Salgado: Ronaldo is out on his own

Former Spanish international Michel Salgado will always be a legend as far as Real Madrid fans are concerned, which is something that not every defender can say. The occupant of the right-back berth at the Santiago Bernabeu for ten whole seasons, Salgado also represented his country at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and UEFA EURO 2000.

In his stay with Los Merengues, the full-back won four league titles, three Spanish Super Cups, two UEFA Champions Leagues, a UEFA Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. With Spain, meanwhile, he formed part of the side that won the 1998 UEFA European U-21 Championship.

With the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2014 just around the corner, enjoyed an exclusive interview with the ex-Real Madrid man in the Spanish capital. A one-time team-mate of four former FIFA World Players of the Year in Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Fabio Cannavaro, Salgado ran the rule over the stars in contention for this year’s award. Who do you think should win the FIFA Ballon d’Or this year?
Michel Salgado: It’s a very important trophy for the players, who can’t wait to find out the result. It’s going to be tight, as it always is. There are three players in the running, but I think Cristiano Ronaldo has been the best of them. He’s worked so hard over the last two years and his statistics are just incredible. I think he’s going to win the Ballon d’Or for the second year running and he deserves to do so. If I had a vote, he’s the one I’d choose.

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is another of the candidates. What are his chances?
It’s tough for a keeper to win the award, but that doesn’t mean to say that he hasn’t had a great year. He’s lifted the World Cup with Germany and a lot of trophies with Bayern Munich. He’s got all the attributes you’d expect of a great goalkeeper but, like I said, it’s going to be hard for him to compete with a striker like that. It’s not going to be an easy choice for the voters to make, but whoever wins they’ll have deserved it. None of us can wait to see who’s going to get the nod this year.

As a former defender can you see one of your colleagues making the last three again and perhaps even winning it, like Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, the last defender to pick up the award?
That’s right. No defender has won it since then. Supporters like to follow strikers and they like to see goals, which explains why defenders don’t often get rewarded for their work (laughs). They’re aware of that and it’s something they have to live with, though they also know that they perform an essential if thankless job for the team. Cannavaro won the Ballon d’Or the same year as Italy won the World Cup. There wasn’t a single forward who stood out that year and the Italians won thanks to their solid defence. Cannavaro was the captain and he really deserved the award.

Who will be named Coach of the Year? Joachim Low is up for the award along with Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone, the coaches of the two Madrid giants.
That’s a very tough choice. Joachim Low is the Germany coach and they’ve just won the World Cup, but he doesn’t do the same day-to-day work that a club coach does. Carlo (Ancelotti) has done a fantastic job since he came in at Real Madrid, winning the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the European Super Cup and then rounding the year off with the Club World Cup. It’s no mean feat to win all those titles in your first season. It’s going to be a close contest between Ancelotti and Low.

People are also waiting to see who will win the Puskás Award for the best goal of the year. Who do you think that will go to?
We saw a lot of great goals over the year, but I think the jury will go for one of the two scored in the World Cup. Robin van Persie’s goal was incredible and he knew exactly what he was going to do with the ball. James Rodriguez’s goal was every bit as good. He really hit it hard and it won’t be easy to choose between the two.

Let’s talk a little bit about Real Madrid, who last season won the Champions League for the first time in 12 years. Can you see this team making history at the club?
It’s still too early to say. The team has what it takes to make history but this is only the start for them. Let’s give them a little bit more time and see if they can win more trophies. They have a great coach and they showed their potential in winning the Champions League last season. We need to see how they do in the next few years before judging them.

It was a major surprise to see Spain go out in the first round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. What went wrong?
You can’t win everything in football. Winning the World Cup and two European Championships on the trot is something that won’t be easy to repeat. This is the greatest generation of players that Spanish football has ever seen. I am proud of them and I have the greatest respect for them. Nothing can go on forever, though, and they’ll have to pass the baton on sooner or later. We need to rebuild if we’re going to defend our title at EURO 2016 and if we’re going to stay competitive in the years to come. We have a very promising U-21 side that won the last European Championships and whose players are with some big clubs. We’ve also got some experienced performers who still have a lot to offer. We’ve got plenty of time left to prepare for EURO 2016 in France and to retain our title.