Valdano: The most beautiful sensation I've ever experienced
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FIFA.com: Senor Valdano, how long had you dreamt of playing in and winning the FIFA World Cup ™?
Jorge Valdano:
For as long as I can remember. Anyway, I don't know which is stranger: dreaming about winning the trophy as a three-year-old kid, or still having that same dream when you're 20 or 25. I believe that having dreams is a great way of driving you on to achieve your goals. What's more, I had a very up-and-down career. For instance, the night before playing in a relegation play-off game for Alaves, with our First Division status at stake, I remember dreaming that one day I'd play in a World Cup Final. At the time it was crazy to even contemplate something like that, but I think it's very common for professional players to imagine themselves reaching the very top. Surely the biggest stage of all is a (World Cup) Final, and if you get the chance to score a goal, well, that's the icing on the cake, isn't it?

Did you not think you were jumping the gun a bit? How old were you exactly?
I would have been about three or four years old. I'd always dreamed of being a footballer and I never doubted for a moment that I'd make it. Later on, of course, it turned out to be more difficult than I'd anticipated, but those early ambitions were what drove me on throughout my professional career.

How did you get the nickname El Filósofo (The Philosopher)?
That's because I've been something of a link between the footballing world and the cultural world. There have been a few people who have made the crossover from the cultural world into football, including great writers like Mario Benedetti, Vargas Lloza, Sabato and Osvaldo Soriano, but very few footballers have ever shown an active interest in their cultural surroundings. Because I've always been a bit of a thinker, the media, in their wisdom, decided to give me the nickname El Filósofo.

Prior to Mexico 1986, you played two games at the Spain 1982 tournament. What went wrong that year?
There were two main things that went wrong. I came off the bench in the first game with Argentina losing 1-0 against Belgium, right after they'd scored the opener. With the team really having to go for it to get back in the game, I put in a good performance and earned a place in the starting 11 for the second match against Hungary. Unfortunately, I picked up an injury that proved serious enough to put me out of the rest of the World Cup. It was a very bad knee and ankle injury. I thought then that my World Cup adventure was over, and that I'd missed my big opportunity. It was doubly unfortunate because I was playing really well and the tournament was being held in Spain, where I played my club football. I couldn't imagine getting as good an opportunity again.

So you were clearly not expecting to achieve your goal four years later?
No, definitely not. That injury hit me so hard that it was difficult to think of anything remotely optimistic. Some time later, I gradually began building up my hopes of being involved at the 1986 World Cup. But, at that moment in time, that couldn't have been further from my mind.

But what exactly went wrong in 1982? In Mexico, for instance, there was speculation about infighting within the group and even so you went on to win the title.
In 1982 you had a mixture of the best players from the 1978 squad and the 1986 team, but they weren't all at their peak. (Mario) Kempes' powers were on the wane, and (Diego) Maradona was still making his way up the footballing ladder. However, it is my belief that a successful team is not just about names or reputations, but about things coming together at the right time. With regard to the 1986 side, I'll admit that we were disappointing during qualifying. The team arrived in Mexico low on confidence and nobody gave us much of a chance. On top of which there was a great deal of tension within the camp. But, as the World Cup went on, the squad grew stronger and showed a great deal of character. I'd say that it was the biggest turnaround I've seen in my life. Before the first game we weren't even sure we'd beat Korea (Republic), but by the last game we had no doubts whatsoever that we were going to beat Germany.

How did you solve the problems in the camp?
The squad spent a lot of time talking things through. There were some very mature individuals within the group, so we organised team meetings to help clear the air. Nor must you forget what was happening on the pitch. Those good results also played their part in improving the atmosphere and helping everyone get on better.

From a personal perspective you appeared to be extremely focused. Indeed, it was you who scored the team's opening goal in the first game against Korea Republic.
Yes, that's right. It was very important for us to get that goal, both for myself and for the national team. It helped wash away all the anxiety and pressure, and helped us work as a real team again. In any case, there were two major factors at work: one was the team and the other was Maradona, who was capable of taking us to another plane.

Is it true that the coaching staff had to stop Maradona from spending all his time out on the training pitch?
Yes, it's true. Maradona used to get really bored while we were all cooped up together at the team's training camp, as we all did, and the only way to help pass the time was by kicking a ball about. But (Carlos) Bilardo didn't want us wasting all our energy out on the training pitch, especially seeing as our base in Mexico City was at altitude. We had to make sure we saved our energy. Sometimes we'd find ourselves in an unusual situation where the team wanted to play and to train but the coach wouldn't let us. Our world had been turned upside down!

How much of an effect did the two goals you scored in the opening game have on the rest of the tournament?
It gave me a massive boost of energy that lasted me through the whole tournament. When we arrived in Mexico I really struggled physically to adapt to the altitude, and then I took quite a nasty knock. It was touch and go as to whether I'd play in the first game, and I only just proved my fitness in time. But there you go, it just goes to show how important a role confidence can play, doesn't it?

In the group phase you came up against reigning champions Italy. What can you remember about that 1-1 draw?
We went behind early after a very harsh penalty decision, although we fought back straight away. We managed to get back on level terms without too much difficulty and saw the rest of the match out. It was the only game we drew during that World Cup, although I don't think it bothered us too much because that result was good enough for us to go through. If we'd needed to win I'm sure we would have picked up all two points. By that point we were bursting with confidence.

Then came your third goal of the tournament, against Bulgaria. Would you say that was a fairly straightforward tie?
It was the most comfortable match that we've ever played at the World Cup. Naturally, we were a bit nervous beforehand, as it was a game we had to win to top the group. Nevertheless, we played nice flowing football. On reflection, though, I think we definitely could have scored more than the two goals we managed.

Everyone remembers the match against England, but before that you had to come through a very tough fixture against Uruguay. What do you remember of that River Plate derby?
It was a very complicated game for us. Uruguay left their most talented players on the bench and sent out a side that was physically very strong. We managed to get the upper hand on their starting 11 without too much difficulty, but once we went ahead, they brought on their skilful players and made things very difficult for us. Maradona had a goal disallowed that could have settled things, and so with just a 1-0 lead, we had some very nervy moments near the end. Moreover, we were at a stage in the competition where it was win or bust, so we couldn't take many risks.

Is it true that after the match against Uruguay, Buscini said that you were going to be world champions?
Yes, he did. The exact words he used were, "The team has found itself", which is a typically Argentine expression. By that he meant, the team had found its playing style, that it had grown as the tournament wore on. It was at that point Buscini, in his own understated way, let us know the team were there to achieve greatness.

In the run-up to the England game, the atmosphere was heated due to the recent military conflict between the sides. How did the team deal with that situation?
We tried our hardest to make to make the game about football, as the media were trying to put it into a different context. It was impossible not to recall the Falklands War because it was so fresh in the memory. On top of that, you have to remember that Argentina-England is a classic fixture and so always a bit special. There is always a lot of tension in those games, and both sides were feeling it. I think Argentina gave their worst performance of the World Cup in that game, but Maradona's goals have given it a kind of mythical status it probably didn't deserve.

You were running parallel to Maradona as he weaved his way to that wonderful second goal. You must have had a unique viewpoint?
It was like watching it on a mobile TV camera. Like any good striker I went with him, giving him an option at the far post. However, the biggest surprise of all was when he told me in the dressing room afterwards that he had been looking for me to give me the ball in my best position. If what he did weren't impressive enough, he also found time to look around to see if a pass was on. Talk about an insult to us mere mortals! (laughs) That just proves we were in the presence of a genius. Of course, if he had passed to me, I would have had a very easy finish, but then it wouldn't have been the best goal in World Cup history.

And then there was that semi-final against Belgium - a match you must have very fond memories of.
Of course. When we saw Belgium beat Spain in the quarter-final, we celebrated like we'd beaten them ourselves. We feared Spain, as they had improved as the tournament wore on. However, Belgium celebrated their win over Spain so much that we got the impression they'd achieved what they'd come for and would settle for that. Nevertheless, we were utterly professional in that match and created plenty of chances. In the end we won easily, with Maradona in inspired form once again.

You had the pleasure of scoring Argentina's second goal in the final. Could you describe it for us?
I remember being in our box, where I'd gone to pick up Briegel, the German full back who I had a ferocious battle with that day. (Nery) Pumpido took down a ball in the area and then played a short pass to me. I skipped past one German player but was dispossessed when I tried to go round a second. Unluckily for them, the loose ball fell to Maradona. As I took off on a diagonal run, Maradona slid the ball through to Negro (Hector) Enrique, who made things easy for me by putting me in the clear. I didn't have to check my run, and when I came to the edge of the box I just opened my body and curled it gently into the far right corner. It was the most beautiful sensation I've ever experienced!

It probably feels like it was just yesterday?
Yes, it does. Like all your best memories and defining moments, they always stay with you. I just can't believe that was already 20 years ago!

Did you think at that stage that the game was won?
Absolutely. At 2-0, I remember looking into the stands and saying to myself: ''We're world champions''. Of course, I'd overlooked one small detail: we were playing Germany, and they never give up. They then scored two quite similar goals, from corners, and were level. That's Germany for you. Still, we kept playing and didn't panic, and, with five minutes to go, we got the winning goal through (Jorge) Burruchaga, which meant the agonizing wait for the final whistle was relatively short.

What went through your mind at the final whistle?
As you can imagine, it's an extraordinary feeling. You're thinking this can't be happening to me, this only happens to other people. It's truly stupendous.

What was the atmosphere like in the Azteca Stadium after the game?
It was an amazing spectacle - the lights, the colours the sound of people cheering. I thought maybe my recollection of it was coloured by the fact I was a winner, but I was recently at a dinner with (Karl-Heinz) Rummenigge, and he told me that the atmosphere at the stadium made it the greatest game of his life. The sound was extraordinary. I mean there were German and Argentine fans there, but for the most part it was Mexicans, and it was more like a party than a football match.

On the subject of parties. What was it like when you returned to Buenos Aires?
That was another unforgettable footballing memory - a street party with some three million people. It was all unbelievable: arriving at the Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace), walking out on the balcony at the Plaza de Mayo, celebrating with the people. All of that is part of part of our footballing tradition and reflects the extraordinary passion with which we Argentinians live the game.

Can you remember what it felt like the first time you actually touched the FIFA World Cup Trophy?
It's an incredible feeling. However, it's a real effort to actually get your hands on it because everyone wants it. It wasn't until I was on the plane back to Argentina that I finally got to touch it. In truth though, that's because I did half a lap of honour and then went back to the dressing room. I wanted to be alone for a minute and try to take it all in. There would be time for the Cup later.

How would you describe the Trophy from a purely aesthetic viewpoint?
It's a ball, which also represents the globe and the universal nature of football. There are also the sculpted figures, which many people don't notice, who have their arms raised to the heavens in glorious ecstasy, holding up the world. That's football - a game of people, passion and ecstasy. It's beautiful, isn't it?