Roque all over the world
Since the turn of the millennium, Roque Santa Cruz has been a busy man. After being part of a squad that won five Bundesliga titles, the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 2001, the Paraguayan centre forward also found time to record a top 40 song and get named as the best looking player at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ by publications Die Welt and Kicker.
While the pop career may have been little more than a novelty act, the good looks remain, despite the best attentions of the fearsome central defenders of the English top flight. That is where Santa Cruz is at the moment, playing for north west outfit Blackburn Rovers.
Fourteen goals in 31 starts this season have helped the South American strike up a wonderful rapport with the Ewood Park faithful and lead coach Mark Hughes to declare: "He is quicker, bigger, stronger and better looking than I was!"
The move to England has been an unprecedented success for the 26-year-old, who now finds himself spoken of in the same breath as Fernando Torres and Emmanuel Adebayor as being one of the leading scorers in the Premier League.
FIFA.com caught up with him at Brockhall, the training ground of Blackburn Rovers, to talk about his career so far - and his hopes for future success with club and country.
FIFA.com: Roque, what are the main differences between
living in Europe and South America for you?
Roque Santa Cruz: The way people appreciate the game in Europe is very different to South America. For a footballer, it's a quieter life, which allows you to have a better family life. In Paraguay, because footballers are so well-known, sometimes it's not that easy to go to the city or to spend time in public with your kids. So, to be able to do that here is great. It's a more private life, but the passion for football is still the same.
A lot of young footballers from South America are leaving
for Europe at a young age. Do you think that is a good thing?
In many cases, I'm not sure if it is the right thing to do, but young players realise that the situation in South America isn't the best economically, so they move abroad to help their families. But many also move for footballing reasons, they realise that the best players in the world are playing in Europe - and some people feel that they want to learn from the best players in the world, rather than in their own country.
How would you assess your eight years at Bayern Munich?
I would never say that my time at Bayern Munich was wasted because while I was there we won the league, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and it was a very enjoyable time to be involved in a club that is always winning. But with that comes a pressure - a pressure to win every game. I didn't really play that often, so that was obviously frustrating for me - and after several years I realised it was time to move on. However, I owe Bayern Munich a lot. They have helped me become the player that I am today - and they also looked after me really well during my injuries, which I am happy to say, are not affecting me any more.
Is it true that Owen Hargreaves taught you how to speak
I studied a little bit at school - but I don't think I was very good in class. When I arrived in Germany, I met him and I loved speaking English to him because I couldn't speak any German! In fact, it was because of Owen that I learned English before I learned German. We became good friends and he helped me a lot.
Is there a big difference between the atmosphere in the
dressing room at Bayern Munich to the dressing room here at
The differences between the atmosphere in the dressing rooms isn't very big at all. Here, we're trying to create a new mentality within the team where we win every game. We don't want to be content with survival or finishing mid-table, we want to qualify for Europe and become a big team. In order to do this, we have to change the way we think. Everyone wants to win every game - which is just how things were at Bayern.
What's it like to be coached by legendary striker Mark
It's fantastic to learn from such a great striker, but what has impressed me is how mentally strong he is. He talks to you, knowing exactly what it is like to be a striker, and the situations that you face both in training and in matches. For me, that's brilliant.
How are you finding playing alongside Benni McCarthy?
He's a fantastic player - and he's been a great goalscorer for the club. It's great for me, because we can communicate both on the training pitch and during matches in Spanish! We have a good understanding off-the-pitch too - and I think that's been reflected in our performances this season.
Can you see any similarities between the Paraguayan and
English styles of football?
In the past, the Paraguayan and English styles of play were quite similar, but I think both are changing. Now, I think that the Paraguayan players are becoming a bit more South American in their style and that's developed because they are becoming technically stronger, probably because they are moving abroad to develop their skills.
Paraguay currently top the South American qualifying group
for South Africa 2010. Do you think you can stay there?
Over the past few years, we've become a lot stronger. Like at Blackburn, we're not content with just doing well at home - we want to do well away from home too - and I think other countries are realising that. So, yes, I hope that we do stay above Brazil and Argentina and everyone else - and I think we can.
Paraguay have always done well in qualifying, but seem to
have struggled once the tournaments have began. Why do you think
I don't think we've done well in managing the pressure of playing in tournament environments. But the more you play in events like the World Cup or the Copa America, it does give you more confidence. You know what to expect - and you know what you have to do. In the future, you will see Paraguay change. You'll see us becoming a better team and I think that the next generation of players will cope even better than the previous one.
How important do you think Salvador Cabanas and Nelson
Haedo are for Paraguay?
They are very important to us because if you want to become a great team you have to have good players in the same position - we also have Oscar Cardozo playing for Benfica - and when you have different possibilities, you can play in different ways and that can only be good for the team.
And finally, you played and scored in the FIFA U-20 World
Cup Nigeria 1999. What do you remember about that
I've got great memories of playing in Nigeria because we played really well there. We lost against Uruguay in the Round of 16 - and I missed the last penalty, so that wasn't so great, but it was a good experience for me as a young footballer. It was my first time in Africa, I'd never been there before, and I hope the next time I play there in a FIFA tournament will be in South Africa in two years time!