Gaizka Mendieta interview: The word 'fair' shouldn't be used in football, even less during these unprecedented times'
Former Valencia, Barcelona and Middlesbrough player Gaizka Mendieta believes football is in the hands of the health authorities and it will look different when it returns.
Football in Europe is gradually trying to get it's foot back on the pitch ever since the leagues were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. It is still not plain sailing and a definite resumption date hasn't been set anywhere. In fact, recent developments of Eredivisie getting cancelled and Ligue 1 being called off have suggested football is still not yet in the clear. Bundesliga, which had considered a 9 May resumption, may be put off by at least a week. Individual training in Spain for LaLiga players is pencilled in for 4 May.
UEFA, which had initially strongly recommended that all leagues be completed, have mellowed in their stance and have now set a 25 May deadline for decision on 2019-20 domestic leagues. LaLiga president Javier Tebas is hopeful of a mid-June restart. The league has been stalled with Barcelona leading Real Madrid by two points with 11 games left to play. At the bottom, Real Mallorca, Leganes and Espanyol are in the drop zone with Eibar and Celta Vigo just safe by two and one point(s) respectively.
Former Valencia legend Gaizka Mendieta believes how LaLiga is conducted, if it is played, will depend entirely on the time frame available. "I think it all depends on the matter of how long we really have to play. The longer you have, more games will be possible. The less time you have, you might have to consider like a playoff sort of situation. It all depends on the time frame. We have to think and consider that we could go from maybe two, three, four months to one month to actually nothing. So, that's what players, clubs and organisations should be ready for. It is not about football organisations deciding, it's about health authorities deciding when and how is the right time to do it," Mendieta told Firstpost from his home in the UK.
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If the league does start, a challenge for players, managers and respective medical teams will be to ensure the physical and mental fitness of the players especially after a lengthy break. Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui reckons five weeks are needed for everyone to get back to fitness. But Mendieta sounded pessimistic in having that big a window in closing seasons out.
"If you look at normal seasons or normal pre-seasons, it takes about a month or month and a half to get the players ready to start. Then you still need competition time to get your best form. I don't think we'll have that. I don't think players will have that long period of time to prepare. Whatever time is left or given for the competitions to finish is not going to be that long. They will need as much time to play games. So it will be like a shorter time but all the teams and players will have a similar situation. They'll have to adapt to whatever they're given. It is an unprecedented time where You have to do unprecedented things to prepare for whatever you're given."
If Spain does go the Netherlands of France route and seasons are cancelled, it leaves LFP in a tough spot of deciding the fate of the league: to announce champions, relegations and European spots from current places or declare the whole season null and void. Whatever direction the decision goes, legal proceedings might come into the frame like FC Utrecht in the Netherlands who are preparing for legal action. Mendieta, who played 282 games for Valencia and 79 for Middlesbrough, thinks it won't be 'fair' either way.
"If you relegate a team, obviously they planned to fight until the last game, and they will think it's not fair. In these unprecedented times, when it comes to deciding those things, don't think 'fair' is the right word. If the league decided that things stay as it is, teams will think they could have done better. If they do decide to cancel, some teams are going to think they could win it or they didn't deserve to get relegated. So 'fair' is never really a word we should use in football anyway but in current situation even less."
"But yeah those are the two options. It stays as it is, and the league decides whoever is the winner, relegation, European spots etc. or it gets completely cancelled. We have to wait and see what LaLiga decides is the best thing to do. Again, it depends on the health authorities deciding how long there is there to be played."
Mendieta won the Copa del Rey and SuperCopa with Valencia while reaching consecutive UEFA Champions League finals. In 2001, he became the most expensive Spanish footballer by moving to Lazio for 48 million euros. The transfer window has changed significantly since then with astronomical sums being spent on players. Neymar's move to PSG from Barcelona for 222 million euros is now the most expensive transfer. The 46-year-old thinks football will change when things get back to "normal".
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"I mean it's already changing. We have seen players cutting off salaries; clubs renegotiating contracts with sponsors because there's no game televised. There's no event, there's no promotion, there's nothing that he was on the contract. Definitely for now and for the coming months and probably coming years, there is going to be an adjustment in the way and I'm sure that we will have an impact on the transfers and on on how much money clubs can spend. All the parts involved, the clubs, players, sponsors, broadcasters, etc. will renegotiate their contracts. And I'm sure we'll go to a new stage with new figures," he said.
When asked to choose a playing eleven of his teammates across clubs and country, Mendieta opted to put himself on the bench as manager while sending out: Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Fernando Hierro, Sergi Barjuan, Pep Guardiola, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Juan Carlos Valeron, Fernando Morientes, Raul Gonzalez, David Villa.
Sports fans can visit the official Facebook page of Sony Pictures Sports Network, @SonySportsIndia and watch ‘Sony Ten Pit Stop’ to watch footballers talk in a never before seen avatar.
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