez's coaching philosophy is gleaned from his role model, former Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa.

"I think he’s the best," he stated. "He works very hard and my dream is to be the same as him. He studies his own team and other teams all the time and I like it. If a coach doesn't study his team and rivals, he will surely not get good results.

Commenting that the football here is slower-paced and less aggressive as compared to the Argentinean leagues, Velez hopes to help Geylang adapt a quicker, high tempo style of play.

"For me, I like [my team to have an] offensive style, with short passes and pressing the rivals in their camp," he explained.

"If we recover the ball fast and near the rival's goal, we will have more chances to win. I like my teams to be aggressive, intensive.

"We are looking at the team playing [more] with the ball on the ground. That is the most important, along with a good defence."

Teamwork is another key facet of Velez's coaching philosophy. As such, it comes as no surprise that he would favour having countryman Lionel Messi over Cristiano Ronaldo in his team, if he could choose.

"Ronaldo is a great individual player, fast and strong; he is complete, technically excellent," he acknowledged.

"But I feel Messi works more for the team and I view football as a team sport. The team is more important than the player."

World Cup, family and dreams

Naturally, Velez tipped La Albiceleste to win the World Cup in Brazil.

"I think the team has good attackers with Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and some older players," he pointed out.

"They need to work more in defence, but I think Alejandro Sabella is a good coach, very professional.

"It will be difficult but if Argentina don’t win, then I think Germany. Brazil? Maybe, because they are at home, but many years ago, Brazil had better teams than they do today."

Velez left behind his family and girlfriend for a new adventure in Singapore, but is already "very comfortable" here despite having arrived only a month ago.

"My family are happy for me [for the job] but it’s very different to Argentina here," he admitted about his first time working outside of his homeland.

"But I like the country, it’s a beautiful country and there are very nice people around."

Velez hopes this step is another one towards his ultimate aim of coaching at the top level - with Stamford Bridge being the dream.

"I started seven years ago with [coaching] children and I never thought seven years later, I can come and coach in the first team of a club," the Chelsea supporter reflected.

"In this case it's as an assistant coach, but I worked very hard and I am pleased to get this opportunity.

"I think I can be manager of a good team and Chelsea is a very important club!"