Morientes: 'Real Madrid has always been a club that copes well under pressure'

Ahead of the year's most awaited El Clasico clash on Saturday, former Real Madrid forward, Fernando Morientes talks about what to expect from the mega clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Fernando Morientes played in 12 El Clasicos for Real Madrid.   -  Special Arrangement

If I am counting correctly, you played in 12 El Clasicos for Real Madrid. What’s your best memory of facing the club’s eternal rival?

Without a doubt, the first Clasico I played in. It’s something I will never forget; pulling on the Real Madrid shirt that day was a very special, spine-tingling moment. And my first goal as well! However, I really enjoyed every single edition I got to play in, as well as going through my fair share of suffering too. It’s a game you can’t forget: the best match in La Liga and the world, and the most thrilling fixture you can be a part of.

How does it feel to run out in such a massive fixture, which excites fans from both sides as well as all over the world?

It’s an incredible experience and the most exciting match in Spanish football, the one with the fiercest rivalry. Although I’ve got to say that El Clasico is far from the only electrifying grudge match in Spain; LaLiga’s derbies are another example of pure, unbridled emotion and excitement on a football pitch, which I also got to enjoy during my time at Real Madrid. On the same day as El Clasico, we’ve also got Galician and Valencia derbies – RC Deportivo v RC Celta and Valencia CF v Villarreal CF – to look forward to. Games like those are also fiercely contested and hugely emotionally charged.

Unfortunately you were more often on the losing end than on the winning side. How tricky is it to walk the streets of Madrid after losing an El Clasico?

It’s not easy; as a footballer, you always want to win, especially against your bitterest rivals. Losing against FC Barcelona is always tough. But it’s true that we’ve got the best fans and they also get behind us during the difficult moments. And, for a footballer, it’s almost more touching to be cheered on when you’re losing than when you’re winning.

The game on Saturday will once again be a massive clash but given the current situation in the standings, it’s a must-win for Real at the Santiago Bernabeu. How do you think Zinedine Zidane’s side will cope with the pressure?

Real Madrid has always been a club that copes well under pressure. They know what to expect and they’ve got a team capable of delivering the goods in difficult moments like this one. They go into the match trailing Barcelona, but you never know what’s going to happen.

They’re at home and I am sure they will fight to the end. I think Zidane has what it takes to live with the pressure and turn things around when the going gets tough – he showed that back when he was a player and has done so again as a coach.

Lionel Messi is the all-time record scorer in the fixture with 24 strikes, while Cristiano Ronaldo currently sits in third with 17 goals. Which of the two do you think will decide the game on Saturday?

It’s hard to say. Messi’s stats are incredible, that’s undeniable, but we also know that Ronaldo is a player who can be a difference-maker even during the most difficult of circumstances. Ronaldo rises to the occasion in high-stakes matches and he will do everything in his power to play a pivotal role in this game. He could surprise a few people.

What’s your prediction for the game?

It’s not easy, but I would say: 2-1

Zidane has brought massive success to Real, but this season Los Blancos is stuttering a bit. Do you think he would be getting sacked, if they ended the 2017/18 campaign without the league and Champions League title or is his status as former ‘Galactico’ so big that Florentino Perez will give him more time?

The title race isn’t over yet – there’s still a long way to go and Real Madrid always battle to the end. They’re not going to surrender their crown without a fight; they’ll keep going until the very last match.

Equally, Zidane has won the respect and admiration of all Real Madrid fans, and I think he’s got plenty of life left in him yet and lots more to offer.

Looking back at your own career, you lifted eight trophies, including three Champions League titles, during your time at Madrid. Is there anything you regret from your time with the Spanish giants?

No, these were very good times, where I learned a lot and enjoyed it very much. We have not had bad times, but we have had some difficult moments of more tension. One was the day that we went for the first time with Figo to the stadium of FC Barcelona recently signed by Real Madrid, with so much rivalry with Barcelona, you can imagine the tension that had with our partner

You played alongside greats such as Zidane, Ronaldo de Lima and Raul Gonzalez, among many others. Who would you name as best team-mate you have played with?

They were three truly top players. It was a real pleasure to play alongside Raul and an honour to share a dressing room with someone like him, who made history in Spanish football. We scored a lot of goals and won a lot of trophies together.

Zidane is another great of Spanish and world football. He was a player you could constantly learn from; he was pure magic and class on the pitch. He’s definitely one of the best ever.

Ronaldo Nazario is also one of the greatest – one of the best strikers and goalscorers of all time.

After your time with Real, you joined Liverpool. If you compare La Liga and Premier League, which is the better league and why?

LaLiga, without a doubt; it’s the best league in the world. I was lucky enough to play in the Premier League, as well as in France with Monaco, and nothing compares to our league. I got to experience the Premier League when I was at Liverpool and it’s undoubtedly a great competition, but our league is home to the best players and best clubs. The standard of football is higher and, as we’re seeing, it’s an extremely exciting, hard-fought competition in which anything can happen.

If you could put together a five-a- side dream team of your former team-mates, which names would make the cut?

Casillas, Steven Gerrard, Raul, Fernando Hierro and David Villa.

 

Courtesy: La Liga