Thursday, 16 August 2007

You can't trust anyone

"... and even less at Real Madrid". So said Iván Helguera, in his usual uncompromising manner, demonstrating that he won't be winning any prizes for diplomacy any time soon.

The quote comes from an interview in this week's Don Balón, following his move from Real Madrid to Valencia this summer. For the benefit of non-Spanish speakers, I've translated selected extracts.

Do eight years club as big as Real Madrid leave a big impression?

Yes, I played nearly 300 games there and won many titles; there's no doubt that leaves its mark. Almost everything was good, although I've also had many disappointments.

Did the club behave well towards you or did you leave with a sour taste in your mouth?
The vast majority of what I went through there was good, but I've also had many bad moments in the past few years. In spite of everything, I cannot leave with a bad taste in the mouth, because, as a footballer, Real Madrid have given me everything and for that, I will always be grateful.

Were you surprised by Fabio Capello's departure at the end of the season?
In truth, yes, because he was asked to win the League and he won it. After he arrived, the team progressed upwards. But you know what football is like. You can't trust anyone and even less at Real Madrid. They opted for a change and I wish Schuster lots of luck, although obviously not at Valencia's expense.

Without Roberto Carlos, Beckham, Helguera... it looks like Real Madrid will be very different to what we've seen in the past few years.
I think so. Schuster replacing Capello already makes it a different team. But, at the moment there's not been that many signings given the "revolution" that had been promised.

[This interview most probably took place before Real's Madrid very recent signing of Drenthe and Sneijder]

They say Schuster is a guarantee of attractive football; do you think it's a risky approach?
I don't know, because, aside from Getafe, Schuster has coached Cologne, Levante and Xerez. I believe that out of those four teams, he hasn't done too well in three. He was a great player and he will be a good coach. Time will tell either way.

Is it a mistake to say that Helguera is looking for a golden retirement at Valencia?
Yes, because I had offers from clubs abroad who were less demanding than Valencia and who paid more money. I decided to join this club because I like it, I respect it, it has ambition and they've put their faith in me.

Do you think your honesty has ever cost you dear?
Yes it has, but I don't care because that is my character, you can't change people. I always try to say what I think; it's my way.

Are central defenders at Real Madrid cursed?
Not at all. What happens is that people think that Real Madrid has to win every game 4-0 and that is no longer feasible. It's absolutely not cursed, and especially not for Spanish defenders. You only have to look at my figures there, as well as Hierro and Sanchis, for example.

But you cannot deny that when Sanchis retired it was a struggle to fill his position, the same happened with Hierro, and perhaps the same will happen now that you've left.
Perhaps it's cursed for foreign players. The problem for a central defender at Real Madrid is that the team has to play attacking football, which leaves gaps in defence. The same thing happens at Barcelona and that is a disadvantage for defenders.

What did it mean to you to leave the Bernabéu having won the League title?
It was a tough victory. Noone was betting on us and we ended up silencing a lot of people. Real Madrid was a disaster who was never going to win the league, but we did it through hard work.

Was it a triumph based on self-belief?
Self-belief and desire, but especially character. We gave everything on the pitch.

Barcelona has signed up some first class reinforcements. Will that many stars intimidate the rest
The Real Madrid of the galácticos, as Florentino used to call them, was also intimidating, and we went three seasons without a title. Barcelona has great players but they are not unbeatable. Last year both Real Madrid and Barcelona had lots of problems both in the League and the Champions League and Barcelona won nothing. This means that hard work is an important element and that makes Valencia one of the favourites.

Pepe will be your replacement. Do you think 30 million euros is too much to pay for a central defender?
That depends. You can pay that for a striker so there's no reason not to pay it for a central defender. It's not a crime. If they pay that much for him it's because they have a lot of confidence in him. This is just to do with the way the market is, nothing more. What is really tough is to find first class central defenders. There are many, and young, in Spain.

If you could erase anything of what happened to you in the past few years, what would it be?
I can't change anything, that is all in the past. I've tried to give everything when I play. What I would change is the way they behaved towards me; that was not right.

Does Real Madrid treat players like human beings?
It's not a Real Madrid thing; we're now seeing that football is changing and when players are surplus to requirements they are treated differently. It happened to me, but I'm not the ony one, unfortunately.

On a final note, I'm not ignoring Real's fifth defeat of the preseason last night at the hands of "nearly relegated" Real Betis; it's just that there really is very little to take away from the fact that the team is not yet gelling together, and it's hard to know whether this is because the players don't know each other and they don't know the manager, or the manager doesn't know what he's doing. Unlike Capello, who clearly didn't give a fig about the preseason results this time last year, Schuster hasn't asked for 50 days to get his team together. He might be justified in doing so, but then he was taken on to get Real playing attractive football, rather than going all out for results. Right now, he's delivering neither.


linda said...

Outspoken as ever. Thanks for the translation! He makes an interesting point about defenders who are perhaps unfairly maligned at clubs who play attacking football.

As for Real's pre-season form, as Iniesta said today, what's important in pre-season isn't to win, it's to get fit. I think if Schuster can get the new players integrated quickly, then that will be enough.

Having said that, Betis certainly don't look like they're going to be fighting relegation again, although I've probably just cursed them by saying that.

Gonzalo said...

Iniesta has a point; it is important to get fit at this stage because the season is long and there are a lot of matches (I think Barcelona suffered from this las t year; they slumped in the middle). However, there is the added pressure on Schuster to get the team to play the way he wants them to play (assuming he's got a plan, that is). This is less of a problem for Rijkaard; his players mostly know each other and the way he plays.

Andrew said...

Gonzalo --

I have a question totally unrelated to this particular post: did Madrid have any foreign players on their roster in the late 1920's, especially during the first League Championship season?

Or could you point me to a site that has the year-by-year team roster?

Thanks so much!

-- Andrew

Gonzalo said...


I don't know of a site with that kind of info, I'm afraid. From my own records I can't find a foreign player as such on the squad in the late 20s. The closest I have found is a player called Eduardo Ordóñez, who was a Spanish national, but was born in Puerto Rico on October 13th 1908.

Andrew said...

Thanks so much for doing the research. I'm not too surprised, considering the team's proximity to the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and its emphasis on Spanish nationalism. An interesting contrast to Barca's consistent use of foreign players and coaches prior to the civil war.