The real-life tales of a football writer
The Xavi Hernandez interview for FourFourTwo went very well.
I should have had 15 minutes but had 50, leading the Spanish paper El Pais to write about the time he had given to a British journalist.
Xavi was a star: cogent, funny and very bright. He’s also a football anorak. I seem to be meeting a few of them lately after Darren Fletcher.
But who am I to talk? At school, I flunked many an exam because I was too busy drawing diagrams of Old Trafford. Or Plainmoor.
Xavi and I didn’t quite end up drawing pictures of the new Shay or bemoaning the act of architectural vandalism which saw the old Villa Park main stand demolished, but he spoke extensively about English football.
Having first been called up into a Champions League squad against Newcastle in 1997 and making his debut at Old Trafford in 1998, Xavi is an Anglophile.
He’s also the third best player in world, according to those sages at France Football who dished out the Ballon d’Or awards last week.
As we did the photos, he gave an in-depth (and very much off the record) analysis of why Real Madrid would not beat Barça in Sunday’s el clasico.
He was right, but the game was much closer than he maybe expected.
After I left the interview, I went for some food with a mate. We were joined by the former Middlesbrough player Robbie Mustoe, who now works as an analyst for ESPN.
Robbie was in town for el clasico with commentator Adrian Healey, who is originally from Swindon but has lived in the States a lot longer than Robbie, who moved out there to coach in 2006.
He soon started working for ESPN and this unlikely pair, born in Oxford and nearby Swindon, are now ESPN mainstays.
They were great company and we met again later that night.
Healey knows his stuff. I once did a television interview with a sports presenter who had never heard of Pep Guardiola.
There was no danger of such huge blanks with Swindon fan Healey, who was right up to speed. He and Xavi would have got on well.
Robbie, once described by Gareth Southgate as “one of the most honest professionals in the game,” is rightly proud of an 18-year playing career which took in 91 games for Oxford and 365 games for Middlesbrough over 12 years.
He seems as passionate watching football as he was when he played it and often sees three games a day, taking something from all of them.
During the conversation, my phone went. It was Andrew Cole.
He was understandably not happy that a newspaper had lifted the column we do together each week.
Cole was with Bryan Robson en route to South Africa for SoccerEx – the big football convention in Johannesburg.
Mustoe had just been telling me about Robson, whom he played under as ’Boro manager between 1994 and 2001. Small world, this football one.
Since then I've flown to Hamburg for a week in Germany to research club ownership and fan culture in Hamburg – and to stand on a huge terrace watching Hamburg vs Hoffenheim.
Then it’s on to Berlin for three days and Wolfsburg for their game against United.
The final two days were supposed to be to interview Robert Enke (see previous blog) and I’ll still go to Hannover as all the hotels and travel had been booked.
So while I’m really looking forward to catching ICE trains, football, German beer and quality cities, the whole trip will be tinged by sadness about what should have been.
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Presenters who don't know about football? Tell me about it. Here in Poland, guys who commentate CL matches sound as puzzled and lost as an Englishman giving his first coverage on, say, Segunda B.
great read, as always reassuring me that it's all okay in the football world.
Andy, how long have you been based in Barcelona? I've read the mags for some years and noticed the Spanish content always seemed to fall in your domain...
Dude, you went to Hamburg to check out the fan culture and ended up going to a HSV match instead of a St. Pauli match!?
Epic fa1l Mr. Mitten...
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