“We managed to make history, I will always be a Celtic fan,” Fran Alonso

“Yeah, I’m a Houston Dash now, and I’m still pretty Celtic, I’m a Celtic fan,” Fran Alonso told Spanish media outlet Diario AS

After his time in the Premier League working at Southampton and Everton, Fran Alonso moved into the women’s game he headed to Scotland with Fran explaining how that move came about.

“There was a process before. I was going to continue at Everton. The club wanted me and, in fact, on day 1 of the preseason I went to work and we did the session. After this, the new manager, Marco Silva, told me that he didn’t count on me. It left me without options. If they tell me before, maybe other teams could be interested, but he told me when all the squads and coaching bodies were closed. And I was left without a job,” Fran recalled.

“Then, the University of Liverpool, the men’s team, who had already contacted me when I was at Everton, insisted and I said yes. I trained them for a few months. Until Lewes, from the English Women’s Second Division, contacted me to sign me and I decided to leave. From Everton to the University of Liverpool and from Liverpool to Lewes.”

And, then, Celtic called him.

“In Lewes, after a year, a little less, I was not there for the entire season, but for the end of one and half of the other. As the Scottish league was winter, that’s when I decided to go to Celtic. Until then I was part-time, but they wanted to make me full-time and for me to be the first coach to help them change the structure,” Fran said.

Asked why Celtic were interested in him he explained that it was all to do with his work under top coaches in the English Premier League. “My previous agent worked with Celtic. I think he represented or had represented one of the Celtic managers, the one before me, I don’t know exactly, but I know that he had had contacts and it was through my agent who told me, ‘Look, I’ve been talking to the club and They are interested in your profile.’

“My agent presented the project to me and they contacted the club, Lewes, and when they gave them the green light we started the conversations, I went to Glasgow. I had to do a session for them to see me train with the men’s under-18 team, and it was perfect, I loved everything: facilities, the stadium, the people… and so did they, so from the beginning both the club and I knew it was the right move and the results are there.

“We managed to make history, it was spectacular the four years I was there and until now it is still something that gives me pleasure and remembering it is something very nice.

“I arrived in December 2019. As soon as we arrived we went to Gran Canaria for preseason, when we returned we started the league, we started very strong, winning 2-1 against Glasgow City, which was the champion team, and who had won the last 13 leagues in a row . A spectacular match.

“After that game, COVID arrived and they stopped the league. We had a lot of bad luck there. When we came back again, they made us repeat that game. That was one of the worst moments because I considered it very unfair.

“That game didn’t count because of COVID and we had to play against them again and that time we lost. But of course, we had a giant disadvantage. They were in the Champions League. And they are the only team in Scotland that were allowed to train, and we were only allowed to train two weeks before that game.

“The first half was 0-0, but in the second we lost the game 2-0, and that was key later, because that year in the last game we had a chance and Glasgow City won, and with that game we might have won, but it was the first time in history that we got into the Champions League, we had never got into it before,” Fran noted.

“That year there were no cups. The following year, in addition to participating in the Champions League which was a beautiful experience, we won both cups. It was the first year with cups and we won both, the Scottish Cup for the first time in the club’s history and the League Cup for the second time in the club’s history. Celtic women, until my arrival, had one trophy in its entire history,” Alonso pointed out.

“The following year we won the Scottish Cup again, which was our first at Hampden Park. For me, in my opinion, we were the best team in the league, or at least the one that played the best football. We were one minute away from being champions and a goal in another field, which was very difficult to happen, from Glasgow City against our biggest rival, Rangers, who were playing at home. They conceded a goal in the 92nd minute and took the league title away from us, but we qualified for the Champions League again. And this year, although I left the team in December, we have won our first league. I say we have, although I am no longer…”

But it’s also yours? asked the interviewer. “Yes, of course, in fact, there is no new signing on the team, they are all the players that I know, all the players. I feel very proud that the players we brought have won the league. It has been spectacular.

“I have had messages from all the members of the club, from managers, from players… when I went to Celtic I was not a Celtic fan, although at Southampton I met Victor Wuanyama, Fraser Foster, Arthur Boruc, Virgil van Dijk. .. Celtic legends, and everyone spoke wonderful things to me, but I didn’t become a fan until I came and saw what Glasgow was, what the fans were like.

“For me, the best fans in the world and from there I became a Celtic fan. In fact, last week, celebrating that we (Houston Dash) had the first victory at home, it had been a year since the team had won in our stadium. And we beat North Carolina 3-0 and, the next day, I went to see the final of the men’s Scottish Cup with Andy, the physical trainer that I brought from Celtic and the two of us in the green-and-white shirt supporting the team with the supporters’ club. Celtic in Houston. So I will always be a Celtic fan. It is one of the most beautiful stages in my football career without a doubt.

Asked to  summarise his time at Celtic in one sentence, Fran Alonso gave this response. “They call us ‘history makers’ there, and it is true that for four years we have made history. And not only that, we have changed Scottish women’s football forever.

“Last year, my last game at Celtic Park was with 15,800 people. That had never happened and has not happened again. It is true that we changed Scottish women’s football forever and that was credit to a group that, despite having tools, at the beginning many of our players were part-time.

“Kelly (Clark), our captain, is still an accountant. She can’t train every day that the others train. It is a team that has managed to overcome all those barriers that our other rivals do not have and manage to make history every year, against the odds.

“That’s why I tell you that it is one of the most beautiful stages of my career. It is a team with courage, heart and, above all, with the best fans in the country. He managed to overcome all the problems, all the barriers and manage to make history. That is the phrase that will stick with me.

“And it’s something that’s there every game, we finished last year and we had fans that went home and away. When you play away it seems like you’re playing at home because they only sing, all the players had their song… it’s spectacular. It is spectacular. I haven’t seen that in women’s football anywhere. Here (USA), it is true that the stadiums are full and it is impressive. The league here, for me, in my opinion, the American League is the best in the world, the most competitive. But it is true that I have not seen the passion that exists in Glasgow anywhere else in the world, with women’s football,” Fran said.

Listening to him talk the journalist wonders why Fran Alonso left Celtic. He gets sporting and even economic ambition as reasons why Fran decided to go to the United States. But he notes that the love Fran conveys for Celtic suggests that it could not have been an easy choice. So why did you do it and what was that process like? Was it via his agent or did Houston Dash go directly to the then Celtic FC Women manager?

“I found out because Houston Dash contacted the Celtic board to tell them they were interested in me. I had many conversations with the Celtic board because it is a place that I have loved, where I have been super happy.

“In the end it was decided that it could be a very important step for both of us. There was a very strong financial compensation, the strongest there has been in Scottish football. That was also going to help the project potentially win the League,” Fran Alonso said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, of course. When you are comfortable, you are doing well and you have brought in players who leave everything for you and the club every game, it is very difficult to get rid of that.

“What is true is that since I started as a volunteer in women’s soccer, my dream has always been the American League, which has always been the best in the world. The English one too, but for me the American one because it is the most competitive. You never know who is going to win it. Many of the best players in the world are coming here. Also coaches. We have now three Spaniards: Juan Carlos Amorós, now comes Jonathan Giráldez from Barça, who comes to Washington Spirit, where Adrián González is now as interim, and me.

“It is a league that is growing a lot, with world-class players who want to come. The 14 coaches who are here are privileged. It scared me, because I was comfortable in a club that I love. I’m still a Celtic man, but it’s true that you never know when your last chance will be. Maybe I’ll never have it again. So, I said to myself ‘Look, to know if I have what I have to have, if I can be in a league as strong as this, I’m going.’ And it was a joint decision, it was not unilateral,” Fran said.

“Of course Celtic wanted to keep me, but we understood each other and the exit could not have been more friendly. In fact, I keep in touch with them constantly. It was a little difficult for me at first to adapt here, especially after my experience in Glasgow, how people experience football here.”

And it turned out well for all parties. “Yes. Celtic have won the League, which means that they couldn’t have done better for the club. With what was paid for me they have been able to bring back Tash Flynn, who we could not retain and who this year has been key to winning the title. There are only 14 coaches in this league. I am privileged and although we have had a fairly slow start, I never give up and I am determined to get this through.

“The last three weeks have been quite positive. We lost the game against Portland, but against Angel City and the last home game with North Carolina, I think the team played very well. The high blood pressure was intense, which is something we were struggling with. I am happy with the team’s latest performances and we must continue working. I hope that we have the possibility of getting into the playoffs, which would only be the second time in our history, and once we are in the playoffs… for me, the knock-out competitions. I love them.

“At Celtic we only lost one cup game in all the years I was there. In all the cups we played only one game, and it was on penalties with 10 players, also, when we were winning 1-0. We have all won the rest. I love games in which you play everything at once and we are good at preparing for them. But the first thing is to get into the playoffs and then game by game.

Maybe, the journalist asked, Houston Dash wanted Fran Alonso for his great management skills in these hot moments. “Yes, they had statistics. When they announced me, they showed my winning rate, they announced the trophies and they also announced the number of players we signed and who became full internationals with us.

Clarissa Larisey

“For example, the case of Clarissa Larisey. She was a player who had never played for Canada in any of the youth categories and who came off the bench in the Icelandic league. We signed her, we improved her, we worked with her, she became a reference player for us and (Swedish side) Hacken signed her for a record price at that time. Now she is in all squads with the Olympic champions, that is spectacular. When she had never played and was not on the radar. Houston Dash announced all of this here as the reasons for my signing and I work every day so that they don’t regret bringing me here.

At Celtic, Fran Alonso was a shrewd tactician and operator in the transfer market. Can he do likewise at Houston Dash?

“You can put the training you want, but then you have to work on it. North Carolina, in the first league game, scored five against us. We lost 5-1 in our debut. They broke us in the transitions. If there is one good thing about being full-time, it is that you study all the games, all the chances they create for you, how they create them and how to eradicate them. The other day they created almost no clear chances for us in the entire game and we won 3-0 against a team that surpassed us in the first game. Not just for putting a line of four. We knew where we didn’t care if they had the ball, we knew where we didn’t want the ball to go and we managed to make their game predictable and they had a hard time creating chances for us. I have changed the microcycle here, because the players need more tactical work than they did at Celtic.

“There we also focused a lot on the conditional part, being very intense to counter press (high pressure), here you have to help a lot tactically. At Celtic the 11 against 11 was just one day, it was our endurance day. Here we do it for two or three days because the players have to learn more. We changed six weeks ago and the truth is that the team has been growing and the players are clearer about how we want to play.”

Asked if he has contacted any elite European soccer players, to consider a move to Houston,  give that there has been a lot of exports lately from Europe to the United States.

“Yes, we have been in conversations with players from ‘Top’ teams in the Spanish league, the French league, the German league, the Swedish league, etc. We have a General Manager who is the one who makes these types of decisions. I don’t sign here, like at Celtic, so we try to align the three, sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t, but we try to align the three and they do a little more work to sell the club and the long term. and my job is then to talk to the player, how I can help her tactically, how the team plays, in a little more detail. And we have had conversations with several of those top players, the thing is that all the teams here want them. They will have to choose. I hope someone comes, but it’s difficult.

Celtic FC Manager, Fran Alonso punches the air in delight following his sides 1-0 victory during the Scottish Womens Premier League Cup Final match between Glasgow City FC & Celtic FC at Firhill Stadium, Maryhill, Scotland on 5 December 2021.

“I can’t give you names, but they are international players. I can give you a clue: a couple of them have been in the Champions League final. That’s as far as I can say. All these arrivals to the NSWL (National Women’s Soccer League) are due to the fact that it is possibly the most competitive in the world.  It is the most competitive League, for me, for two main reasons. The first is that all teams have the same budget. There is a budget cap. All teams have the same budget. It is true that there are teams that have different strategies that make them more or less attractive for players, but the transfer budget is the same.

“The other reason is the Draft, in which the best young players participate, because there are no established academies here, although there are some teams that have them, but it is not normal. The young players are in the university league, and when they finish university they enter this Draft. The teams that finish last choose first. Therefore, the best ones go to the teams that finished last.

Celtic FC Manager, Fran Alonso stands alongside the Womens Scottish Cup during the Scottish Women’s Cup Press Conference at Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow, Scotland on 24 May 2023.

Like in the NBA? “Yes, exactly the same. If a team is very interested in one of the players and wants one of those first picks, they buy it from the clubs that have it. That is ‘trading’ (exchange). That makes it a competitive league. In fact, two years ago, Gotham finished last and last year won. Imagine how competitive it is, a team that finishes last, and since there is no relegation, wins it the following year. More competitive is impossible. That’s why for me it is the best, the strongest league in the world. England is also very strong and has incredible economic resources. But only three teams can win it, no one else. Here almost 14 can win it.”

Including Houston? “Yes, well…By power, we can. It’s not impossible, but almost impossible. – You tell your story to anyone and they think it is invented, and there it is. For you there is nothing impossible. The truth is that I have confidence. The team is growing. If we get into the playoffs, I think we can be competitive in every game.

“These reasons that you explain make girls like Ana Tejada, formerly of Real Sociedad and the most recent signing, Esther González, many coaches, etc. go to play there.

Would Fran like to coach back in Europe one day? “Yes. I have come here to try to change the history of the club, as I have tried to do in all the clubs I have been in. We have clear objectives. One of them is playoffs. Furthermore, we have a spectacular stadium, but it is quite empty and we want to see it full. We are doing community work, but we want it to be much more, for there to be more engagement with the community.

“Once all those goals are met… My parents are getting older. I don’t see myself training here my whole life. At some point, I would like to return to Europe, to be closer to the family, but well, at the moment I’m not thinking about that because right now I am very comfortable here and I only think about trying to get into the playoff.

“As soon as we finish the league, think about what reinforcements we need for next year to do the same. I’m here for three years at least, that’s what I want to be here and then we’ll see how we’ve done it, how we are, if it’s renewed, if it’s not renewed… that doesn’t worry me right now, but it will in the future. In the future I would like to be closer to family. I’m not telling you in Spain, which could be, but it could also be in England or wherever I’ll be home in two hours.

“I love what I do. I love training, being on the field. With the national teams you have 10 days or 12 days a month with the team. But hey, you can experiment. Being in the Champions League was one of my dreams. The first year with Celtic, in the first game listening to the anthem… it was something I had dreamed of for many years.”

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

1 Comment

  1. RPM Celtic fan on

    Thanks for that , good read , IMO football is all about recruitment and Fran brought us some really great ones , best of luck to Fran the man an Celtic fan , Hail hail .