Guillermo Barros Schelotto was already an icon when he arrived on US shores in 2007, firmly entrenched in the bulging pantheon of Argentinian giants Boca Juniors. He developed a reputation as a fiery and hot–tempered creator during his 11 seasons at La Bombonera and far from using his time with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew as a calm transition into retirement, El Mellizo (The Twin) brought passion, superior technique and a first-ever title to 'America’s hardest-working team'.
In this candid and exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 37-year-old Barros Schelotto – MLS’s top player in 2008 – spoke about turning down an offer to coach his beloved Boca, steady improvements in American soccer and his undiminished passion for playing football.
FIFA.com: Guillermo, Columbus Crew are ten points ahead of the Red Bulls in first place; what’s the secret to success so far this season?
Guillermo Barros Schelotto: It’s a simple formula really, not a secret. The team has been pretty much the same for the last three years since we won the championship in 2008. It’s the same players, the same team with the same ideas about how to play the game and win games. Our targets are simple and unchanged.
You left Argentina in 2007 as an idol, having won 15 separate titles at Boca Juniors. Was it difficult to start over in a new country at that point in your career?
It was a little different coming from a huge club like Boca Juniors and a country, Argentina, where people are crazy about football. When you’re playing at Boca you are in the newspapers every day, on TV every day and reporters are always chasing you down. Here it’s a little more relaxed. You always want to win, but if you lose here it’s not the end of the world. You can live your life after the final whistle blows. In Argentina, the game is never over. When I was young I wanted the attention all the time, but now I need to relax.
Columbus, Ohio must be very different from Buenos Aires...
Buenos Aires as a whole is a different situation, but I was in La Plata for a long time, and that place is not too different from Columbus. It’s the same kind of rhythm and the same kind of friendly, relaxed people. In Argentina right now things are complicated, but it is my country and I love it. I would love to go back someday and enjoy it more.
Since coming to Major League Soccer, what would you say would be the main thing you have provided to American football?
Football here in the United States is growing all the time and I want to be a part of it. I think I have brought a little something different to the game here, maybe something a bit more technical and I am happy to have done that.
You always want to win, but if you lose here [USA] it’s not the end of the world. You can live your life after the final whistle blows. In Argentina, the game is never over.
Do you see the game improving in the United States?
The country is learning about football. Stadiums are getting better; the fans are getting more and more. And now with guys like Nery Castillo, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, [Thierry] Henry and Rafa Marquez coming to play with guys like David Beckham and Landon Donovan, it is really becoming a stronger league. I have noticed in my three years here that people are getting more and more excited about football.
In Argentina when you were younger, you were known for your hot temper. Have you cooled off at age 37?
I don’t think I’ve changed much. My temper is part of my passion to win, and that hasn’t changed at all. I do have more experience, though. When you are young you can push too hard all the time, run like crazy. Now I fight less, run less, but I think much more.
There were media reports some months back that linked you with the Boca Juniors manager’s job. Is this true?
Yes. The Boca Juniors president called me up to see if I wanted to come back to Buenos Aires to be the club’s manager. But I told him honestly that I wanted to keep playing, so I said: ‘no thank you, but maybe in the future.’
Realistically, how much longer do you think you can keep on as a player?
I really don’t know. At my age I can only really think ahead six months at a time. So, when the season ends here I will take a look at how I feel and make a decision. Maybe I have one more year, maybe two, I cannot really say. I can say that I am feeling very good at the moment and I hope that keeps up.
And after you hang up the boots, will you coach?
When I finish as a player I want to be a coach; this is certain. Here in the USA or in Argentina, I don’t know where, but somewhere.
You have been vocal about your desire for Carlos Bianchi to be named successor to Diego Maradona as Argentina national team coach. Why?
Carlos Bianchi is the best man for the job. I know him very well from my time at Boca, and I know the kind of job he would do. It’s a complicated situation and the decision falls to AFA, but Bianchi would be perfect.
You had only ten caps for Argentina. Why were you unable to replicate your club success at international level?
In my time there were many great attacking players in Argentina. You had Ariel Ortega, Claudio ‘Piojo’ Lopez, [Gabriel] Batistuta, [Claudio] Cannigia, [Hernan] Crespo... and even more. Sometimes there is a conflict in selection between River Plate and Boca players, and maybe that had something to do with it, but mostly I think it was just a matter of the coaches having to take a decision, and eventually taking his favourites. That’s always the way things have to be.