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World Cup winner Joan Capdevila could be ISL's most valuable player

Xavi or Andres Iniesta? "Xavi."

Fernando Torres or David Villa? "Villa."

Jordi Alba or Joan Capdevila? "Alba, Alba."

Greatest Spanish left back ever? "You're looking at him right now!"

World Cup winner Capdevila, who was unveiled by Indian Super League side NorthEast United in Mumbai on Saturday, then immediately softens his answer with, "No, no... currently, it's Alba." It does nothing to hide the truth he knows too — achievements wise, Capdevila is, in all probability, Spain's most decorated left-back — at least in international football.

Jose Antonio Camacho, Rafael Gordillo, Sergi Barjuan, Michel Salgado and Miguel Ángel Nadal are the other legendary Spanish wingbacks who come to mind too — but none of them can boast of winning a World Cup and a European Championship. Capdevila can.

"I wake up every morning knowing that I've won the World Cup and the European Championship. What pressure can I then feel when it comes to playing in India?" he tells Firstpost in rapid Spanish through his translator — when asked if he was feeling the heat of expectations from fans who know what he is capable of doing.

 World Cup winner Joan Capdevila could be ISLs most valuable player

John Abraham and Joan Capdevila at the unveiling of the Spaniard as NorthEast United's marquee player. PTI

In 432 career games, Capdevila has found the net 35 times and set up 20 goals. For someone who believes in defending being his primary duty on the pitch, it's a surprisingly good return.

"A defender has to defend. That's what I was taught. That is my philosophy when it comes to what a fullback has to do. But nowadays they have to defend, dribble, go forward, cross, come back..." Capdevila shrugs, before adding, "It is a tough position to play in, but experience makes it easy for you to recover [from all these overlaps]."

You get the sense that even at 36, Capdevila is assured — not only of his talent but also of his philosophies and decision-making power when it comes to on-the-pitch situations. That's what made him such an enormous asset in a Spain team which shook the world with three consecutive major trophies (a World Cup and two European Championships — even though Capdevila was overtaken by Alba in the pecking order for Euro 2012) — and the only player in that golden side of 2010 who was not from Real Madrid or Barcelona (considering Villa had signed for Barcelona pre-tournament).

Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, David Trezeguet, Alessandro del Piero, Michael Chopra, Luis Garcia and Nicolas Anelka are the biggest names signed by the Indian Super League clubs. All of them are attackers. That NorthEast United wanted a marquee player who doesn't play up front could be their shrewdest strategy yet.

"We were sure we wanted a player around whom we can build a team and who can manage from behind. When Joan's name came up, we didn't think twice. To get a defender who's won a World Cup is fantastic," said John Abraham, who was also present at the unveiling.

NorthEast's manager Ricki Herbert earlier told Firstpost that he wanted his team to play a fast, attacking and entertaining brand of football. That players from the region are naturally fast and agile will help him with this — but his squad will still need a solid base — and Capdevila, who can play as left-back, centre-back or in defensive midfield, fits perfectly with the team's plans.

That Capdevila also believes in the same of playing puts him right in-sync with his manager: "If I become a manager in the future, my team would play close to each other — tighter spaces and quick passing," he says, adding that he most enjoys playing the way Spain played from 2008-2014.

A glance at NorthEast's squad will tell you that everything is going according to plan for the side. Tough-tackling Zambian midfielder Isaac Chansa has been brought in along with Portuguese right-back Miguel Garcia, Shillong Lajong defender Robin Gurung and one of Greece's best goalkeepers Alexander Tzorvas. It's a solid base in comparison to other sides who have concentrated on a glamorous attack. NorthEast aren't bad on that front either — Spanish striker Koke, Trinidad & Tobago's Cornell Glen, English forward James Keene and Korean attacking midfielder Do Dong-Hyu make up their foreign contingent who will work the ball into the box.

"It was a conscious decision to bring players from similar backgrounds so that they can communicate on and off the pitch. These purchases (two Zambians and two Spaniards) were done with a little bit of this in mind too," said Larsing Ming, who is co-owner of the team.

The area of the press conference was dominated by a poster of Capdevila with a caption 'I am force 8' next to it — eight denoting the number of states NorthEast United was representing in the ISL. The poster is Bollywood-ish, water dripping from Capdevila's hair as he looks into the lens menacingly — almost like a younger Sylvester Stallone.

Despite operating from a withdrawn position, the posters kill any doubt that Capdevila is NorthEast's main man — and whether he plays at left-back or centre-back or defensive midfield — having the Spaniard in the team gives the Guwahati-based side a very very envious spine.

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Updated Date: Sep 22, 2014 12:36:55 IST