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Talking Balls With Balague And Mendieta About Pochettino And Why We Were Right About RVP

Talking Balls With Balague And Mendieta About Pochettino And Why We Were Right About RVP
By Paul O'Hara Updated

Sky Sports La Liga pundits Guillem Balagué and Gaizka Mendieta were in Dublin over the weekend and sat down to chat with us about some of the main topics of the summer and how they think next season will pan out. Affable and opinionated as ever, the pair had plenty to say on the big pre-season issues and on the reasons for which they're best known in Ireland.

So what did they think of the World Cup as a spectacle? Was it the most exciting tournament we've ever seen? Perhaps not, but Mendieta was heartened by the positive approach of the underdogs. "In terms of football I think it was good to see small national teams playing to their strengths, " he said. "Perhaps their main players playing in Europe made them believe more in themselves, and to play to win."

Balagué covered the tournament from Brazil and was far less impressed with what he saw. He was also quick to defend Messi, as one might expect from the Argentine's biographer.

No, I disagree with you! That happened during the group stage, when they had to win - when it was a matter of life or death, really. We then saw a lot of conservative approaches, a lot of defending, for example the semi final between Argentina and Holland; those teams that had much more talent than that.

In fact, if you want to explain what happened to Messi, you have to understand that - when it was a matter of winning teams went deep and he had to attack from 50 metres away from goal and of course he's not made for that. I think it happened far too often.

It's fair to say that balls.ie received unmerciful abuse for our choice of goal of the tournament. It may have been the rogue decision of one man, but like an embattled government, we collectively stick by our decision to go against FIFA and claim that Robin van Persie's header was more worthy of the accolade than the wonder volleys of James and Cahill. Would the lads agree?


Mendieta went with James, but for a different goal altogether:

I think Cahill's was fantastic, and van Persie's was special as well. I liked James' volley too, but I liked the one he scored before where he made the run from near the halfway line and chipped it in, I think that was something different.

What? This one?



It's a fine goal right enough, even if it did come in the 4-1 rout of Japan. A fittingly hipster choice from a man who spends more time these days on the decks than on the deck.

Balagué appreciated our choice on the basis that sometimes it's how the world reacts to a goal that matters more than the finish itself. "Who's not to say that James' was not the best goal, but van Persie's!"


His eyes light up, awestruck, like your uncle describing how there was free drink all day on that cruise he went on.

It became viral, the Van Persie one, there were all sorts of imitations as it became universally enjoyed, so there's something to be said for both goals.

Vindication from the lads, kind of! Not only that, a suitably alternative move from Mendieta to single out a Rodríguez goal from before he became a global phenomenon. If the RVP response was anything to go by, we would have needed 24-hour Garda protection on Thomas Street had we picked that one.


The guys may have been here thanks to a preseason tournament taking place in the States, but it won't be too long before we get into the serious business of the season proper. This year's Premier League promises to be be one of the most open and unpredictable in years,  but for Balagué one manager in particular is about to show his true world class - Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino.

Manchester United look exciting. For me Manchester United and Spurs will be the two most exciting teams this coming season. I want to see Pochettino do well. I've heard him talk about his philosophy for years and I want to see him apply it here.

I put Pochettino at the level of Guardiola and Mourinho - I think he's that level. I think he's got it in his head in terms of his idea (of how football should be played) - he will kill for that idea, nobody will change his mind on how he thinks about football. A lot of it goes down to the fact that he's very good friends with those two guys, more so with Mourinho but he's learned from both. So I'm looking for that.

Jokingly, I suggest to Balagué that perhaps his Espanyol leanings are the real reason for this veneration of Pochettino. Mendieta laughs along but agrees that the new Tottenham boss will continue to make a positive impression in England.

"Yeah, it's going to be a challenge for Pochettino. The players are there but he needs to deliver now and show that he's prepared and ready for that challenge."


But will he be enough to make Spurs into realistic challengers? For the former Middlesbrough stalwart, things might turn out pretty much as they did last season.

It will be interesting again to see what Mourinho is capable of doing with the guys he's got at Chelsea. Let's see how Costa copes with the Premier League. Cesc should fit into the system, he already knows the league very well.

I think (Manchester) City will still take some beating but they need to improve their defence and midfield but they're still the team to beat.

I'm looking forward to seeing Alexis Sánchez in this Arsenal side alongside Ozil. I think Arsenal could have package required to challenge for the title if everything fits together.

Right, so player and manager movement should make the Premier League as exciting as it will be difficult to call. What about the guys' more familiar beat - La Liga? Surely the faintly ridiculous sums of money spent by the big two will make it a two-horse race again, even if it is a mouth-watering one?

Balagué has none of my choice of adjective. He's right, but does he not know I work for an irreverent sports website? I can't go 45 minutes without dropping the R-word.

"Say you earn £10,000 a year and you spend £5,000, would you that be a ridiculous amount of money to spend on things that will improve you and make you look good?" He asks me, vastly overestimating my annual income.

Uh ... guess not.

They get a budget of over €600 million and spend €80 million. By the way, they are about to sell Di Maria for €65 million which means that James Rodríguez will be effectively €15 million.

Sometimes we don't think enough about the figures - if we thought more about the figures we'd realise that James cost €15 million.

With that in mind, there's a second issue here. Of course it's more exciting because Barcelona and Real Madrid have got the bigger names, but do you know how many teams have won the Premier League since 2004?

Shit, that wasn't rhetorical, he wants me to answer. In an instant I do a mental scan, know the answer, and say it, but I'm fully convinced I'll be wrong, found out, and laughed out of the room.

"Three." I say, just about strangling an audible question mark.

"That's right, three."

Phew. Mendieta giggles at the fact that I haven't been caught out. I like Gaizka. I forgive Gaizka for 2002, and how he barely bothered his hole celebrating at having knocked us out.

"And do you know how many teams have won La Liga since 2004?" Guillem continues his point.

"Three". No worries there.

"Three. So if you're talking about being competitive, if you're talking about teams being superior to others statistically then both leagues are pretty much the same."

Will these transfer window spending sprees prove successful, or can Atlético continue to break the mould even after losing the likes of Costa, Courtois and Luís? The lads don't see a problem.

"Why not?" ventures Balague. "They created a way of playing and a competitive team They've replaced Costa with Mandzukic, they've replaced Filipe Luís with Siqueira, they've got a new goalkeeper, they're probably going to get Griezmann or at least they're trying to get Griezmann.

Mendieta is even more keen on Simeone's men.

Atlético are at an advantage, if anything. They've got the passion and the path has already been built. Whereas Barça, maybe a little less than Real Madrid, have to adapt and readjust which what they've just acquired.

In Mourinho's first year at Real Madrid, as with Ancelotti, he struggled to get a system to suit the players, and that's an advantage that Atlético Madrid might take over Real and Barça.

The next time you're having a conversation with a fan of a major Premieer League team, throw in Balagué's name  - there's a good chance that they'll accuse the Catalan of having linked a player to their team, probably via Twitter, only for the whole thing to fall apart or be denied outright.  How does he deal with the immediate and direct criticism that comes with being a prominent figure on the social network? Pretty well, as you'd expect.

I find Twitter a fantastic medium with many more pros than cons, there's no doubt about it.

It tends to be the case that if you publish something that people don't like, for instance Fernando Torres to Chelsea or whatever, they will just kill you. But if you say Cesc Fàbregas is going to Chelsea they will just love you and they take that truth. It's not truth they want, they want their truth.

Now, when you say that there are negotiations taking place with a certain player and the transfer doesn't come off, they throw it back at you saying "you didn't tell us the truth!" What truth are we talking about here? You know, there's such a fascinating situation where truth doesn't count now, people just want to listen to their truth.

But after all it's show business. It's just football, it shouldn't be taken too seriously.

So was this Messi to Arsenal nonsense the worst rumour of recent times? Balagué still seems exasperated by the fact that became a story.

Do you know what it was? Number one, there's a fake account that has come out with that and everybody repeated it. Please, I mean what kind of journalism is that creating?

Secondly, somebody has published an interview with Xavi Hernandez where he said "Of course we want to go to Arsenal, and of course Messi wants to go to Arsenal, and of course we all dream of going to Arsenal." Who's made that up? He didn't give any interview, that should be enough. Do you think a Barcelona player would talk like that?

Messi was approached by Arsenal at a point when Arsenal had taken Piqué to London to see the training ground when he was 16 and they signed Cesc. The three of them were approached. That's where it comes from, so it's just rubbish.

Mention Mendieta in Ireland and the one's thoughts will immediately return to June 16, 2002, when this happened.


Was bobbling the ball over Shay Given's shin part of his plan, or was it a case of stroll up and hope for the best? A regular penalty taker at the time, Mendieta was dismissive of the idea that spot kicks aren't worth practising or analysing.

No, people always say that penalties are just luck - it's not luck. It takes a lot of preparation. Goalkeepers analyse videos the main penalty takers and where they put the ball. To say it's just luck is unfair.

Like in a one-on-one I waited for the keeper to move first. You don't have to look at the ball because it doesn't move.

I missed two out of 35 or 36. But I scored the important ones.

We know, Gaizka, we know.

The pair were in Dublin thanks to the Guinness Plus app and the Guinness International Champions Cup.

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