Real Madrid's striker future, most impressive player (cont.)
What's your opinion of Andy Gray's comments that he's unsure if Barcelona would be able to compete against the Premier League's more physical teams?
Initially, I was very critical. I have watched it again and I would perhaps temper my argument but I think he is wrong (again). What he said is not wholly unreasonable: it is true that some English teams present different challenges than Spanish ones. It is also true that we can't know for sure what Barcelona or Messi would be like in England, and it is true that the English league is, generally speaking, more physically demanding and a little more intense. But it is not as technically demanding. Also, it's worth picking up on what he said, specifically. First, a cold night in Stoke ... well, to start with, that's a horrific and utterly vacuous cliché ... no one relishes a cold night at Stoke or Blackburn or whoever. And it does actually get cold in Spain: in fact Soria or Valladolid, for example, are often far colder than Stoke is. There are physical, direct teams in Spain too. Secondly, Messi doesn't tend to do it against English clubs? So, the goal against Manchester United in the Champions league final doesn't count? And the four against Arsenal? Gray actually said that he doesn't tend to do it against Chelsea. Ok, so let's allow for the leaving out of evidence (United, Arsenal) that doesn't suit ... even so, his first great performance was against Chelsea, that night when he was hit by Del Horno. He was brilliant. In the semifinal when Barcelona went through, he might not have been brilliant but he had the cool head to play the pass for Iniesta that put Barcelona in the final. Football is a sport: even great players can have bad days occasionally -- and what's so incredible about Messi is how rarely he does. Losing is pat of the game. You can't win all the time even if you are the best. Thirdly, Valencia would lose to Tottenham. Would they? Hopefully, we'll see that in the Champions league and get the chance to judge it. And finally, would Ronaldo get the goals that he gets in Spain if he was playing in the Premier league? Well, the evidence from two years ago is a resounding yes. Andy Gray once said it was his job to promote the Premier League. I don't think that is his job at all. It certainly shouldn't be his job.
Years from now, when you and your wife are entertaining your grandkids, what will you still remember about 2010?
Hard to beat the World Cup for sheer impact. Then there's the 5-0 in the clásico. And Messi's four against Arsenal -- that was mind-blowing.
How long do you realistically think Jose Mourinho will last at Real Madrid?
I think he has to win something big before he walks away. But much will depend on circumstance, what other jobs are available, how supported he feels. Madrid will not be as quick to sack him as they were with other coaches, they have far too much to lose and far too much invested in him. I think he'll be in Madrid for three years at least.
Is this Barcelona golden generation more likely to be undone by age, Pep getting worn out, or the club's financial situation?
A combination of them all. I wonder what the impact of Xavi's inevitable retirement would be. Also the connection between players and coach makes the next manager's job very hard indeed. I am not convinced by the new presidential regime.
Which stadium has the best atmosphere in La Liga? Also who has the best away fans, especially as Barcelona took only few to Espanyol? Can you explain why fans travel in such small numbers when going to away matches in La Liga?
San Mamés, Sanchez Pizjuán, Calderón (when they're up for it) ... Spain is a big country and there is little real culture of traveling fans. One of the great things about Sporting Gijón's return to the first division was that they reintroduced what had become something of an alien concept -- going to games. Fans are not helped by the fact that they are held in utter contempt by the LFP, which only fixes dates and kick off times of games with 8 days' notice. In other words, by then cheap flights, trains and hotels are impossible. I think that's a genuine disgrace. Espanyol was a special case: Barcelona was given no tickets. Also, Spain has a TV football culture more than a traveling one anyway.
Is Mourinho just trying to win trophies at Real Madrid, or does he have a plan to change the culture/style of the club?
He has talked about leaving a legacy. Maybe not so much a style in terms of the way they play but the way things are structured and set up. I think he wants more than just trophies -- he has talked, for example, of bringing kids through, of being remembered, of re-organizing things at a number of levels and paving the way for the next coach. But, of course, the big thing is the European Cup.
If Madrid don't win league or CL this year, who will press/fans go after most? Perez, Valdano or Mourinho?
In signing Mourinho, Pérez was gambling everything on one hand. The good news is it is a hell of a hand. If Mourinho wins nothing -- but I think he will win things -- then people may well say: well, it's obviously something wrong with the club if even Mourinho couldn't win there. That would leave Pérez a little unprotected. If Madrid win nothing it would be a fifth successive season he leaves empty-handed. But there are layers of protection and I suspect that Valdano might pay the price. In any case, Madrid can withstand a year of no success. Two is a different matter.
I think Cazorla is the best player outside big two. How long till he leaves?
Brilliant player. I very much hope that clubs like Villarreal can resist sales, but Madrid did try once before ...
Who are your favorite La Liga players who never played for Barça or Madrid?
Over the last decade, which is the period I have watched La Liga closely, you have to look at those teams who have got close to winning things from outside the top two. So, Rubén Baraja at Valencia stands out (as, for one season at least, does Pablo Aimar). It was always wonderful to watch Juan Carlos Valerón play. I had a soft spot for rollie-pollie Brazilian Donato and also for Mauro Silva at Deportivo. And looking at that Sevilla side, Dani Alves apart, you have to look at Fredi Kanouté. Brilliant; when everyone else seems to be racing round losing their heads, he just glides through games.
What could possibly prevent Hercules from winning La Liga this year?
Royston Drenthe being banned from playing against Madrid. Players not getting paid. Showers not working at training ground.
How do you compare Guardiola's Barcelona with Rijkaard's? Both won a Champions League and a couple of national leagues, besides sharing several players. Messi is stellar now, but so was Ronaldinho. Is Messi better than Ronaldinho?
I think we forget too easily just how brilliant Ronaldinho was. This side is more of a collective and more slick in its passing. The pressure is higher up the pitch and more intense. This side is that bit more different to all other football teams, ever. Messi might be the best player we have seen for decades, but Ronaldinho did things that you had literally never seen anyone do before. The pity was that it was short-lived.
Was Xabi Alonso's inclusion in the Spain team a sop to the Madridistas, and an effort to manage team dynamics on the part of Vicente del Bosque?
No. I think his respect for Alonso is very genuine. I think it was an attempt to provide greater protection. And despite the dominance of Madrid and Barcelona and the bitterness of their rivalry, I don't think that coaches need to be choosing a team based on a quota system. Xavi and Casillas, for example, are very good friends.
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