Former Argentinian goalkeeper German Burgos is one of planet football’s more flamboyant characters. “I’m a bit crazy, like all keepers,” as he himself has put it on more than one occasion.
A squad member at two FIFA World Cups™, El Mono (The Monkey) ran out for River Plate and Atletico Madrid during a distinguished playing career, and also made a name for himself as a rock ‘n’ roll front man, recording several albums in the process.
With his playing days behind him and his singing career on hold, the 42-year-old extrovert has branched out into coaching and is now starring in a supporting role to compatriot Diego Simeone. The Argentinian duo have just returned home from Italy, where they saved Serie A side Catania from relegation, and are set to embark on a new challenge at Racing Club.
Taking time out from his busy schedule, the larger-than-life Burgos spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his move into coaching, Argentina’s chances of success at the Copa America, his love for rock music and the magic of Lionel Messi.
FIFA.com: German, along with Diego Simeone you saved Catania from relegation. How would you assess your time there?
German Burgos: It was fantastic, a very positive experience. People say that Italian football is boring and very tactical, but I think you have to see it for yourself. It’s really intense. There’s no margin for error and you have to be on your toes all time because they’re always swapping systems during the course of games. Matches are always very intense there, and you have to prepare them in depth because the opposition is always tough.
What was it like to work so closely with El Cholo?
We had a very good understanding. We’d never worked together before, but we were team-mates with Argentina for eight years and spent two seasons together at Atletico Madrid. For ten whole years I had more lunches and dinners with him than with my family! And now we’ve just had four months more, so as you can imagine we know what each other is thinking all the time. We make a very good team and the idea is to carry on.
I killed off the musician! (laughs) I’d never planned to go into coaching, but it got a hold of me and the fact is you can’t live without football.
You retired in 2004. Do you miss playing?
No, that’s over now. You have to pursue other interests and other objectives, and I’m drawing on my experience as a footballer and passing it on to the players coming through now. That’s what motivates me.
You once sang, 'The footballer dies, the musician lives on'. How do you feel about that now?
I killed off the musician! (laughs) I’d never planned to go into coaching, but it got a hold of me and the fact is you can’t live without football. It’s fantastic and I think you have to live for the moment. Music will always be there and one day I’ll throw a party and spend four hours playing, but you have to be professional and that means watching football every day and learning things. So for the moment at least, the music’s on hold.
No doubt you’ll be following the Copa America closely over the next few days. Are Argentina your favourites? Will the pressure of being hosts be too much for them?
I’ve no doubt they’re going to win it. I told [Sergio] Batista that because I believe in the football he’s playing. I like it. He’s playing 4-3-3, he’s got the players to do that and he’s also got [Lionel] Messi. If the kid’s on form then watch the midfield because that’s where the action will be. Don’t watch the game (laughs). As for pressure, that’s something I don’t believe in. This is football, and it’s the people at home who suffer more. They can’t eat and they have all these superstitions, and you don’t feel that when you’re a player. To my mind, pressure is having two jobs and still not having any money at the end of the month.
Though Messi has just had a great season with Barcelona, his performances with Argentina always come under scrutiny. What’s your view on that?
The thing is they compare him with [Diego] Maradona and they’re different players. And you’ve got to remember that at Barça Messi’s got seven players around him who’ve just won the World Cup with Spain. He’s talented but obviously that helps. I’m not saying Argentina have got bad players, not at all, but the national side is still coming together. They’ve just changed coach and they’re in a transitional phase. Even so, I’m sure they’re going to win [the Copa America].
What about the other teams?
Brazil are a good side who are always there or thereabouts. Then there’s Chile, and Paraguay are strong too. Uruguay had a fantastic World Cup and they’ve got some great players like [Edinson] Cavani, not to mention their traditional grit, which is always there.
You mentioned Batista. Which coaches do you model your career as a director of football on?
[Pep] Guardiola and [Jose] Mourinho have some good things about them, as does Marcelo Bielsa. But in the end it’s the players that carry the coach. Look at [Carles] Puyol’s gesture in letting [Eric] Abidal lift the cup at the end of the Champions League final. That’s the result of some fantastic work, not just by Guardiola but by the people he’s got with him.
You mentioned Abidal, who had a tumour removed this season, just as you did in 2003. The strength and optimism you both showed in facing that challenge was remarkable.
Yes. They told me on a Thursday and I wanted to play on the Sunday and let them operate afterwards. For me it was like, ‘OK, so the battery’s not working. Let’s change it' (smiles). They prepare us to face things. We’re ready for the blow and that helps you later. Whenever you face pain and overcome it, you come out of it stronger. That’s called having a winning mentality, which is something you can then use in your job. And in my case that means coaching.