World Soccer: What do Argentina need to do to improve ahead of the World Cup?
Sergio Aquero: I think the main problem is that we’ve had very few days training together. Normally we’d get together on a Tuesday and play on the Saturday, which doesn’t give us time to do very much. Now, ahead of the World Cup, we will have plenty of time and we can work on various aspects, like combinations and how we use the ball. If we can make the most of that, with the players we have, we should do well. But I think the most important thing is that we need time.
One of the criticisms of the Argentina team is the height of the players. Some say that when you, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi play, the team is unable to impose itself in attack when a more physical game is needed. Is that so?
Not really. There are coaches who like a centre-forward; others prefer to play with two attackers out wide and someone in the hole. Each coach decides how he wants to do things. We know that in Argentina today, apart from Martin Palermo, who is a target man, the rest of us are of “normal” height [smiles] but Diego [Maradona] wants us to play the ball on the floor, to play with more mobility. Now we’re also going to see Gonzalo Higuain and myself playing further up front. I think we have players to score lots of goals.
How do you handle your relationship with Diego Maradona, given that he’s not just your national team coach but also your father-in-law?
Our relationship is really good. I know when I’m with the national team he is not my father-in-law but the coach. I think he knows that I respect him as a coach. Outside football he’s my father-in-law and we act more like family. In the national team, though, I have to work in the same way I did with the previous coaches. Also, I don’t want the other players to think I’m getting preferential treatment. Obviously we also talk about football in private, but about general things, not so much the national team.
Does that mean that when you and Maradona are together within the family you never speak about the Argentina national team?
Was that a rule that you agreed on from the start?
We never needed to agree a rule. Anything that he has to say about the national team, he says to the group. I don’t talk to him about it in private.
So you never know in advance if you are going to be included in the squad for the next game?
No, not really. In any case, I live in Madrid, and he is in Buenos Aires, so we don’t have much of a regular dialogue.
Moving on to Atletico Madrid, why do you think that, despite spending so much on new players in recent seasons, the club has not enjoyed any notable success and always seems to be in crisis?
That’s nothing new. Things have always been like that at the club. In recent years, Atletico Madrid have been a team that is capable of winning five games on the trot and then losing the next four. It was the same before my arrival; the only difference is that now people say we have a world-class squad and we should win every game. But I do not think this is so. The Spanish league is very difficult and it also depends on the morale and confidence of the players. I think we’re going through a bad patch, but if we can win three games on the bounce we will come out of it and move forward.
What do you feel are your own strengths and weaknesses? In which areas do you think you still have to improve?
You learn things every day. I have learned a lot but I still have a long way to go. For example, in my first year here I knew nothing about the Spanish league and [the then coach Javier] Aguirre took things slowly with me. If he had just thrown me in it wouldn’t have worked very well because I didn’t know that much. That really helped. I trained hard and he was able to teach me a lot. It’s the same now with Quique [Sanchez Flores]; I’m learning a lot. As for individual things, they just come naturally and you know what you have to do – if you’re under par or you’re moving well; if you’re shooting’s off or you’re not as quick you need to be.
You came to Atletico Madrid when you were very young, just 17. Was it very difficult making the transition from Argentinian to European football?
Yes, it’s all very different. Regarding the standard of football, generally all the teams in La Liga have players who represent their country and that makes for high standards. There are very good players and teams are all difficult opponents. In Argentina it is different as the style of play is very open. Also, if it rains the pitch is wet, but if it doesn’t rain it is dry. In Spain the pitch is always wet, come rain or shine. Teams are more organised here than in Argentina and things can get tricky if you’re not playing well. In Argentina you play with a little more freedom, everything is less organised.
Do you still miss Argentinian football?
In the early days, when I first arrived, I did. But when you’re playing in Europe at a big club and when you have the opportunity to play regularly against big teams, tough teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Villarreal and Valencia, at a very high level, then you know it’s worth it.
After so many years in Spain, what do you miss most about Argentina?
I am still very Argentinian, but since I’ve been in Madrid I have developed a taste for some Spanish food, such as paella, which I love. I’m always on the lookout for Argentinian meat though, because we have different cuts to the Spanish. That’s something I do miss, though there are some Argentinian butcher shops and restaurants that bring over good meat from home.
Do you think your son Benjamin, Maradona’s grandson, will end up as a footballer?
I think he’s going to be a boxer [laughs]. Only joking. I hope he is what he wants to be. Obviously as a father and as a footballer, and even though I’m going to be retiring when I’m older, I’d like him to play football. But I’m going to be his agent, though – not IMG, not Valdano, not anyone [laughs].
You’re saying that because Jorge Valdano, the director of football at Real Madrid, said, as soon as he heard that your wife was pregnant, that there would be no better business than representing Benjamin because of his footballing genes…
Yes [laughs]. But no, I’m going to be representing him because there’s a few mice sniffing around already [laughs], because World Soccer will come along and want to do an article. No, no, it’s better that I look after him [laughs].
What do you think of Messi’s recent World Player award?
It’s well deserved. He’s won the treble, something that every player wants to win, and he’s got so much class too. There are plenty of quality players out there like Xavi, [Andreas] Iniesta, and Cristiano Ronaldo, but Lionel has proved that he is the best.
Do you think Messi can reach the same level as Pele or Maradona? Is that possible nowadays? Or is it too early to say?
It’s different now because there are many players who are very good: Cristiano, Messi, Kaka, Xavi, Iniesta, that’s half a dozen for you already, and there are many more. Before, Diego was on his own, or there were maybe two or three players who really stood out; now there are many. But like I keep saying, today, Messi is the best.
Do you agree with the view that Messi is not 100 per cent happy, because things aren’t working out that well with Argentina and that it shows?
I don’t know, but it’s not his fault anyway, as we’re 11 players, and it’s a different thing playing for Argentina than playing for your club. With your team you train every day, you know how each player moves, you know where the ball is going to be played. With Argentina I do not always know exactly how Tevez is going to move, for example, and we have so far failed to become a team in which we all know each other well. But in the build-up to the World Cup we will have 40 days, which will give Maradona time to assemble a team that will do well.
Do not you think that the Argentina team is missing a creative linchpin, someone with the qualities of Juan Roman Riquelme?
Yes, but Messi can play that role, by dropping further back, and Pablo Aimar is also able to do it too. It all depends on how the coach wants the team to play. Each team has its characteristics, which is what we said before about the strikers – some teams play with a tall guy up front, others with two short ones.
Cesar Luis Menotti likened you to the former Brazil star Romario. Is that a fair comparison? Like him, you started as a playmaker…
I started on the right side of midfield. The thing is I’m not an out-and-out no9. I’m not a penalty-box player and I wasn’t around when Romario was, but from what I saw on TV, in terms of how he made his runs, there might be a resemblance. He scored over 1,000 goals, though, and I’ve still got a way to go before I catch him (laughs).