Please excuse the audio quality of the interview, the first 15 seconds are poor at best, the sound quality gradually gets better. The Interview was actually 30 minutes in length but we could only capture 11 minutes of it on tape. Let’s take this opportunity to thank Óscar Washington Tabárez for consenting to this interview.
LCB: First of all, I would like to thank you for granting us this interview. Have you heard of the website before?
• No, but I heard about you through other parties, and deep down I believe that the coverage of Uruguayan football offers it’s share of advantages.
LCB: What is your opinion about the peculiarity of this website? LaCelesteBlog.com?
• I find it interesting in nature, using the english language which is universal opens up unaccessible media markets and talking about Uruguayan football in general is positive.
LCB: What do you think the World Cup told us about the direction international football is heading in?
• It’s a confirmation of what has been occurring in football for a long time, the work we’ve done with the NT for example is based on those ideas; all you have to do, is look at the big teams, the important National Teams for example, the best teams in the best leagues, and see that there are important common characteristics that these teams share: all these teams share the same type of philosophies on attack and defense. There are great defensive and offensive schemes –– we can also look at the player profiles which are important for the information they give us. The modern day players are equipped with strong physical traits and also possess superb technical qualities, which is what really distinguishes the football player. We can also see the mental strength certain players possess. We ourselves used this type of data (with regards to Uruguay’s NT) to decide when to bring on a new player to the National Team for example, a lot of work goes into “who” gets selected for the NT, which is why a NT can never be selected by polls or the will of the people because the players that get selected for duty must first meet the conditions of this type of accumulated data. Starting in 2006, we began making numerous decisions on “local” players using this type of data, i.e., exclusion or inclusion in the selection process, but ultimately it’s a vindication for us that 14 of those players that we began looking at in 2006 took part in the 2010 World Cup. So we’re going to continue to insist on this type of selection process when it comes to player selection. Players that play well are important, but more important for us (in the coaching staff) is that in those 90 minutes of play, the players that get selected can guarantee you the same dynamic potential, match fitness and mental fortitude.
LCB: It appeared that the 4-2-3-1 formation was the most overused formation in the World Cup and Uruguay was not adverse to using it.
• I’m not a big fan of formations. I believe more in basic football foundations based on tactics, such as how the team attacks, how the team defends, and that’s more important than how the team lines up on the pitch. When they say the system of play is a 4-4-2 formation, it’s not really true, the team may line up in such a formation but the formational grouping disappears once the game gets underway. It varies, which is why it’s more important to know what the individual player does when the team is attacking or defending.
LCB: Were you surprised that France, despite having arguably the best players in the world, weren’t able to translate that into tangible results?
• France has many quality players, as do many other teams in the world, but if you look at the history of the World Cup, being a contender doesn’t necessarily guarantee you anything; the media tends to make more out of these presumptions, just like when they predict who will be the best player in the World Cup before the start of the tournament, and most of the time they get it completely wrong. Football however is a different story, you never know what a player is capable of giving you, what his potential is.
Obviously France has good quality players, but you cannot gage that quality until you see it on the pitch, until you play the game you’ll never know whether the team you have assembled will live up to it’s true potential, and this applies to all teams not just France, this is true today as it was in 1966 when North Korea defeated Italy. Who knew about that result going into the tournament? It’s because of that unpredictable element of surprise that you see in tournaments of this kind that I’ve always tried to remain cautious –– in other words you respect a rival’s potential but you still have to play the match. There’s no such thing as an invincible team before a match is played, the results tell you a different story. This applies to all teams. That’s why I don’t get surprised with things that are suppose to surprise you. Based on results we obtained a 4th place finish, that’s the reality of the situation. Of course we could have finished lower in the standings but by the same token we also could have finished higher in the standings –– but where does it stop? You can’t go back and play a match that has been played already. This is why I don’t waste my time with predictions about games that haven’t been played especially when there is very little time to prepare for the matches that you have to play and that’s where the majority of your concentration has to go into.
LCB: Nobody could have predicted Spain starting the World Cup on the wrong foot.
• True, but Spain qualified to the World Cup without losing any points, they were also European Champions, and they lost a game any country could have lost as well. But I remember very well what Johan Cruyff said about that loss (Switzerland 1-0 Spain), “Now I’m sure Spain will be the World Cup champion.” — and his prediction was right, but returning to the topic of a team’s true potential, you have to prepare the team mentally for different situations. You have to prepare the team for significant factors that the players may face in any game situation but you can’t assume that just because the opponent is stronger (on paper) that the team should prepare themselves for an adverse result, that would be a huge mistake as well. Just like the people that are now saying that that just because the next World Cup will be in Brazil, that we should now presuppose that Uruguay will be the finalist of that World Cup, that’s pure nonsense, it’s not based on any type of reality. The World Cup just finished, so we should take advantage and analyse the positive results the tournament left behind (as far as Uruguay is concerned). The negative aspect of Uruguay’s 2010 World Cup run is assuming that we are now better than most countries, that would be fatal for Uruguay. Remember it’s still very difficult for a country such as ours with a tiny population, which in turn gives us so few players to choose from. The next qualifiers will be complicated as well, so far we’ve only been able to finish in 5th place and only during the past qualifiers (2010) was there an actual chance to qualify directly to the World Cup, which we didn’t take advantage of. This reality speaks volumes of how difficult the South American qualifiers really are.
LCB: Yes but, despite Uruguay’s poor qualifiers, Uruguay surprised everybody in the 2010 World Cup.
• What do you mean by poor? Why should it have been any different? Also I don’t feel Uruguay’s qualification was poor, I don’t share that opinion. You could say we were irregular and when one is irregular, you have good moments and bad moments. This is repeated often, people assume that the qualifiers are based on one game. Look we went to Brazil (2007, Morumbi WCQ match), and played the best game any opponent could have played there in years. That occurred during the qualifiers, and you can’t consider what we did there “poor” so please be careful with adjectives, because the kind of generalization is unfair, and they’re not true, especially if you sit down and analyze the results, you’ll see that it’s unfair to label a team’s tournament run (qualifiers) based on one game. I’ll recognize that we had some bad games, and in truth I’m the first one to admit it, but what you saw was that we as a team, continued to work to improve our mistakes, and the end result of that hard work was qualification to the World Cup. If we end up in 5th place next time around, for our football, based on the characteristics and tendencies our football has, it’s still a very important result. Our football culture needs to evolve, we shouldn’t be so quick to criticize, we should learn to appreciate things, know that results are within reach, but all of that is dependent on how we go about doing it. But to believe that we won because we’re Uruguayans is foolish, I don’t share that opinion.
LCB: Does it worry you that Uruguay doesn’t have players in the Champions League? If we had players in that competition, would this be positive for Uruguayan football? What kind of impact would it have on our football?
• It doesn’t. But Uruguayans have participated (in the Champions League), Godin and Lugano are examples of that occurrence. The Champions League is the most prestigious tournament in the Old World, where players of the highest level are sought after, so naturally it would be more advantageous (for Uruguay’s football) if Uruguayans participated in this competition.
LCB: Do you think Uruguay will ever play at the peak level displayed in the 2010 WCQ match against Brazil in São Paulo (2007)?
• That was a great game. We always try to play at that level, but it’s not something that you can always accomplish, sometimes this is due to the opponent, sometimes because we’re not always at optimal level (player injuries, match fitness). Uruguay tries to play a balanced game, what I’m referring to is a solid defense, a creative midfield and a forceful attack. In other words, exciting but efficient at the same time; and I think we have the players to do just that. Sometimes circumstances don’t allow us to play our kind of game; there are a lot of factors that can affect the outcome of the game that are not always planned for. I’ll give you some examples, injuries, what state we get the player in is very important, both physically and mentally, whether we need the result? The state of the pitch as well, etc, etc.
LCB: How important are international friendly matches with European powerhouses?
• Very important; it’s always useful for us to see how we measure up to football’s elite. It’s the only honest way to determine where our football really is, how close or apart we are to teams that in terms of results/numbers are superior to us, despite what the FIFA world ranking may say, which I must confess I check in on from time to time.
LCB: Why do you think it’s so hard for us to find a playmaker like the one you had in Nacho Gonzalez? Where does the problem originate and how do we solve it? Do you think a school where technique is taught (like La Masia) could be the answer for future generations?
• You have them. Is Lodeiro that different? We can always find similar players in the younger generations. In football, it’s very rare to find players who can read the midfield/create scoring situations, lacking any kind of defensive skills. Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso is an example that springs to mind; he defends, organizes the midfield, and creates scoring situations via assists. And so does Busquets involved in a more defensive role. You’ll see this occurs more often than not, especially when we’re talking about playmakers whether they’re deep field playmakers (like the ones mentioned) or central attacking midfielders (Sneijder or Ozil). The Number 10 that doesn’t defend or run is like the Number 5 who doesn’t pass: they no longer exist.
LCB: Do you think Uruguayans tend to prize “Garra” (Fighting Spirit) over quality?
• I think most of the time that’s what happens. In the past Uruguay has obtained results that have been erroneously attributed to personalities or certain players in spite of the team or the collective. La Garra Charrúa has been defined many times before, my understanding of it, it pertains to a player not giving up, regardless of the opponent, by displaying a certain type of rebelliousness, which has occurred many times in our football; the past qualifiers and World Cup are no exceptions.
LCB: How did you achieve that level of serenity during the World Cup press conferences? (Ghana & South Korean matches)? You gave the impression that these press conferences were a walk in the park.
• Chalk it up to professionalism and experience. Evidently I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. One tries in those types of situations to respond to the questions asked regarding the team and clear up any doubts at the same time; which encompasses explaining our position without exposing weaknesses we may have as a team.
LCB: We’re almost near the start of another edition of the Copa America? How do you think Uruguay will fare? Do we have the sufficient pieces to challenge South America’s best and therefore challenge for the title?
• Look, Uruguay is capable of winning or losing against any opponent. In football there are no invincible adversaries. We can count on a centralized defense, with players who can guarantee group objectives, a ball-winning midfield, ball retention and players who can think “offensively”. Upfront I’m going to limit myself to a few names and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether we have the necessary pieces to challenge the elite teams: Forlan, Suarez, Cavani, and Abel Hernandez.
LCB: Finally we’d like to manifest to you that we’re not oblivious to Uruguay’s participation in the 2010 World Cup, which we assume is only the beginning of better things to come.
LCB: We don’t want to take up any more of your time; you have our deepest gratitude for granting us this interview, if you want, please take this moment to send a message to our LCB readers. We wish you a successful and prosperous 2011 and hope for continued success in the following years. Thank you.
• Thank you very much. My regards to your readers and I wish you luck with the Blog project, I’ll try to visit it when I get the chance.