Michel Salgado: 'England can only succeed with a style of their own'

Rovers' Spanish full-back tells David Fearnhead that Capello's team must believe in their high-tempo brand

Tuesday 16 November 2010 01:00 GMT

Wild boar, octopus, and sardines. Not the usual fare you would expect to find in East Lancashire. The strange scent emanating from Brockhall, Blackburn Rovers' senior training centre, is soon explained by the presence of Michel Salgado. Celebrating his 35th birthday, he stands centre-stage explaining the delights of Spanish cuisine. Some, like the Australian winger Brett Emerton, give the foreign feast a wide berth.

Wild boar, octopus, and sardines. Not the usual fare you would expect to find in East Lancashire. The strange scent emanating from Brockhall, Blackburn Rovers' senior training centre, is soon explained by the presence of Michel Salgado. Celebrating his 35th birthday, he stands centre-stage explaining the delights of Spanish cuisine. Some, like the Australian winger Brett Emerton, give the foreign feast a wide berth.

For such an ambassador of the Iberian way of life you might expect Salgado, who played for Real Madrid for 10 years, to be equally enthusiastic about exporting the Spanish way of playing football. He is not. As England prepare to take on France at Wembley tomorrow he believes they should stick to what they do best. "I was hearing a lot of things after the World Cup, people saying that England have to play more like Spain," he says. "I don't think so. I think the English style is too different from the Spanish.

"What England should do is to explore the strengths in their own style. They have to play as English players, with the English mentality, you know with the high tempo. England never found their own style during the World Cup."

Salgado, his piercing blue eyes surveying the scene, is perched on the end of a sofa, leaning forward, talking passionately. But are England's players as good as they think they are? "They have a great team with some great players that could play in Spain easily," he says. So why do they not perform at international level? The defender, who won 53 caps for Spain, thinks this is not a problem exclusive to those wearing an England shirt as the World Cup showed. "I was waiting for a great Rooney, a great Ronaldo, a great Messi. I was waiting for Argentina, Brazil and England – who were my favourites. I don't know what happened. They never showed up. It wasn't a good World Cup," he says.

Spain lost their first match and stumbled through the rounds where they struggled against Chile and Paraguay. They didn't play well, he admits, until the semi-finals against Germany. And then we had a final ruined by the kung-fu antics of the Dutch. Of course he is delighted Spain won, and feels it's a good time to be Spanish having conquered first European and then world football. "A lot of great Spanish players have tried to win the World Cup in the past but finally we have done it," he says, proudly.

So perhaps there is something England can learn from Spain. What transformed them from perpetual underachievers to the now dominant force in football? His answer is revealing."There is no change. We never changed our style. I remember my time playing for Spain when we had an unbelievable team with Raul, Morientes, Hierro, Guardiola..." then his head drops and he shrugs his shoulders. "But we met a great France who won the World Cup and the European Cup – like we have done now. The only thing that changed is maybe now we have some luck."

Luck? Just that? Is that all England are lacking? "The most important thing is that Spain never changed their style. They were close to being in the semi-finals many times and we never changed our style. This is very important. We've always had strong youth teams. We always win youth championships. Having a great academy system is very important. Our success was built in the academies."

Salgado, while at pains to point out that Fabio Capello is a great coach, believes the Football Association is right to be searching for an Englishman to be the next manager. "Who is better for England than an English manager who understands the English mentality and knows everything about the English game, its strengths and weaknesses?" he says.

Salgado is on record as supporting the credentials of his current manager Sam Allardyce to work at international level. So when he tipped him was it just the act of a loyal player? "No. He did a great job with Bolton. He is doing a great job with Blackburn Rovers. He hasn't had the money to sign the big players. You know the talent of the manager when he has a small batch of players and you are a competitive team. The job he's done over the last few years has been magnificent. He is one of the reasons I came here to England. I spoke with Ivan Campo [who played for Allardyce at Bolton] and he said to me: 'Go, because he likes to work with experienced players'."

When Salgado first signed for Blackburn in August last year it took him five months to acclimatise. "Sam was great. He told me, 'OK, don't hurry, take your time, get used to the British way of life and the club and the style of play because it is so different to Spain'."

One criticism of the Premier League is that it has an over-reliance on cheap foreign imports. Salgado feels it is a fair point. "In Spain three or four years ago we had the same problem as England have now," he says. "We had a lot of foreign players in our best teams. But now we have a lot of money problems, so the clubs are forced to invest in academies. So it's better for the national team."

Although Salgado had a decade among the expensively assembled galacticos of Madrid, where he won the Champions League twice, he is quick to defend his choice of life at the other end of the table fighting relegation with the less fashionable and less wealthy Blackburn. "You know, I played for 10 years for Real Madrid. I played great football, I was lucky because I played with the greatest players in the world in a great moment. But I like to play for Blackburn at this time. We haven't spent any money but we have a really good group of players and a manager who knows how to get results. We work really hard to get those results. I enjoy it in another way. I think, 'How can I play for Blackburn, how can I help this club?' My job for Blackburn is different than how it was for Real Madrid." When asked if he wishes Rovers played a little more like Madrid he is quick to dismiss it. "The style of Real Madrid is not valid for Blackburn."

Had Blackburn had the funds, they would now have three former Real players on their books. Guti and Raul had both spoken to Salgado about joining him at the club. Guti had even told him that he would prefer to play in the Premier League and that Salgado could help him adjust to life in England. "So we waited for Blackburn to make an offer, but they didn't make one," Salgado says, acknowledging the realities of a cash-strapped club on the verge of a takeover.

One potential owner, the Indian businessman Ahsan Ali Syed, said that he would love to bring David Beckham to Blackburn, a move that could no doubt be smoothed by Beckham's best friend during their time together in the Spanish capital. "We are still in touch," Salgado says.

So what of their old club, Real Madrid, who are top of La Liga and unbeaten? Salgado is happy, but he has a word of warning for the mercurial manager Jose Mourinho. "Real Madrid's style is the Spanish style, to keep possession of the ball, and Mourinho's style is very much for the counter attack. He likes always a good shape with the players working a lot without the ball. It's a great counter attack but I don't know if Real fans will like to see that, especially at the Bernabeu against the smaller teams."

Then again, after two years without a trophy, he concedes that style may take second place to success. After 44 years, England would probably accept the same, but Salgado would rather both sides stuck to their principles.

From Vigo to Rovers
Born 22 October 1975, Galicia, Spain

Club career
1995-1999 Celta Vigo
1999-200 Real Madrid
2009- Blackburn Rovers

* The right-back made his debut for Celta Vigo in 1995 before joining Real Madrid for £9m four years later. He won numerous honours at the Bernabeu, including four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues.

* After being released by Real in 2009, he signed for Blackburn. He has made 49 appearances, scoring one goal.

* He made his international debut for Spain against Cyprus in 1998. He won 53 caps before his retirement in 2006.

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