Salgado speaks out
Alex Dunn caught up with Michel Salago in Warsaw to talk about Spain's obsession with Barcelona and possession, along with what went wrong during his final six months at Blackburn Rovers. The Spaniard proved to be in engaging and candid form.
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 19/06/12 3:19pm
As opening interview sound bites go 'the problem with Spain is that they have too many Barcelona players...' recalls the classic George Best anecdote about a waiter asking 'where did it all wrong?' upon delivering a bottle of champagne to a room that saw the Ulsterman's bed decorated with serious cash and the current Miss World.
You can take the boy out of Madrid but not Madrid out of the boy. Just ask Michel Salgado. Looking fit, relaxed and sporting a tan that suggests he's got the industrial drizzle of Blackburn out of his system, a now 36-year-old Salgado provides engaging company on an afternoon in Warsaw in which he demonstrates that a competitiveness which saw former Real Madrid team-mate Steve McManaman famously label him 'the hardest person in the world. A genuine psychopath, even in training' still burns bright.
Jetting into the Polish capital as a part of a European Legends side to take on the winners of a national Carlsberg Pub Cup competition, 53-cap Salgado vehemently appeals to a flustered referee for every decision and is not averse to signing his capable amateur opponents' shins as willingly as he will their shirts on the final whistle. When one of them asks to swap tops he acquiesces, before endearingly offering his boots as an additional memento.
After cramming in 254 appearances for Los Merengues in 10 trophy-laden years in the Spanish capital it is perhaps no surprise he is not fully on board with football's current obsession with all things Barcelona. Certainly his appreciation of Spain's opener against Italy, which for the tika-taka enthusiast was some kind of fully evolved football utopia, was more in keeping with those of us that determined it more tippy-tappy procrastination, cubed.
"The problem is that if you look at the squad there are so many Barcelona players and that's an issue," he says of the Italy game. "I think Vicente del Bosque is trying to play the same style because he knows the Barcelona players in his squad are comfortable with that idea of football.
"They were playing an Italy side with a lot of players behind the ball. He (Del Bosque) was trying to play with more mobility rather than have a reference point up front. That's the reason he played without a striker but that will change."
When I ask him if having a high number of players in the squad from one club could be a problem for those who play outside of Barcelona, he concedes it can be a tough ask to weld together two disparate groups in terms of a cohesive style.
"Maybe it is difficult. In Barcelona they have got obsessed with possession. In Spain we love possession but sometimes football is more than that.
"You have to find the balance between possession and end product. Some players play in a different style with quick transitions and using the counter-attack. It's not always easy to then play possession football with tiny passes for Spain and a really slow tempo.
"I think in Spain we like possession football but it depends on the players you've got. If you play in the Real Madrid style it is about transitions and hitting teams on the break because you have players like Benzema, Ozil and Ronaldo. In the final third they kill you.
"I remember that Barcelona used to play this style with Eto'o and he used to be amazing. They used to play the football they employ now but they were more clinical in the final third."
When talk turns to matters closer to home, at least in terms of his own career, he is equally impassioned on the subject of Blackburn Rovers. Back in what now must seem like the halcyon days of 2009, when Sam Allardyce manned the dugout and John Williams was in situ as one of the Premier League's most respected chairmen, Salgado was convinced to turn his back on the Bernabeu for Blackburn.
A knowing grin circumnavigates his face when I suggest it must have been quite the culture shock, but having accepted the fact the grey northern skies of a Lowry painting are a fair representation of his new home's daily climate, Salgado quickly acclimatised to life in England.
"When I first came to England it was very different for me. I'd spent 11 years at Real Madrid where we'd played a Spanish style of football. At Blackburn everything was different but when I got used to it I enjoyed my football in England a lot.
"The Premier League is amazing; it's a really big league. The fans are fantastic and the football is totally different. Not just with regards how we play in Spain but anywhere else in the rest of Europe.
"It was a real challenge for me but one I loved."
For 18 months of a two-year deal Salgado thought he would end his playing days at Ewood Park. Even when new incumbents the Venky's dispensed with Allardyce's services at the turn of the year in 2010 with outlandish predictions of UEFA Champions League football within a couple of years, laughable were they not so painful for those of a blue and white persuasion, Salgado was planning to see out the remainder of his contract.
Bitterness only set in a year later in December 2011 when Steve Kean omitted him from his playing squad for the final six months of last season's disastrous run-in. The common consensus is that it was a cost-cutting exercise to avoid triggering a clause in his contract but Salgado insists he is still seeking answers.
"It was really disappointing to end it like that because things were going OK for us when suddenly they changed everything," he laments.
"In the last six months I just couldn't stay. It was really upsetting not just for me but for the rest of the team and the fantastic fans. It was tough to see my friends there get relegated from the Premier League.
"It's a family club, an amazing and historical club and I'm really disappointed that they'll be in the Championship next season.
"To be honest I'm still trying to find an explanation for the big change in December and it's not an easy one to get to the bottom of. The problem is that if you try to find an explanation there is nobody inside the club that can explain anything. That's the most disappointing and frustrating thing."Although the warmth with which he describes Allardyce quickly cools when the name of his successor Kean crops up, it's clear where he sees the fault lies with not only his own inglorious end to life at Blackburn but the club's parlous state as a whole.
"Allardyce was an important man for me. He was the guy who got me to England. I was 34-years-old at the time and I could have stayed at Real Madrid for one more year. I was so pleased when he got West Ham promoted last season.
"We had a relationship of respect," he adds of Kean, curtly. "Normally the decisions are coming from the manager but at that time the decisions were coming from the club.
"I asked the manager about the situation and about what was happening but he said his hands were tied."
A tortuous final six months at Blackburn has ignited in him an ambition to purge the 'bitterness left in his mouth' by playing on for one more final year. The early indications are that he will pitch up with old pal David Beckham in LA or seek a lucrative move to the Far East but Big Sam, if you're reading; your old pal still thinks he's got unfinished business in England.
"If I had a good chance in England I would stay there. My kids are now one month out of England and they miss it a lot. In Manchester they miss a lot the friends they made there. It is a great city. I stayed in England the last five months and if I had the chance to play one more year there I would take it."
He can certainly still do a job and has lost not none of that indomitable spirit of his. Just ask the shins of those that frequent the Britannia Pub in Monument, London.
Michel Salgado was part of the European Legends side that played the Carlsberg Pub Cup five aside winners at the Carlsberg Fancamp, Warsaw. Visit www.youtube.com/carlsberguk to see highlights from the grand final and watch the Carlsberg EURO 2012 advert.