Simon Catanzaro is a soccer coach without players, stuck more than 16,000 kilometres from his home in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
- Simon Catanzaro moved from Adelaide to Barcelona to pursue a career in coaching
- He was hired by a renowned sports academy as a football coach
- Catanzaro and his family chose to stay in Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic
But he is loving it.
You would already have to put the 39-year-old in the brave category pre-pandemic for uprooting his life and family in 2019 and moving to Barcelona in Spain to try to find full-time work as a coach.
No contacts, no guarantees, just a budding coach with a passion for the game.
“I wanted to test myself and, I guess, expect to have a lot of rejection and I had to start from scratch and that was literally several months, really, where I did that,” he said on Zoom from his Barcelona house.
Catanzaro was a football journeyman as a player, playing in the old National Soccer League with Northern Spirit and many clubs in Sydney and Adelaide at the next level down.
He then moved into coaching in South Australia in the state league, before spending time with the Adelaide United women’s team.
When he was asked to take a United youth team to a tournament in Barcelona in 2017, he fell in love with the city.
Fast forward two years and he, wife Nadine and their nine-year-old son were in Spain trying to make a new life.
Coaching alongside Spanish footballing royalty boosted resume
The breakthrough came when his persistence, combined with a certain link with a famous Spanish football player who had coached Adelaide United, was noticed.
“Seeing on my resume that when I was coaching at Adelaide United, that Guillermo Amor was the head coach at our senior team and you can’t go anywhere in this city of 2 million people without people knowing, he’s like an absolute legend of the place here,” Catanzaro said.
It also helped that Catanzaro had coached Amor’s son.
And so he was hired by the Kaptiva Sports Academy, a full-time set up that attracts players from around the globe including South Africa, the United States, Russia, England and local Spanish players.
Very quickly and despite obvious language barriers, he began making an impression, including on the academy’s technical director.
“He said to me, ‘you don’t coach like an Australian, you coach like a European’, so that obviously motivates me more, someone of that stature complimenting me,” he admitted.
Things were looking rosy, but then the COVID-19 crisis hit.
At first, the Catanzaros watched it spread in France and into Catalonia, before its presence was directly felt during a normal early morning training session.
“We got a phone call to rip all the kids off the field and get them into a residence and lock them in there until our big bosses came,” he explained.
All the players rushed to catch flights home, but the Catanzaros decided to stay and become virtual prisoners in their own Barcelona house.
They very nearly fled back to Australia.
“There were times there where we definitely thought about the safety and sanctuary of Australia, it still is the best country in the world,” he said.
“We started looking at flights and thought, you know what, our health and safety and our family back home is more important, maybe we can go and come back. Every day we changed our minds.”
Despite having their university-aged daughter still back in Australia, they stayed.
‘Siestas are real, everything is dead quiet’
All youth football is suspended until September, with the former Adelaideans instead now starting to slowly sample the life they fell in love with as social restrictions progressively ease in Spain.
“Siestas are real, from three to five o’clock don’t be kicking or bouncing any balls, everything is dead quiet.”
While rising COVID-19 numbers have again tightened restrictions in Barcelona, the Catanzaros are determined to ride it out, but will reassess the situation in a few months.
While he does not have the profile of other Australian coaches plying their trade overseas, like former national coach Ange Postecoglou, Simon Catanzaro is quietly building a profile and is not sure where his journey will take him after the Kaptiva Sports Academy.
However, he is dubious as to whether the script includes a chapter back in Australia, taking charge of a club in the A-League.
“It’s just realistic as well, I know there’s not many opportunities.”
For now, Catanzaro will continuing sampling the European adventure, while his mind plots every move for when the world game resumes for his youth team in September.