Q & A
Football's biggest stars in the hot seat
From March 2008
Is it fair to say you’re having your best season for 10 years?
I’m in a good moment. It’s difficult to compare it with other parts of my career but I’m playing a lot closer to the area. In other seasons I’ve played further from goal and perhaps the effort that I put in was not properly valued because people were still judging me as a goalscorer.
And the team has recorded its best ever first half of the season. During the bad old days of the Galactico period did you ever think ‘Right, that’s it, I’m off!’?
It is difficult when you’re at a club as big as Real Madrid and you’re not winning things, or being knocked out of Europe in the quarter-finals and practically out of the title race in January. But I never lost faith that things could change.
Why did the Galacticos dream go sour?
We had some great players but we weren’t performing well as a team and that’s a problem. We weren’t consistent.
The team has a more Spanish core to it again. Is that significant?
Having a solid national base to a side makes a team strong. Now we have Guti, Iker Casillas, Michel Salgado – who isn’t playing quite as much but whose experience has a good effect on the squad – and Sergio Ramos who is beginning to be really important to us. On top of that, we have people with strong characters like Mahamadou Diarra and Fabio Cannavaro – people who carry weight in the dressing room. And we know that the way to win things is to work hard and to stick together.
The last Galactico out of the door was Beckham. Is there an enduring memory of him from his four years?
The day we won the title – the image of him celebrating with his sons on the pitch stays with me. He had such a massive desire to win something with Real Madrid. It was one of his most difficult years with him being left out of the England team but he demonstrated in the last three months of the season what a great player he is.
Did he leave too soon?
He could have stayed here for another couple of years and he would have continued to be an important player for us. It was a decision he took in a difficult moment when he was out of the team and he had to make his mind up. He can still be part of things with England for the next World Cup.
You are only two years his junior, how do you maintain your desire to go on winning things?
I want to win another European Cup. I want to win more leagues. Winning a title with this club is an unbeatable feeling and you can’t say “Well, I’ve done it now”. You want more and more. It’s just the way I am and when that is no longer how I feel that will be the moment to leave.
Rumour has it you have the secret to eternal youth – a specially designed bedroom that simulates conditions of altitude to aid your recovery from matches. How important has that been?
Well, every little thing helps but not everybody who sleeps up a mountain is a great sportsman! Three years ago, Madrid provided me with the room and I knew it could only help. But the key is to be as well prepared as possible and then to give your best and that is my commitment to the club.
So are there fights in the dressing room about who gets to sleep in Raul’s bedroom?
There were other players that tried it in the beginning but no there isn’t actually a queue of players who want a sleep-over.
Is Fabio Capello the man to sort out England?
He’ll do a great job. Apart from his experience, he was looking for this kind of massive challenge – a big country that has not done as well as it could have in the last few tournaments. He will give the England team a clear identity.
Is there any chance you might follow him to English football one day?
Every year it’s more difficult to think of me playing in England. But if I wasn’t playing here then I would definitely be looking to play in the Premier League. I love the football and the culture that surrounds it. You never know.
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