Morientes adding to his experiences
Fernando Morientes has succeeded wherever he has played and is now one of the most experienced footballers at Valencia after playing with the likes of Real Madrid, AS Monaco, Liverpool and the Spanish National Team. On his return to La Liga, 117 goals in 295 matches have shown he is not done yet, and he talks exclusively to ESPNsoccernet.es about the present, the past and future of his football career.
At the beginning of the season, Valencia's objective was to qualify for a European competition and in that respect it's 'mission accomplished'...
I think Valencia's objective must always be to qualify for the Champions League and I think this season we have achieved that. We have been able to fight for greater objectives like the League title or something even bigger, but the team fought till the end and there's still a lot of fighting to do.
It's been a long time since we've seen such an even championship race. What do you think are the reasons for that?
Well, the reason is that teams make things harder every day and nowadays, physical football comes before quality football and all teams prepare well to play the League competition with certain guarantees. I think, at the end of the day, this year has witnessed how teams have come up against problems, which means no one has the upper-hand, not like last season for example, when Barcelona were in the lead and played a bright and colourful game. This year all clubs are on the same level.
Maybe in Valencia's case it's been a season of ups and downs due to the injuries. Have the reserve players been a key point do you think?
Without a doubt. In that sense we have been the worst affected by important and long-term injuries. Obviously when there's so many injuries, you have to find solutions wherever you can and that's why it's important for clubs to have a good youth team with good players and make them part of the long season.
Which youth players have impressed you the most?
Well, there are lots with a great projection, but maybe Miguel Pallardó is the one who has played the most for us, then there's Cerra [David Cerrajería], the left winger. They've all helped us at decisive moments and then there have been lots of others who have been training with us for a long time.
And David Silva has made people stop talking about Pablo Aimar at Valencia...
Well, that's the law of football. Players come and go and in this case I think both Aimar and Silva are different types of players but Aimar left a big impression amongst the Valencia supporters and Silva is starting to play, to prove what he's worth and what he will be worth in the future, therefore I think people stick with the present which is what counts.
In Valencia's squad you're probably one of the players with a more varied experience: Spanish League, French League, English League...
Yes, I'm probably one of the most experienced players in that sense, also because I'm older now and I've been in football for quite a few seasons. I take it well because when you're young what you try to do is learn from the veterans, from the players who've been in football for a long time, and now I've probably reached that age, and I have been playing in First Division for 14 or 15 years. I think it's important for the rest, especially for the young players, for me to teach them everything I have learnt in football.
Your season at AS Monaco was one of the greatest campaigns at the French club: Champions League finalists and you were the top scorer.
It was a very important year for Monaco and very special for me because I felt relaxed at a club where I knew there wasn't the pressure and expectations on me as there was at Real Madrid. After being at Madrid for such a long time I also needed a bit of tranquillity. Coincidentally, that season everything went well both on a personal level and on a collective one because we completed a season that will probably stick in all the Monegasque minds.
Was the pressure at Madrid too much for you during the last season there?
No, not too much. You get used to everything and I was well accustomed to Real Madrid and living with that pressure. It's true that at Monaco everything was much calmer, I didn't feel that pressing need to win every game whatever happened and qualify for all competitions. We had to fight till the end in the Champions League, the League and the Cup, but anyway, that year was very calm in that respect and it also brought out good results working with that calmness.
And then at Liverpool you win the FA Cup...
I think, without a doubt, that was one of the most important trophies in my career because it was a title I won outside of Spain. It's a legendary competition and we were very enthusiastic about it. I think everyone preferred the Premiership or the Champions League, but I don't know, I had the impression that that competition had something magical about it because of what it represents in England.
Which are the differences between Spain and England then? Some would probably say the crowd...
Well, on television it looks one thing but then it's really another. I think you have to experience it for yourself to know what there's in one place and another. I think the main characteristic is that English football is more physical than Spanish football. Spanish football has a touch more quality but then it's true that in England the referee allows a lot more toughness, more contact. It's more unhurried there, calmer. Well, they're important differences when you're not used to them, you arrive there and it takes time.
Has the Fernando Morientes from 2003, before you went to the French League, changed a lot from the one now?
Yes, definitely. I've changed a lot on a personal level and on a professional level too without a doubt. I think it's been for the better because I've experienced new things, I've grown as a person and as a player and all the events in my professional career have helped me mature a lot as a person.
I don't know if you'll agree, but Spanish football is in fashion in Europe. As well as the two Spanish UEFA Cup finalists, we export players now. Why do you think that's happened?
Yes. I think that since the frontiers opened, the Spanish player has always been coveted in all leagues and it seemed we only liked playing in Spain, but when the frontiers opened, a Spanish player likes new experiences and getting to know new leagues like the English one, the French, the Italian and it's true that lots of Spanish players have emigrated. At the end of the day that's good for football and for the players and in the same way they come here, we can go elsewhere.
In that respect, could we say Rafa Benítez has opened a new door?
Yes, definitely. I think he's doing a great job at Liverpool. English football is renowned for that, for presenting a coach with a project and letting him work with it until the end to see how it goes. I think Rafa's project is going with a following wind, as they say, and he has reaped the rewards from the beginning. It's an open door for all the great Spanish coaches that sometimes don't have a chance here in Spain, where we seem to trust foreign coaches more, and could also succeed outside of the country.
Talking about changes, you know Madrid well. Do you agree with Míchel González when he told us Raúl was an important factor in the team's change this season? What do you think has made the team change?
Well, I think lots of factors have influenced them. No doubt one of the most decisive ones has been their captain, who has passed on that enthusiasm which everyone wants and, well, although there has always been criticism towards him, in the end we have to admit he's a professional and a determining player especially for a team like Real Madrid and he spreads his fighting spirit to the rest. To have a player like Raúl is always a bonus.
Has Madrid's turnaround surprised you?
It's not that it's surprised me. The thing is that in recent matches they've had the luck they lacked in other games and when you're immersed in a losing streak, everything seems out of reach. It's the opposite of what's happening now when they're in a winning streak and playing well. Players start thinking in a different way and the mentality is different. But it doesn't surprise me because Madrid had a good enough team to win the league from the start of the season, a team with talented players in all positions. Things didn't work out for them at the start of the campaign but now they're proving they're a very reliable team.
That fighting spirit that Madrid displays now, do you think that's what the Spanish National team needs to qualify for Euro 2008?
Yes, it's a similar situation. Clearly we didn't start off well and we lost matches that we hadn't accounted for. Now we have taken control of the situation, we've won important games, including the friendly in England, and that increases the players' enthusiasm and helps see that our qualification for the Euro 2008 finals is much more feasible.
In the year that has seen your return to the national team there has been a lot of controversy around the coach and the relationship between the players and Luis Aragonés. Has that affected the group?
I wouldn't say it's affected us. I've been in the national teams for a long time now and worked under lots of coaches and in the end the same thing always happens. A lot is said, some with grounds and others without, but the main thing is to talk. The national team job is always controversial because a lot of things are said, either good things or bad.
But the professional relationship amongst the players has always been to back the coach 100 per cent, and that's what counts for us. What other people say doesn't matter, they don't know as much as we do because we're the ones who are there on a daily basis.
The last two victories were essential for Spain, and now there are the matches against Latvia and Liechtenstein...
Yes, they're very important for Spain's options and, although there are matches that will be played away from home, I think the enthusiasm we gathered as a result of the last two games makes us confront these with a bit more calmness. We know that in theory they're teams that are inferior to Spain, but we have to prove that on the pitch and that's what we intend to do.