‘I feel I can add value to the overall development of NEUFC’

John Abraham (left), actor and co-owner of NorthEast United FC, with Spanish star Joan Capdevila during a press conference in Mumbai.-PTI John Abraham (left), actor and co-owner of NorthEast United FC, with Spanish star Joan Capdevila during a press conference in Mumbai.

“I have always lived by the philosophy that everything that starts small, but has passion and hard work attached to it has the potential to grow into something big. India may be placed 158th in international football rankings at present, but I feel this inaugural ISL is a great initiative that will put Indian football on the world map at some time,” says Joan Capdevila in this interview with Amitabha Das Sharma.

Thirty six-year-old Joan Capdevila is one of the top international stars to sign for the Indian Super League. The articulate Catalonian, who has played 60 matches for La Roja and has helped it to win the UEFA European Championship and the World Cup, has signed for the Guwahati-based NorthEast United FC in the ISL. Capdevila hopes at least a semifinal berth for his team in the inaugural ISL edition.

Question: What made you to forsake a long career with top European clubs and decide to play in the ISL?

Answer: I was at a point in my career where I was looking for a change. And this opportunity for playing in the ISL came about at the right time. I love a good challenge and I am ready to take in this new experience. I truly hope that I can help the team that I am with. Despite my age, I feel I can add value to the overall development of Team NEUFC.

Your international career was very successful and includes UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup titles and also winning the silver medal in the Olympics for Spain. How do you feel coming to a country which is virtually at the bottom of international rankings and has never played in the World Cup?

I have always lived by the philosophy that everything that starts small, but has passion and hard work attached to it has the potential to grow into something big. India may be placed 158th in international football rankings at present, but I feel this inaugural ISL is a great initiative that will put Indian football on the world map at some time. This tournament is attracting a whole lot of international players, who have come to India believing the ISL could possibly be the next big thing. This is bound to happen as the world today has a global mindset.

What is your first impression about the Indian Super League? What kind of experience are you looking forward to?

Well, initially when I told my family and friends about signing up with the NEUFC to play for the ISL, they thought I was crazy and that I was joking. They asked me, “Are you sure you know what you’re talking about?” When I showed them all the proof and gave details about the ISL, they realised it was for real. Now they are waiting for the updates about the tournament! I am also looking forward to this new phase in my career graph. I am aware of the grass root programmes that Shillong Lajong has in place and I was told football is a religion in North East. With these two points in my mind, I eagerly look forward to the next three months of the season.

What role have you set for yourself being a marquee player for NorthEast United FC?

Frankly, I don’t consider myself a marquee player, the term in itself comes with a whole lot of responsibility and I truly believe that you need to be a team player, united in spirit on and off the field to be able to achieve success. I am humbled on being called a marquee player and I am determined to face this challenge by learning a new culture and adding value with my experience to my young team-mates and getting our team NEUFC to the semifinals of this ISL.

What do you think of the pre-season preparation of NorthEast United FC? What is your assessment of the team, especially of your Indian colleagues?

I have just arrived in India and I am told that we will be travelling soon to play a few friendly matches. I am very excited to play with my new team. I have also been told that a lot of players in the North East side are the products of the Shillong Lajong Academy and many of them have represented India at some level. Moreover, this mix of international players and young Indian talent is encouraging me for a new challenge that I am very excited about.

Spanish football ruled the world with its tiki-taka style of play for a big part of the last decade, which included winning the World Cup (in 2010). Does Spain’s unceremonious exit in the first round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil indicate that this style of play by La Roja is losing significance?

The philosophy of Spain will always be tiki-taka and what happened in the 2014 World Cup was unfortunate and it went downhill for Spain after the second half against the Netherlands. This according to me was what shaped the fortune of our country in the overall championship.

What is the significance of Real Madrid winning the UEFA Champions League beating Atletico Madrid in the final this year? Can Spanish football get over the crisis of its early World Cup exit?

I feel the performance of Spain in the World Cup was just an accident. Spanish football at club level is still on top. Seeing Sevilla win the Europa League and Atletico Madrid being runner-up to Real Madrid in the Champions League, I hope that Spain will again be one of the best teams when it comes to National teams.

Who is the most influential person in your life? And your most memorable moments.

I can think of (Argentine Miguel Angel) Brindisi as a coach who impressed me and taught me a lot. I made my debut under him in the La Liga (for Espanyol). Also for me Manuel Pellegrini and Joaquin Caparros are influential coaches because of their sheer capacity and experiential delivery. October 31, 1998 was when I made my debut in La Liga with Espanyol, this was a memorable date for me. Also October 12, 2002 when I made debut for Spanish national team. Of course, after these two dates, the time we won the European Championship (2008) and World Cup (2010) for Spain were the other two important dates in my career.