When Real Madrid’s former right-back from the ‘Galacticos’ era is asked about the passion for football in the Middle East, he looks back two decades to the first time he came to the Arab world. Michel Salgado first came to Qatar in 1995 for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Doha, a tournament where he played alongside the likes of Raul or Morientes, and scored a goal for Spain in the third-place playoff in front of a sold out Khalifa International Stadium.
“For me it was amazing to come here as an 19 year-old, and then not only playing the tournament, but after that watching the country developing,” Salgado told www.sc.qa after visiting the offices of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Doha. “I ended up living here in the Arab world, and I come to Qatar frequently. Watching all the development through all the years is fantastic, it’s beautiful to see all the development from 1995 to 2016. I think it’s going to be even more important to see the development of Qatar in 2022. It is great to see the country developing, creating a country with a lot of innovation.”
For Salgado, who is currently the Director of Football at an academy in Dubai, the Arab world will be completely transformed by hosting the tournament for the first time ever.
“A World Cup is needed in the Arab world and in Qatar. It will be the first World Cup in the Arab world. I’ve been living here for three and a half years now and I can feel the passion for football they have in this part of the world. They need to watch the biggest players in the world, right here in the Arab world. It will be a big challenge, but there will be a before and an after for the Arab world with this World Cup. The Arab world is ready, they will cope with all the challenges of hosting a World Cup, and at the same time it will be a mix of cultures which will be important for the kids of this region. I’m really looking forward to it, the Arab world will learn a lot, and people from around the world will see what is really happening in this part of the world. That’s the massive change that Qatar 2022 is bringing to the world.”
Having shared a dressing room with Real Madrid’s biggest stars in the ‘Galacticos’ era, the former Spain international said he believed Zinedine Zidane is now ready to bring back the former glory to the capital side.
“The players believe in this manager. Zizou is bringing something special to the whole club, to the atmosphere of the whole club. The spirit of the team now is different. I think the Champions League is a bigger option for Real Madrid right now than La Liga. It is seven points difference and you can feel that Barcelona are really comfortable in the league. The way Barcelona are performing in the league is fantastic. For me, the biggest chance for Real Madrid is the Champions League, that’s a special competition for us, that’s the one we love, and the team are well prepared for that. For me Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are the favourites, and PSG are also in there with a chance.”
Salgado also said that Spain is currently in a change of generations which could be led by one player who he called the best defender in the world. “For me right now, Sergio Ramos is one of the greatest defenders in world football. He’s powerful in the air, he’s quick, his strength is his power in the challenges, he wins most of the challenges. He has great experience and he won everything with Spain and Real Madrid, and is entering a perfect age as a footballer. He is a leader for club and country. We are changing generations in Spain so we need someone like Sergio Ramos who has been in the winning World Cup and Euro teams, so he can show the players what it is like to win these trophies.”
Having made the right-back role his for many seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu, Salgado said he saw three current players as the best in that position: “Dani Alves is a typical Brazilian full-back, always committed in attack. He has some problems in defence, but he is covered by the shape of the team. He is always bringing something special. Carvajal is another one who has the perfect balance between defence and attack. We also have Lahm, a legend who is a complete player, he is comfortable on the ball and won everything with the national team and with Bayern Munich. He has got something different.”