FourFourTwo's Jonathan Fadugba chats to the Gunners' Spanish lock-picker, featured in FFT's Best 100 Football Players in the World 2014...
FFT: Congrats Santi, you’ve made FFT’s Best 100 Players in the World shortlist. But who do you think is the best right now?
Well, I think there are two players way ahead of the rest. The battle for the crown of No.1 player in the world is between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. They consistently show a level that’s way above the rest and because of that they’re the best in the world.
You’ve got to choose one of them: who gets your pick?
Well, they’re totally different, you know. I think one is a little bit more complete physically, magnificent in the air as well as with both feet, while the other is just pure ability – a little bit beyond the norm really. For me if I had to choose one I prefer Leo Messi’s style of football. But of course, both are amazing.
Another toss-up for you: Neymar or Gareth Bale?
I think Neymar can become the best in the world. Bit by bit he’s improving and showing a level that could take him close to the level of Cristiano and Messi. It’s not easy to get to that level but I think for sure he will be one of the best players in the world in future.
Messi is just pure ability – a little bit beyond the norm really"
What’s the secret to being one of the best players in the world?
Above all, ambition. Aside from the qualities that every footballer has, you have to be ambitious. If you look at Cristiano and Messi, every year they try to improve, they want to be the best. That desire to improve, to continue wanting to be one of the best in the world, for me it’s fundamental.
What else have you done to become one of the world’s best? Do you focus on one or more aspects of your game in particular?
Well for me, luckily, since I was a kid I’ve had the ability to play with both feet. But again, the basis of this has come from a lot of hard work. They’re qualities I’ve had since I was small but that I’ve been strengthening year after year, with every coach I’ve had and in each age group. I’ve tried to work on improving my left foot for example, and this has served me well until today and helped me be able to play with both my weaker and stronger foot.
Which Arsenal players would you say are in that top bracket?
Well we have many really good players. But, of course, the most recent example is Alexis Sanchez. His performances at Arsenal have been really first class. I knew of him from when he was at Barcelona and he’s a player who’s going to be very important for Arsenal. Mesut Ozil is another footballer whose qualities are recognisable to everybody in the world from his time at Real Madrid. He’s a spectacular player. Looking elsewhere, Laurent Koscielny for me is a great defender and there are very few players like him in the world. Of course I could give you more but I think these three are good examples.
Laurent Koscielny for me is a great defender and there are very few players like him in the world"
And what about other players in the Premier League who aren’t at Arsenal?
I’d start with [Eden] Hazard. He’s a spectacular player. He’s different to the norm and I think if he wants to, he could get very close to the level of Neymar, Cristiano and Messi. If he stays consistent and is ambitious he has the technical qualities to be one of the best players in the game.
If you were choosing a five-a-side team from the Premier League, outside Arsenal, who’d be in your team?
I’d choose Hazard, David Silva – he’s a player I love. I’d choose [Sergio] Aguero, he’s different. My 5-a-side team won’t defend very much by the way! (Laughs) But I’d choose Wayne Rooney, he’s a great player and I like his style of play a lot. And the final player I’d choose would be… hmm, it’s a difficult one but [Nemanja] Matic from Chelsea. He’s a player who gives his team balance and for me he’s fundamental to their team right now. I like him a lot.
Who are the best defenders in the world? Who are the toughest you’ve played against?
There are quite a few good defenders these days who are tough to play against. An example was last season against David Luiz. [John] Terry, [Gary] Cahill, [Vincent] Kompany are very physical footballers, strong and quick. It’s always difficult playing against them.
People don’t often discuss goalkeepers when it comes to the best players in the world. Why is this, and do you think a keeper can be better than an outfield player? How do we decide?
To be honest it’s difficult. We tend to value keepers less in football generally, regardless of what they do, compared to strikers who score goals or other outfield players who set them up. So quite often we don’t talk about keepers, even though in actual fact they can often make a fundamental contribution to the match. If a player like [Radamel] Falcao or Aguero scores goals but a keeper makes a great save, people generally remember the goals. So it’s difficult to stand out as a keeper.
We tend to value keepers less in football generally, regardless of what they do"
Is it possible to rate someone as good as Manuel Neuer above someone like Ronaldo?
Yes, but not above Ronaldo, who’s an incredible player. But Neuer is among the best keepers in the world. His level at the World Cup was incredible and I think he deserves to be in the best 100 players in the world for sure. But it’s true, it’s difficult to take out an outfield player and replace him with a keeper in such a list.
Moving on, as a Spaniard in London have you visited many sites and tourist attractions? What would you recommend?
There are some very good ones! The truth is London is an incredible city. It has practically everything, there are loads of things to do for adults and kids. Museums, restaurants; the city has many luxuries even if it’s true that it can sometimes be difficult for us to go out due to our schedules and lack of time. But of course, when I have time I like to go out with my family and enjoy this great city.
Here in England they respect you a lot more. You can go to a restaurant with your family and eat in peace"
Is it difficult to go out and about in London as a famous footballer? Do people recognise you and stop you all the time?
No, no! The truth is it’s very different to Spain. In Spain, whatever attraction or event or restaurant you go to people… I wouldn’t say annoy you, but it’s true that you get asked for loads of photos, autographs etc. Here in England they respect you a lot more. You can go to a restaurant with your family and eat in peace.
Once you’ve finished your meal or your dinner, that’s when you have a bit more time, or when people approach. This is something I value highly because it’s good to be able to enjoy time with your family as well.
Imagine you had a friend coming to London on holiday. What would you recommend they do?
I think there are some obvious sites that anybody visiting London should check out: there’s Big Ben, Piccadilly, Oxford Street. Most people know the big attractions so it’s difficult to give advice because, ultimately, everybody knows London. But if you’re coming to London for a few days there’s loads to see and do, and you don’t have any time to waste. So I’d recommend to anyone coming to London that they don’t waste time!
What are your favourite restaurants in London?
There are several. If I’m with my team-mates we go to places like Novikov, Nozomi or Nobu. And when I’m with my family we go to more Spanish restaurants: Iberica, Hispania, Cambio de Tercio so luckily we have a lot of options. All three are spectacular and I recommend you check them out.
The Tube is super quick, nobody bothers you and you can go unrecognised"
Tasty. Have you ever travelled on the Tube in London?
I have travelled on the Tube but not often. For example, last season I went to the O2 Arena to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid play basketball in the Euroleague, and then again to see the tennis, when [Juan Martin] Del Potro played [Novak] Djokovic. It was the easiest option to avoid all the traffic. And furthermore it’s more comfortable. It’s super quick, nobody bothers you either, and you can go unrecognised. So it was fine.
Did you need a hat?!
No, no. I went totally normally and practically nobody recognised me, or if they recognised me they didn’t say anything. It was comfortable.
At Arsenal, who do you socialise with most? Who are your best friends at the club?
Well of course, as is normal, you spend a lot of time with those who speak the same language as you. Because when you’re new and you’ve just arrived at the club, you don’t understand the language very well and so you hang around with those who understand everything and can help you. So from that point of view I spend a lot of time with Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Alexis now he’s here, David Ospina and Joel Campbell. It’s normal really: the English speakers stick together, the French players are also together quite often. But generally speaking we all have a good relationship at the club.
Is the Chilean accent different or are any of the South American accents difficult to understand?
For us no, we understand the South American accents very well – whether Chilean, Colombian or Argentine. The accent changes but the words are the same, and so we understand each other perfectly, there are no problems.
Do you make jokes about each other’s accents from time to time?
Yes, of course sometimes there are jokes about the different accents and mannerisms! But that’s just winding people up for a bit of fun and with respect.
Slang with Santi
We’ve got a cockney rhyming slang test for you. Quick warm-up: have you ever tried steak and kidney pie?
(Looks confused) No. No! I’ll have to try it!
OK then… what’s the beans on toast?
Hmm, no. What is it?!
It’s cockney for the goalpost. Paul Merson would be furious.
Beans on toast – goalpost. It can be confusing, we know. Ok. Rosie Lee?
Er… no idea.
Rosie Lee, tea.
Ahh, tea! It’s difficult, no?
Apples and pears?
(Bursts out laughing) Ha ha, I don’t think I’m going to have a damn clue about any of these! (Bursts into more boisterous laughter.)
Apples and pears is stairs.
Lesson over. Sorry Santi…