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Cover Story

ORGE VALDANO was a World Cup
winner with Argentina in 1986,
scoring a goal in the 3-2 win over
Germany in the final. An attacking
player, he was in the Real Madrid
team at the time and returned as manager from
1994 to 1996, winning La Liga in his first season.
He later returned as Sporting Director but resigned
“This is the best
in 2005, jaded by the galacticos era. Then, in
r ge V
Jo te 2009, he returned as director general and set

e p a about reshaping the club and ending the domestic
is th
eal Madrid. dominance of Barcelona. The job brings many
FC Barcelona
boss o s to Leo tensions, including some, reportedly, between him

He talk t Mourinho,
and José Mourinho, but if there is an enemy within,
in history!
ul abo d the
it is not the biggest one.

Verh e
o an
Ronald vercome
Just before the season entered its dénouement
– in the Champions League and the Spanish league – But the moment
drive to d rival
a hate
I went to Madrid to catch up on his progress. It’s
now 25 years since the Argentine was a top-class will come when
footballer himself but he remains a great thinker, and

talker, on the sport, and an author of several books.

Sitting in one of Real’s conference rooms, I kick off
by asking: how great is the difference between the
stars of his day and those of today?
“Pfffff,” Valdano blows out air through his lips.
“That’s incomparable. In my day as a player there
Football always
were also guys who did strange things. Take my
old teammate at Real, the late Juanito. He had an
moves in waves”
enormous explosive personality, on the pitch and off
it. He sometimes got into trouble. But if you add up
all his sins, you get to 40 seconds at most. The rest
was just a boy being naughty. And whatever he got
up to, on the field he always showed himself, threw
himself heart and soul into battle. What sometimes
annoys me now is that well-paid players, who are
adored like rock stars, behave dubiously off the field
– and that you see the consequences of that.”


+ Footballers have become real society figures. + That doesn’t sound like progress. stars don’t make a team. You always also need
Real Madrid players now appear in fashion It’s the times we live in, and you have to accept that. It players like Xabi Alonso. Guys who might not look David Beckham and
Roberto Carlos – two
shows, open nightclubs or trendy shops. was simpler 25 years ago. A player was an employee, so spectacular, but who can read a game. Who can
of many ‘galacticos’
In my time as a player that was unthinkable, but then with rights, but above all, lots of obligations. Now a destroy a counter-attack by taking one step left or right.
it was 25 years ago. It’s logical that some things have player is a company within a company, a publicity Sometimes there’s too little attention for that.
changed. It doesn’t really matter what players do in their machine, a role model, and oh yes, he plays football.
free time, as long as they assume their responsibilities. + You returned in 2009 to a different situation.
The public won’t accept it if a well-paid performer + You’re in your second period as technical Now Barcelona are football’s ruling club. Did the
messes up. The spectators demand discipline, and director. In the first era, Real bought ‘galacticos’, 5-0 defeat in November make you despondent?
want to see results. Those laws haven’t changed. great stars. Beckham had to come, so a crucial Not at all. This might sound strange, but Barcelona’s
player like Claude Makelele – the team’s ‘cement strength inspires us. This is the best FC Barcelona in
+ But the manager’s role has? between the stones’ – was sold to Chelsea. You history! A team with three players competing for the
Clearly. The contact with the player used to be much fought in vain to keep Makelele at Real, and soon Golden Ball. A collection of players who can find each
more direct. Now there are all sorts of layers in afterwards you drew your own conclusions and other even in the dark. But some teams have shown
between. If you need to speak to a player now, you left the club. that this team can be combated. The moment will
often have to deal with his agent or agents. The biggest I don’t want to say too much about that, because it’s come when Barcelona awakens from its dream.
stars have often built a clan around themselves. aqua pasada, water under the bridge, and moreover That always happens in football. Barcelona is on
You’re not just talking to the player, but to his whole it’s part of the intimacy of a club, but it’s clear to the crest of the wave.
entourage. The player’s father. The player’s publicity me that Makelele was a key player for years, and in Real Madrid is a team that introduced new players
agent. The player’s girlfriend. addition the sort of player who is not easy to recognise again last summer. In two years’ time almost the
It quickly gets formal. It’s much harder now for a as such. We signed a number of wonderful, great whole team has been renovated. You could even say
coach to ‘touch’ a player, or to correct him, if a wall has players like Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham, and we have developed spectacularly. We can only get
been built up around him. also several players came up from the youth academy. stronger. There’s no reason to be despondent about
You have to watch a process like that closely. Eleven the future. Now we have a side with an average age

of 24. Marcelo is 22, Özil is 22, Khedira is 23. We can

Jorge Valdano, left,
enjoy them for years. Football always moves in waves.
with Dutch and Barça
Now it’s Barcelona, and then it will be our turn. You see

“Ronaldo is a perfect professional. Almost obsessive.

legend Johan Cruyff
these movements in football, in politics, everywhere.
You could say that the leader of Barcelona is the

I’ve never seen anyone with such a physique. style of play. Johan Cruyff brought his culture to the
club, first as a player and later as a coach. Now, at

Others get tired; he doesn’t. At the end of the the head of Barça is a person who has taken the
respect for this culture to the point of exaggeration:

game he’s still as sharp as a jaguar” Pep Guardiola [the current coach]. In Madrid it was
always different. At Real there is an enormous passion
for triumph. There’s an admiration here for the player
who gives everything. That’s why a player like Angel di
Maria has had such rapid success here. And there’s
also a desire for spectacle. But that’s the order of
things here. In Barcelona that order is reversed. First
it’s the play, then the result.
You could say that if Barcelona is embodied by
Cruyff, Real Madrid is Alfredo Di Stéfano. Di Stefano
was a star who was totally devoted to the team. After
a defeat, it was best not to look at Alfredo, even his
teammates would be scared of him, because his eyes
would be spitting fire. If things weren’t going well, he’d
forget about beauty and just focus on the result. Every
player who has ever played here, in one way or another,
has been influenced by the spirit of Di Stéfano. Driven
by the desire to win, Real Madrid has often fought back
from lost positions. Here they call that the ‘Spanish fury’.

+ But isn’t the football that Barcelona play

right now the beautiful game that you have
always sought?
Haha! I’m a great admirer of Cruyff, but I’m not a
European and not a Spaniard. I’m a Latin American,
and for me the Brazil of 1970 played the platonic dream
of football. It contained a lot of the future Dutch ‘total
football’, though the Dutch developed it and obviously

42 FOOTBALL+ + 43
Ronaldo, Kaká (left) and Özil
(back) – three big-money
+ You see Mourinho up close. How would you
describe him? “Mourinho is very direct.
signings in recent times He’s a professional obsessed by his work. Tactically
highly competent. Very knowledgeable about physical He is so honest that his
preparation. A demanding coach.
words are often interpreted
as provocations, and lead
+ Can you already see his hand in this team?
Yes, in its dedication. We haven’t yet lost a point

to conflicts. They are

because the players weren’t trying hard enough. These
players give everything they have. Surely that must
have something to do with the coach’s personality?

+ Is the Mourinho you see up close the loud,

understood as signs of
shouty figure that we see from afar?
No. In the way great players and coaches are aggression, whereas he
perceived in the media, there is often a colossal
misunderstanding. The Mourinho you see from only says what he
played it in a higher tempo. That Brazilian team had five
‘No.10s’, in different parts of the pitch.
Tenerife, Real Madrid and Valencia – played the kind
of football I believed in. But it’s not my job to interpret
my own views. In my position of technical director, my
a distance would not have the support of all his
players – let alone of his ex-players. Almost nobody
who has worked under his discipline speaks badly of
truly believes”
+ You have always propagated beautiful football, job is to interpret the views of the club. And with the Mourinho. I’ve seen the same thing with many players,
but last year Real hired a coach, José Mourinho, departure of experienced players like Raúl and Guti, like Raúl: great footballers who are nonetheless great
who doesn’t even aspire to beautiful football. and the introduction of young players, Real above all unknowns. It’s incredible in this society of the image,
My views are well-known. I have described them needed a strong leader. That is Mourinho. He was the with the projection in the media that players have
in five books, and all my teams – when I coached coach this club needed. I am very happy with him. today, that this situation is so common.

+ Is that because Mourinho is acting a role? The facts are that Ronaldo averages a goal a match, At training or in the nightclub? Sometimes the coach
No, not at all. In his public appearances Mourinho and is super-dominant in every game. He’s decisive. gives a player rest. Ronaldo doesn’t want that. He
is very direct. He is so honest in his reactions that Before he arrived here, the photographers were lined always wants to play, even in a friendly.

FOR THE sixth straight year, Real Madrid have his words are often interpreted as provocations, up in the nightclubs waiting for him. They are still
topped the list of football’s biggest money-making and lead to conflicts. They are understood as signs waiting. Ronaldo is a perfect professional, devoted to + Twenty-five years ago you won the World
clubs, generating A$596.21m in the financial year of aggression, whereas he only says what he truly his job. Almost obsessive. The training he does, both Cup with Argentina. Last year several of Real’s

ending June 30, 2010. believes. In everything he says, he is mostly aiming to technical and physical, is extreme. He’s a model in the players won it with Spain. Watching them win,
In its annual review of football, financial service protect his players or to stand up for the interests of the way he takes care of his body. I’ve never seen anyone were there aspects you recognised?
company Deloitte compiled a list of the highest- club. What cannot be denied is that he is direct – also with such a physique. Others get tired; he doesn’t. At Football means a lot more now than it did 25 years

earning clubs in the world. The 11 top clubs are towards the players. He demands a lot, imposes a lot. the end of the game he’s still as sharp as a jaguar. If ago. What has stayed the same is the effect that a
shown below, with their place on the list the They have more duties than liberties under this coach. the matches lasted 20 minutes longer, he’d now have world title has. A player who wins a World Cup makes
previous year afterwards. twice as many goals. And how does he achieve that? a leap in self-confidence. And self-confidence is of
+ And yet you say they’re happy with him? enormous value in football. It changes a country, too.
Football’s rich list That’s a difference with the past. When I was a player, I Before 1978 Argentina was not a dominant football
(in Australian dollars)
and many of my teammates liked having more liberties country. Then the world title gave it a lift, and in 1986,
1 Real Madrid, Spain, 596.2m (1)
than duties. Today they seem to prefer having more with a second title, this one won abroad, it got a
2 Barcelona, Spain, 541.3m (2)
duties than liberties. The modern footballer seems to reaffirmation of its great potential. That helped the
3 Manchester United, England, 475.6m (3)
prefer a demanding coach who imposes a regime on country develop into a great power. You see the same
4 Bayern Munich, Germany, 439.2m (4)
him. That makes them feel comfortable. Everything with Spain now: first European champions, now world
5 Arsenal, England, 372.7m (5)
is clear, they know where they are, don’t need to champions. Every little boy in Spain now feels that he
6 Chelsea, England, 348.1m (6)
worry about anything. You could see that as safe and can do that too. That generates great mental power,
7 AC Milan, Italy, 320.7m (10)
comfortable. They don’t seem to demand freedom. which can change the country’s football climate.
8 Liverpool, England, 306.4m (7)
And yet Real Madrid has some very strong
9 Inter Milan, Italy, 305.7m (9)
personalities. We have Iker Casillas, captain of the + Do you often think back to 1986?
10 Juventus, Italy, 278.8m (8)
world champions. A very intelligent guy like Xabi No, I don’t live in the past. I do remember every detail
11 Manchester City, England, 207.8 m (20)
Alonso. Someone like Sergio Ramos, who has been with intense precision. In fact I remember it with a
here for years. And a man like Cristiano Ronaldo with clarity that feels almost pornographic. But I don’t
his tremendous character. But they all follow Mourinho. watch the videos. I don’t need to.
He brings clarity and that was what this team – and this
club – required. This is a club that moves amid great + Did you keep any souvenirs from the World Cup?
turbulence. It’s a universal focus of news. No, nothing. When the Spanish players were being
given their medals in South Africa, my daughter –
+ Cristiano Ronaldo is thriving here. she’s 25 – asked me where my medal was. I had no
Valdano in action during
Cristiano is doing wonderfully. But stars like him are the 1986 World Cup idea. My wife went looking for it. Eventually she found
megastars in the media. So much nonsense gets told. it. It’s now in a place where I can’t get to it, haha.

44 FOOTBALL+ + 45