The new Fnatic head coach was always a leader as a player, how does compare to some former Football legends?
Alfonso "Mithy" Aguirre Rodriguez has already had an astonishing Legends of Legends career but it has only just begun. In one of the most shocking moves of the offseason, the former support has retired from pro play and joined Fnatic as head coach.
The Spaniard made an instant impact back in 2015 as he returned from a one-year suspension to join a brand new team at the time, Origen. Together with young rookie Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen he terrorised Europe before eventually, Origen reached the semi-finals of the 2015 World Championships only to be stopped by eventual champions SK Telecom T1. But still on the hunt for his first piece of silverware, Mithy and his bot-lane partner jumped ship to G2 where the Spaniard would become one of the main voices on the team which dominated Europe, winning four consecutive EU LCS Splits.
Mithy has always been seen as a leader, a genius who sees the game a different way to most. However, that does not automatically qualify him as a good coach. Frankly, some of the greatest LoL coaches were never superstars at the game. The man Mithy is replacing, six-time European champion Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool, hardly made an impact during his playing days on Copenhagen Wolves and the most decorated coach of all time Kim "Kkoma" Jeong-gyun only played LoL professionally for a few months; he mostly competed in StarCraft 2.
Yet, hiring inexperienced coaches who had exceptional playing careers is hardly uncommon. In fact, it’s become somewhat of a craze in football over the last few years. Some of the best footballers from the previous decade can now be found managing some of the biggest clubs in the world despite a lack of managerial experience. Steven Gerrard led Rangers to its first win over Scottish champions Celtic in nine years. Frank Lampard took over Chelsea under difficult circumstances this season but has managed to galvanize the team despite, in LoL terms, having to play mostly academy players while the club was banned from making any signings.
But the most impressive of all has been Zinedine Zidane and the job he has done at Real Madrid. The legendary Frenchman is the only manager to have ever won the Champion’s League, the biggest tournament in club football, three times in a row and did so within his first few years as a senior manager.
The job that Zidane took on at Madrid is a similar scenario that Mithy finds himself in now. He is joining a top team following a difficult period despite being filled to the brim with world-class talent. Fnatic has astronomical expectations and the pressure on Mithy’s shoulders to get the team performing couldn’t be heavier. But before he can even worry about what the players are doing on Summoner’s Rift, he needs to get the squad on the same page.
Big talent usually comes alongside big egos and it’s no secret that Fnatic has had issues outside of game. In the organisation’s own Legends in Action series on YouTube, YoungBuck can be seen lamenting the players’ attitude, criticising their effort in practice and says he is “appalled” by the finger-pointing of his players following their horrific start to the Worlds group stages.
There’s no doubt that Zidane has battled against his fair share of egos at Madrid and it was his ability to deal with big stars that gave former Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti faith that Zidane would succeed: “He has all the qualities necessary to be a fantastic manager: charisma, personality and experience. When Zidane talks, the players listen.”
Fnatic has full faith that Mithy shares that same quality according to Fnatic founder and CEO Sam Mathews: “What Patrik Sättermon, the CGO, and I had when we spoke to him on the phone was not only this person that understood how to win but also had an idea of how to manage players and how to understand from the previous coaching experiences he’s had what might work in Fnatic.”
With the calibre of Mithy’s career, it’s entirely possible that he will command more respect than most other coaches in the scene. Zidane was able to control the Madrid dressing room but football coaches inherently have more authority than their esports counterparts. As former Fnatic jungler Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider said about LoL coaches a couple of years ago: “How do you respect someone that basically does less work, probably has less knowledge than you, and interacts with the same people in the same group of friends and coworkers as you?” Funnily enough, the German now finds himself in a coaching role within Misfits Gaming.
A while ago, I spoke to former Team SoloMid coach KC “WoodBuck” Woods who had a background in traditional sport but was given a chance by the LCS organisation. He was there to help concentrate players’ improvement never teach them about the game but still his LoL inexperience meant he never gained the trust of the players. He says esports pros unfamiliarity with coaching set-ups made his and other coaches jobs that much harder: “The players I have coached at a high level in traditional sports have been consistently in team environments since they were a kid, so they know how to work with team environments, they know how to interact with teammates, they know how to be coached.
“But in esports for the most-part, the reason they’re really good at video games is because they have been sitting at their computer playing video games alone since they were a kid.
They will be playing solo-queue and not interacting with teammates.”
Mithy was playing LoL before coaching jobs were even commonplace. Players will usually have a better knowledge of the game than their own coaches thanks to playing ever day but few will know more than Mithy. The Spaniard has been dropped in at the deep end but has all the tools to ensure he doesn’t sink. As he tearfully said in his announcement, reflecting on the regrets from his career: “All the sh*tty decisions I think I made and all the bad experiences and good experiences I lived. I can try to funnel them positively to other people so they can trust me to not make the mistakes I made.”
Images via Riot Games | Flickr & PA Images