Having recently ended a successful career in which he won two UEFA Champions Leagues and four Spanish league titles with Real Madrid and also won 52 caps for Spain, Michel Salgado is embarking on a new career in football. Nicknamed Il Due after the number he wore on his shirt, the ex-Celta Vigo and Blackburn Rovers man is now in charge of a football academy in Dubai and is preparing the ground for a move into coaching.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the former right-back discussed his exciting new projects, his move into youth coaching and the importance of age-category tournaments for young prospects starting to make their way in the game. And in a year in which Turkey will host the latest FIFA U-20 World Cup, Salgado recalled his experiences with Spain at Qatar 1995.
FIFA.com: You had a very successful career with Celta Vigo and Real Madrid in Spain and then with Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League. How are you approaching this new phase in your life?
Michel Salgado: Things are going really well. I didn’t want to take a sabbatical when I retired. I wanted to study for a year instead and have a think about what I had to offer football now, seeing as my playing career at professional level was over. I signed a contract as a sports commentator (for Al Jazeera Sports in Qatar) and I’m starting a new project now as the director, consultant and face of Dubai Sports City, a residential complex where they’ve built some amazing sports facilities and where I’ll be running the football side of things. I want to get my coaching licence, and at the moment I’m doing things that are going to stand me in good stead for the future, like my academy work. I haven’t been retired for long but I already miss the pitch and working with a team on a day-to-day basis.
Having worked with top coaches like Fabio Capello and Vicente del Bosque, is it fair to say they’ll be a big influence on your coaching career?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very good coaches, though I don’t believe you just learn from the good ones. You also have to learn from the ones you don’t rate that highly and make sure you don’t do the things they did (laughs). Just because you’ve had a good career as a player doesn’t mean to say you’re going to make a great coach either. Being a coach is very different to be being a player. It’s a very lonely job and you have to take easy and hard decisions for the good of the team. When you win everyone wins, but when you lose it’s you who carries the can. It’s one of the hardest jobs in football and it takes time. That’s why you have to study a whole lot of different techniques and coaches until you find your own way and your own ideas.
When you win everyone wins, but when you lose it’s you who carries the can.
Now that you’ve started coaching at youth level what differences have you noticed between young players when you were playing and those of today?
Things have changed a lot in the last few years. Now you’ve got 13- and 14-year-olds with agents, which wouldn’t have been allowed in my time, and 16-year-olds with their names on their boots. I think it would be good to go back to the old ways a little and know exactly where we all come from. There’s just too much pressure in the football business now and it’s falling on children who are too young. Kids have to be allowed to make more mistakes and they have to respect their coach, who has to have the right to guide them and teach them. For coaches these days it’s no fun trying show things to 19-year-olds, and it shouldn’t be like that. You’ve still got a lot to learn at that age. Football’s taking some pretty drastic paths at the moment. I’m not saying we should go back to the good old days, but there were some things that were done right then and we need to strike a balance.
You had a great club career but your last major tournament with Spain was the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Are you a little envious of the success former team-mates like Iker Casillas and Xavi have had since then?
No, I’m not envious, because I was lucky enough to be there with them right at the start of this fantastic run of success. It’s typically Spanish to see all this success as the good bit and to look on the past as if it didn’t amount to anything, but I see it the other way round. Spanish football is a success story now because lots of people in the past – and not just when I was playing – fought hard and stuck to their principles. The fact we didn’t change our mindset or our style of play has brought the rewards we’re seeing now. The quality that’s there is just exceptional, but I also played in sides that produced some fantastic football. And when you’re in a tight spot you need a bit of luck too, and this team has had that luck, thank God. And I mean that in the nicest possible way because even if I don’t feel I’ve taken part in it all, I do feel very close to everyone who’s won all these titles. I’m amazed by what they’re doing. These are great times we’re experiencing.
I think tournaments like this are really important for players. They’re your first taste of international competition at the highest level.
You played for Spain at youth level too, winning the UEFA U-21 title in Romania and playing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Qatar 1995. What memories do you have of those world finals and how important was the tournament in your development as a player?
I’ve got very good memories of Qatar 1995 and I look back on it with a lot of affection. I was there with people who went on to play in the first division for many years, like Raul, Ivan de la Pena, Fernando Morientes and Joseba Etxeberria. The shame was we had a team that was good enough to win but we lost to eventual champions Argentina in the semis. It was great for me to play with people who had a lot of quality even then and with whom I shared so much during my professional career and have remained close friends with.
I think tournaments like this are really important for players. They’re your first taste of international competition at the highest level and you’re at that stage in your career when you’re halfway between being a lad who’s getting his first chance and the professional that you want to become. It’s a wonderful time in your development as a player and I think you have to see it as something that’s unique and unforgettable. It’s just a shame I can’t go back (laughs). I miss those times.
Turkey 2013 is just around the corner. What advice do you have for the players who’ll be representing Spain there?
I’d tell them to try and enjoy the tournament like it was their last one and to keep up all the good work Spain’s youth teams have been doing in these last few years. It’s a vital time in their lives and it’s now that they have to show if they have what it takes to be professionals. I wish them the very best and I hope they win the World Cup.