As quick, skillful and determined as he was on the football pitch for Argentina and Tottenham Hotspur in a sparkling playing career, Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles demonstrates the same qualities off the pitch when he sits down for an interview in the confined space of a sofa. Just like the passes that rolled effortlessly off his feet, it seems his words and expressions are perpetually in motion, except when he talks about the moment in which he won the FIFA World Cup Argentina 1978™ on home soil. In this moment his face portrays complete tranquility.
And then the Argentine legend, who is loved in London as much as in Buenos Aires, pauses for the briefest of moments. Asked to describe his illustrious compatriot Lionel Messi in a single word, he considers fleetingly which word to choose, before opting for four. In an exclusive interview with www.sc.qa at the Dead Sea in Jordan, he also looks back at the season his former team has had in the English Premier League, praises the attacking brilliance of Harry Kane, and explains why the Qatari side at the U-20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand could form the basis of the home team in 2022.
Osvaldo, is there anything better than winning a FIFA World Cup on home soil, as you did with Argentina in 1978?
In first place, my dream was to play football, then to play in the first division, then to play in a World Cup, and then to win it. In some way this all came true. It was a wonderful sensation, an ecstasy and an incredible happiness. It is not only the day, but it stays with you for the rest of your life because the World Cup is so big. The moment the referee whistled for the end of the game was the best, everything was done, and the feeling was incredible.
Last summer in Brazil the third World Cup triumph for Argentina was so close. How did you see the tournament?
Argentina played very well, we were just missing a little bit more. Germany was the best team of the tournament and deserved to win it, I think there are only two or three teams that can beat them at the moment and Argentina is one of those. For one reason or another it didn’t work out in the final and we have to accept that. To be finalists is a big achievement as well. Argentina is always a candidate with our great young players coming up constantly, and of course with Messi, the best player in the world. We also have other excellent players so we will be strong candidates in 2018.
How many World Cup tournaments do you see Messi continuing his outstanding career for as he attempts to lift the trophy?
At least two. Maybe three. Especially with the form in which football is played now, that no one touches you and there are no fouls, and he is very good physically.
If you had to describe your countryman in one word, what would it be?
Fabulous. Marvelous. Extraordinary. It is incredible how good he is.
The semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League sees Barcelona take on Bayern Munich this week. Do you think Barcelona can go all the way?
Of course, in this moment Barcelona is the best team in the world. But against Bayern Munich it is 50-50, both are excellent teams, but today I see Barcelona a little better. Especially with the important injuries that Bayern have.
The Spanish La Liga title race is also evenly poised…
Today I see Barcelona slightly better, especially with those crucial two points of advantage they have over Real Madrid. I think it will go down to the last match. Both are very powerful teams and Madrid is not far away. But everything can change quickly in two or three weeks.
You are an ambassador for Tottenham Hotspur – how have you seen their season in the English Premier League?
It has been a transitional season, with a new coach who is doing things very well and developing young players. Especially the way Harry Kane has developed has been very surprising and he has been brilliant. Now as with all big teams, the club has to analyse which players go, which come, and it is very important that we buy well.
With the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand coming up at the end of the month, the Qatar’s U-20 will be looking forward to building experience that could help them in their home World Cup in 2022. What advice do you have for them, based on your own experiences playing in 1978 on home soil?
It will be a lot of pressure of course. For the players I would advise Qatar to play as many matches as possible against top teams. The result is not important. But the experience, which the players will gain in front of 70,000 or 80,000 fans will help a lot. It helped us to have a lot of experience in the team, having played a lot of important games. But even that does not prepare you for what a World Cup is all about, because it is a lot bigger.
So playing well in New Zealand could be a good stepping-stone?
Of course this will help, Qatar is a young country and it will need these young players who are coming up now. There are still seven years to go and they will need these players as the base for their team, as well as some new players and a few experienced players.
How do you see the development of the first World Cup in the Middle East region?
It is very interesting for a number of reasons. For example, many people don’t say this, but the European teams have always complained about the World Cup being in the European summer, where the European players as well as some Argentine players like Messi reach the World Cup tired after a long season. Now that it is before Christmas all the players will be in their peak condition, which could be a big help to teams like England. Of course it will be a different World Cup, and I think it is excellent that FIFA opens its doors not only to South America and Europe but to everyone, which is a very good development. In the case of Qatar, it has been given to the Arab world, which is a very important part of world football. It is an excellent idea.
You are widely respected in England after your accomplishments at Tottenham. How do you see the national team in the coming years with the pronounced aim to peak at Qatar 2022?
England always comes to the World Cup with huge expectations, but then reality hits them very hard. In this moment England does not have a very strong team. It is not amongst the top five or ten in the world. But there are still seven years and you have to prepare yourself, you don’t win a World Cup from one day to the next.
With such a number of outstanding players to choose from, who would you name as the greatest Argentine player of all time?
It is difficult to compare Messi and Maradona, because they played in different eras. In Diego’s time they fouled him all the time, I played with him seven years and I witnessed it. The question perhaps should be: If Diego played now, how would it be? And if Messi played back then, what would it be like? In reality there is no answer.
Finally, what is it that you enjoy most about football these days?
What I like most about football is to get together with my former colleagues, to talk about the past and watch matches together. I like to be with the people of football.