In the second and final part of his extensive interview with FIFA.com, Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez discusses the qualifying phase for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, La Celeste’s involvement in the next FIFA Confederations Cup and Diego Forlan’s current form as part of a squad that has made stability a virtue. What's more, El Maestro gives his insight on UEFA EURO 2012 and has words of praise for Germany, who were the last team to defeat Uruguay.
FIFA.com: What's your verdict on Uruguay’s performance so far in Brazil 2014 qualifying?
Oscar Tabarez: The first part has gone pretty well for us compared to our past experiences, but nothing’s been achieved yet. It’s all very evenly matched, as shown by the way the games have panned out as well as in the results and the standings – with everyone bunched close together. It’s not even possible to pick out any trends yet.
How do you rate Uruguay’s upcoming opponents, Venezuela and Peru? Are you concerned that both teams might play a counter-attacking style against you?
In a South American qualifying tournament it’s normal to be concerned, and we’ve never had it easy against any team. Nor would it be a turn up for the books if they came to Uruguay to play on the break. I mean, which side wouldn’t take more defensive precautions away from home? Even Argentina did that in Barranquilla (against Colombia on 15 November 2011), and they ended up winning!
It does seem true that there are no longer any easy matches.
Look, it’s the result which allows you to see whether a game really was easy or hard, or whether it was the way you expected it to be. We know there are things that have been working for us and other areas where we need to improve. Those are what we concern ourselves with. One thing I’m almost certain of though is this: if we don’t take all six points it’ll be due more to our opponents’ merits than any lack of effort on our part.
Though Brazil 2014 qualifying and the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament are your immediate priorities, what does next year’s FIFA Confederations Cup have to offer?
Like any other major competition, it has plenty to offer. In fact, as a result of how far we went in South Africa, we insisted on arranging matches against teams with real pedigree on FIFA [international] dates, because that’s the key to continued progress. That’s why we’ve played against Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Russia, and will play France after the Olympics. This edition [of the FIFA Confederations Cup] has generated a lot of expectation because of the quality of the competing teams. So, there’s no way it can be considered a distraction.
Given it will be played in Brazil, there are sure to be plenty of column inches on El Maracanazo of Brazil 1950. Does that bother you?
I don’t pay it any heed and anyway, I already went through all that in 1989, when we lost the final game of the Copa America over there against Brazil. El Maracanazo has its place in history and is unique, but it’s not something we have to live up to. Whether we win or lose in the Confederations Cup, it will remain just as huge a feat as it always has been.
Changing the subject slightly, one of Uruguay’s main strengths seems to be the togetherness of its squad. Even so, is there room for any new faces? We ask because...
(Interrupting in a friendly but firm tone) Don’t give me the names of any players, please! We don’t close the door on anyone here, but I only single out players once they’re in the national squad and not before. There are lots of good Uruguayan players around, some that might even be better than the guys currently in the squad but, out of respect to everyone concerned, it’s not fair to mention their names. If not, I’d be doing the same thing as the supporters, who I’m sure must have their own views on whether this player or that player should be in the squad.
(Laughing) Anyway, Maestro, we didn’t mean to wind you up...
I’m not angry, I’m just passionate about this subject! I understand how journalists and fans find this [selection issue] interesting but some of them, with all due respect, don’t know the game, they just enjoy it. The difference with my job is that, instead of playing around at picking the team, I have to make decisions and I do that based on a host of different things. I don’t think I’m so stupid that I can’t tell if a player’s good or not. And of course, the fact that someone’s not in the squad at the moment doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. When someone suggests a player [to be selected] they should also tell me who I’m supposed to drop! It has to be taken into consideration that you have to work with a set number of players and build a squad. Those are all things that give us stability. So, making changes every chance you get isn’t a good thing. And we look for our players, whether at senior or youth level, to fit a certain profile, which is something we’ve been praised for. Though the current squad is not carved in stone the players have made strong arguments in their favour, so why not keep faith in them? You can’t have a squad of 50 players.
Let us discuss a player who is in the squad: Diego Forlan. Are you concerned by the fact he’s barely played at Inter Milan?
It always concerns us when a national-team player isn’t getting competitive action and of course I find it odd that a player of Forlan’s quality has hardly been given a chance. However, you have to counterbalance that concern with the player’s ability, what he’s already proven with us and the effect being in the squad has on him. Here he’s joining up with a settled squad, one that might not train together every day but where everyone knows each other’s game inside out. We’ll have a chat with him and see what he has to say, but I can confirm right now that he’s part of my plans.
We know you’re not a fan of making predictions but, given how close we are to EURO 2012, we’d love to know who are your favourites for the title?
It’s another special edition of this competition. If instead of a qualifying phase they’d just selected the participating teams based on their pedigree or previous achievements, they might well have picked the same sides. On the back of how they’ve been performing at European and global competitions, Spain and Germany have the players, the track records and the relevant experience that, in theory, makes them major contenders for the title.
In fact, Germany’s friendly victory over Uruguay two years ago makes them the last team to beat La Celeste. How do you rate their current form?
I always said that if we’ve got garra charrúa (Uruguayan grit), what do you call what Germany had? They really were made of stern stuff! They've evolved now though and, initially under [Jurgen] Klinsmann and now with [Joachim] Low, they started to look for a different type of player, but without ignoring the idiosyncrasies of the German game. In that way they’ve been able to retain the same physical prowess and winning mentality as well as adding a lot of gifted players, by taking full advantage of the country’s rich cultural diversity. They’re a side with a great present and an even better future.
And what about Uruguay’s future? Do you think they’ll make it to Brazil 2014?
Of course our goal is to reach Brazil and bolstering that objective is a project that’s been in place for seven years now, further backed up by a way of working that has got results. However, I obviously don’t yet know if we’ll achieve that aim. And that’s the beauty of football, the thing that keeps my fire burning as a coach! If it were easy it’d be boring, and I’d end up doing something else.