In a career that stretched from 1995 to 2008, former France defender Willy Sagnol played in just two leagues, but won just about everything a footballer can win, first of all with Saint-Etienne and Monaco in France and then with Bayern Munich in Germany.
A Ligue 1 champion in 2000, he also won five Bundesliga titles, the UEFA Champions League in 2001 and the Intercontinental Cup the same year, among other trophies.
Recognised as one of the finest full-backs and crossers of a ball in his day, Sagnol enjoyed an equally productive international career. Capped 58 times by his country, he helped France lift the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001 and 2003.
And not unlike another famous footballing Willy, Van de Kerkhof of the Netherlands, who was on the losing side in the Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978 Finals, he was also within an ace of adding a FIFA World Cup™ winner’s medal to his collection, a fateful penalty shoot-out against Italy separating him from glory at Germany 2006.
One other thing missing from the CV of the man the Germans called Flankegott (The Crossing God) are individual awards, a topic he discussed with FIFA.com. “The FIFA Ballon d’Or has always gone to attacking players, and as a defender I’ve never found that frustrating.”
He added: “Football’s not meant just for elite sportsmen. It’s for football lovers too, and professional football is something that brings people together. It’s a sport that’s there to make people dream, and that’s something a defender can’t do, which is normal to my mind.
A fine player in his own right, Sagnol totally nullified out the threat posed by the Portuguese ace when France and Portugal met in the semi-finals at Germany 2006, and has his own view on which of the two is best placed to get the 2012 award.
“If you look at it in terms of pure quality and talent, then Messi is untouchable. It’s a little more open if you bring club and national team results into it, though when it comes down to natural talent there’s no one who’s at Messi’s level.”
A coach in the making
Currently taking his coaching licence, Sagnol makes no secret of his intention to take charge of a team one day, albeit not just yet. Even so, he is well-placed to run the rule over the candidates for the title of Men’s Coach of the Year.
“The only way you can judge a coach is by seeing what he’s won,” he said. “A coach who wins things must be good at what he does, and the likes of Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola do it better than anyone else.
“If I had to choose one, I’d go for Mourinho, even if his behaviour rubs people up the wrong way sometimes (laughs). He gets the very best out of his players and he’s got results wherever he goes. You just have to take your hat off to him.”
Now the director of football with France’s youth teams, Sagnol travelled with Les Bleuettes to Azerbaijan a few weeks ago to see them lift the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
“It’s my job to follow the women’s game,” explained Sagnol, who also has a view on who might pick up the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award: “A few years ago Birgit Prinz was scoring a hatful of goals, which seemed to be her raison d'etre.
“She was so far ahead of the rest. Marta of Brazil is still around. If she played with the men, you wouldn’t really see much difference. It’s more equal these days, though. One French player I really like the look of is Gaetane Thiney, who is a great player and a lovely person too.”
That description could just as easily be applied to Willy Sagnol.