Valderrama: ‘Europe can buy players, but they cannot buy style’

Carlos Valderrama retired 15 years ago, but still retains the spirit and the zest for the game that typified his image as a player. The Colombian talks to Sportstar about football evolution.

“Things have changed compared to my playing days. Life was different and so were the styles of players,” Valderrama says.   -  PTI

Carlos Valderrama, now 56, retains all the charisma that made him a world-renowned name during his playing days. The Colombian retired 15 years ago, but still retains the spirit and the zest for the game that typified his image as one of the classiest midfielders of the game. The fluffy mane may have diminished a little, but the legend, who led Colombia to three successive World Cups from 1990, still flaunts the mass of wiry blond hair that was synonymous with his persona on and off the field as an ambassador of creative football. Valderrama, who came to India on a promotional assignment ahead of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, spoke to Sportstar on various issues related to football.

Question: The name Valderrama signified style and skill. Do you think football now lacks characters who can redefine the sport?

Answer: Things have changed compared to my playing days. Life was different and so were the styles of players. Of course everyone chooses how to live and as a player I always worked hard. I never had an agent and determined things on my own. Now the players have three or four agents to look after the business and all other needs. They tend to help players with every aspect of life and start controlling them.

You gave Colombian football a new lease of life wearing the No. 10 jersey. Who is the all-time best No. 10 in the world?

When it comes to the best player ever, it has to be (Diego) Maradona. No one can match him when it comes to wearing the No. 10 jersey. If we talk about contemporary football it has to be (Lionel) Messi. He defines a lot of creativity, almost similar to Diego. 

There was a time when Latin American style and flair dominated world football, but with the decline of club football in South America, Europe seems to be the centre of excellence. Most of the top Latin American footballers now play in European clubs. Is Latin American football losing its way?

That is a wrong perception. Colombia is now one of the key South American countries, which exports a number of players to Europe and elsewhere. South American players know how to play. They are very protective of their style. Europe may buy the players, but they cannot buy the style. It is something very intrinsic to the life of South America. Latin American football continues to be vibrant like always, which is evident as most of the top names in world football are from that part. They have the talent to play the best football and for that they do not have to change the style.

Does emergence of new concepts and styles in modern football restrict the scope of a playmaker, killing creative football? Do you think the role you played, in the centre as a creative midfielder, is losing its significance in tactics-specific modern football?

Everything changes. Football changes, technology changes, life changes. Modern football is also changing. Football cannot stop from evolving. Like life football too passes through a process of evolution, adding new ideas and technological advancement. What I did during my playing days may not be possible now because there’s too much focus on system, which is more about new thinking and tactics. But play-making is very much there as it is the essence that keeps the game moving.

Valderrama shares a light momenet with former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly at the Mohun Bagan Ground in Kolkata.   -  PTI


Is the over-insistence on tactics and system bringing down entertainment value?

Never, football is and always will be about entertainment. The dimensions are changing as with the passage of time many new countries are coming up in terms of excellence and are challenging the old football order. This promises to create champions while expanding the boundaries of the sport. The new teams bring their own entertainment value, enriching the sport with new possibilities.

What are the best and the worst moments of your career? In that count, does the 2-1 loss to Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup, which happened because of your goalkeeping colleague Rene Higuita’s effort to dribble past Roger Milla, still haunt you?

No, that does not haunt me as Higuita always played like that. He took the risk and failed and that is part of game. Sometimes you have to take chances to achieve something extraordinary. He tried but failed and that is how I prefer to look at that match and not harbour any grudge against anyone. The best moment of my career was definitely beating mighty Argentina 5-0 in its own den in Buenos Aires and qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. Backed by such fine performance, we travelled to the U.S.A as one of the favourites, but performed dismally in the Finals and were eliminated after finishing last in the group. That definitely comes as a low point. 

Who could be the next Carlos Valderrama from Columbia?

Valderrama cannot be matched, but when I watch James Rodrigues (the Real Madrid midfielder now playing on loan for Bayern Munich) play, he reminds me about a lot of things that people identified with me.

What is the significance of organising the under-17 World Cup for India? 

It is very important for India to host this tournament. It will help the game grow in the country because the whole world will be watching. More significantly, the Indian national team will be playing and there will be lot of emotions. The Indian players will certainly have something to look forward to when they see the best talents of the world playing in their country.

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