‘Me siento tranquilo,” Fernando Hierro responds swiftly when asked about his future plans in football - or if there are plans, at all. “I am enjoying the quiet and peace now,” he says smiling, through a translator.
Arguably one of the most decorated players in the game, the former Spain and Real Madrid captain have won the Spanish league five times, and the Champions League three times. He scored 29 goals in 89 games; no Spanish defender ever scored more.
But last year, the 51-year-old came under heavy criticism for Spain’s stunning failure at the 2018 World Cup.
Dumped out at the round of 16 stage in a penalty shootout by host Russia, the blame laid mainly on Hierro - who never intended to be Spain’s coach in the first place.
Normally, I’ll get myself in the thick of football for three to four years. After that I will take a step back. We need a mental break from time to time
He stepped in as caretaker after the dismissal of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament. Left to pick up the pieces, the Real Madrid legend may have brought calm to a chaotic turn of events - but he was not able to bring spark to a lacklustre squad on the pitch.
Hierro resigned as head coach shortly after Spain’s defeat; he did not even return to his previous role as sporting director at the Spanish Football Federation, and has been, as he says, been living the ‘quiet life’.
“Normally, I’ll get myself in the thick of football for three to four years. After that I will take a step back. We need a mental break from time to time,” he says during a visit to Malaysia recently.
Hierro retired as a football player in 2005. He went on to become sporting director of the Spanish Football Federation for four years. (A role he returned to in 2017)
"I didn't know if I was ready or not," he says of the appointment. "As much as experience and track record is important, training and knowledge is equally important too. I prepared myself, even studied sports management and got my license as coach."
Hierro had a stint as sporting director at Malaga and went on to serve as Carlo Ancelotti's assistant at Real Madrid - albeit briefly for both. His only full managerial role was in Real Ovideo but Hierro left after an unsuccessful season.
"As a professional, I've seen a lot. It can be difficult."
“Sometimes, things look much better from the outside. I want to take the time and space to ascertain what errors may have happened (in the past)."
“I need some time to rest, be with the family and then I will decide.” Hierro did allude to starting a new ‘project’ in the near future but was coy about his plans.
We asked Hierro the pressure and expectations of playing, and captaining a team like Real Madrid that is always expected to succeed.
When you play for Real Madrid, you have the duty to win
“When you play for Real Madrid, you have the duty to win - that has to be your mindset.”
“There are players who cannot cope with that constant demand to win. I think it is very important for every player who joins Real Madrid to not only play the match to win but enjoys doing so. Do it for the fans, for the club.”
“This is a club that has won the most titles in the world. The responsibility and demands are very high. But if you are able to assume that (expectations), you’ll be comfortable later on,” says Hierro.