As a player at Real Madrid, Michel Salgado has accumulated a very impressive trophy cabinet, which includes two UEFA Champions League medals, an Intercontinental Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, four Spanish league titles and three Spanish Super Cups.
Yet with his time at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu coming to an end, Salgado opted for an eyebrow-raising move. Instead of choosing to see out his playing days in his homeland or opt for a lucrative move outside of Europe, the former Spain international chose to sign for Blackburn Rovers, one of the founder members of the Football League in England, known for their battling style of football under Sam Allardyce.
The veteran English manager had previously signed Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro during his successful tenure at Bolton Wanderers and was delighted when he attracted Salgado to Ewood Park. The Spaniard has been a big success in east Lancashire, with their fans taking him to their hearts: "He came from Real Madrid. He didn't cost us a quid!" goes the cheery chant from the terraces.
Yet the admiration is mutual. Salgado is loving his time in England, a place he believes is the 'cradle of the game,' as FIFA.com found out recently.
FIFA.com: When a lot of players choose to leave a country towards the end of their careers, they opt for the Middle East where the climate is beautiful, so why England?
Michel Salgado: I wanted to try the Premier League. I had the chance to come here to Blackburn Rovers and have tried to learn more about the English game. There is an impression in Spain of the Premier League, which I have too – and that’s a love for it. I felt that I had more football to play at the top level. I had the chance to sign for two years with Blackburn and it is a big challenge at my age.
Has the move proved to be the right one for you and the family?
I think it has been the perfect move. Like you said, it is not only about me but it is about the family. We are living in a great place in Manchester with a great school for the children. They are learning English, which I think is very important, and for me it is the same. I’m living a new experience. When you are 34 and you have played at Real Madrid for ten years, have lived a lot of experiences, been lucky and won everything, you need a new challenge. Looking back over the last year, I think it has been the right move.
When you arrived in England you said that it wasn’t about the weather, it was about the football, so which parts of the English culture and lifestyle have you particularly enjoyed?
To be honest I am enjoying everything. I am really lucky because the private lives of players in England are really good, unlike in Spain. I am also enjoying the football side. It is different but I am learning, which sounds weird at my age, but it is really good for me – for the future as well as for now. With the food it is not like the past, I think you can now eat what you like in England, as there are a greater choice of restaurants and so on. Maybe the worst part is the weather but I am from the north west of Spain so I am used to the rain! We are really happy here and it was a surprise for me.
Is the culture in the dressing room different in England to that found in Spain?
Yes. But everything in Spain has changed as well because a lot of foreign players have come into the game and that changes everything in the dressing room. There’s no straightforward relationships between the players now. Years ago there would have been a group of Spanish players staying together. I’m sure an experienced English player, such as Paul Robinson, would say the same about England. The inner relationship is no longer the same so you have to be focused on something. The African players, for example, like to focus on their music on their iPods. Everything has changed, that is life.
Do you get a feeling when you play in England that it’s a historical place, with it being the motherland of football?
Yes, it was the birthplace of football - in Spain we say it is the cradle of the game. The culture of football in England is fantastic; it is a different style to Spain, where we aim for possession of the ball and skilful football. In England it is pure football, physical football, football for men. As I said before, I’m living a great new experience where we have to battle for every point that we earn. [At Real Madrid] I was used to winning a game but knowing that was only part of the aim, with a trophy as the final aim. Here, every point is for surviving. Even the culture between family and football is so different.
You seem to love it in England…
Yes. You need to get used to all the different styles and I think everybody can learn about everything, for your whole life. If you are going to complain about the football or the weather then you are better off leaving and staying in Spain. I know that it is not Real Madrid here. People ask me “after ten years at Real Madrid, why move to Blackburn?” Well, Blackburn is a historical team in England, they have won the Premier League and they are one of just four clubs to have done so. They are a well-organised team and I see it as a great challenge.
What does the future hold? Do you hope to play for as long as possible in England?
I think so, I have signed a two-year contract though it depends on my legs! I have finally got used to playing in Blackburn. I had to change my style and be intelligent, because I couldn’t play like I did at Real Madrid. So I’m going to play for as long as my legs allow me and if the club is happy with me. After that maybe I will try a new experience, possibly somewhere exotic like Australia, USA, China, wherever. I am already doing media work, such as Sky, which has been great. I have been working with Glenn Hoddle, Gordon Strachan, Ruud Gullit and Graeme Souness, people that I watched on TV when I was six years old. I remember Glenn Hoddle at the 1982 World Cup, watching him play against Spain, and now I’m sharing a studio with him. It’s fantastic for me.
And finally, it’s El Clasico tonight, a game which you’ve played in many times. As a player, what’s the build-up to that match like?
It is a big experience. El Clasico is the biggest game in the world and I think it’s the most important game in the world. The week before is special and you know it as soon as you go on the training ground because all the fans are focused on that game. The pressure surrounding it is massive. The press put pressure on you and it is the game you have to win. If you win that game you are going to be happy for one or two months so it’s a great game, even playing in Barcelona. It’s difficult to explain with words because it’s more than a feeling.