x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Michel Salgado is still making waves at 35

Blackburn's veteran Spanish right-back, loves surfing as well as a good tackle.

Blackburn's Michel Salgado goes in hard on Yury Zhirkov, Chelsea's Russian midfielder, during a game at Ewood Park in October.
Blackburn's Michel Salgado goes in hard on Yury Zhirkov, Chelsea's Russian midfielder, during a game at Ewood Park in October.

"Michel [Salgado] was probably the most aggressive player I played with in my career," Steve McManaman, his former Real Madrid teammate, said. "You would say hello to him and he'd tell you where to go, but he always said it with a smile on his face. He was constantly fighting, barging and moaning in training, which is unusual because our training was very laid-back. He really got into it because he wanted to succeed. A top lad."

The aggression of the flaxen-haired Galician from close to Spain's border with Portugal is well-suited to England's Premier League. Now 35, he joined Blackburn Rovers on a free transfer in 2009 after a trophy-laden decade with Real Madrid where he won four Primera Liga titles and two Champions Leagues.

Salgado was the attacking right-back and Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian great, was on the left flank. Together, they provided dual ammunition to one of Europe's most forward-minded teams. Salgado became a Madrid institution, married to the president's daughter, and an important dressing-room figure.

Real had bought him in 1999 for €11 million (Dh53.1m) from the Galician side Celta Vigo, where, after making his debut as a 19-year-old in 1995, he established himself as one of Spain's best young full-backs.

"We played together in a fantastic side with Alexander Mostovoi, Valery Karpin, Claude Makelele and Mazinho (the Brazilian who rocked the baby in the 1994 World Cup finals)," said former teammate Jordi Cruyff, son of the Dutch legend Johan.

"Michel was excellent. I was on loan from Manchester United and when I went back, Sir Alex Ferguson got me in one day to talk about Celta. He knew that Celta were a great team and said, 'If you could take two players from Celta, who would it be?' I told him that Makelele was the best, but also recommended Salgado and Mostovoi, explaining that he was a little older. I was pleased that Sir Alex respected my football opinion. United did nothing, but Makelele and Salgado moved to Real that summer."

By the time he arrived in the Spanish capital, Salgado had won the first of 53 Spanish caps - his first being a forgettable defeat to Cyprus in the qualifiers for Euro 2000. He played in the 2000 European Championships, but injury kept him out of the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. He inflicted injuries on others; Salgado's tackle meant the diminutive Brazilian Juninho missed out on his country's 1998 World Cup team.

Alongside Spanish international contemporaries such as Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, Salgado was to retire from international football in 2006 before Spain became European (2008) and World Champions (2010). Like Enrique, who was also born near Spain's Atlantic coast, Salgado loves to surf.

"I feel free as I wait in the middle of the sea," he said. "It seems the sea speaks to you in some way. While you wait for the best wave to arrive you enjoy yourself by relaxing as you lie on the board … Those of us who have been born close to the sea know this feeling."

Salgado's trophies would come in club football with Real.

"Michel, Makelele and [Ivan] Helguera were the unsung heroes in the team," said McManaman, who played alongside the other leading lights such as Luis Figo, Raul, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. "The big names got the headlines, but the likes of Michel were hard, important and very consistent."

Salgado played more than 250 times for Real, where he was praised for his accurate crossing, boundless energy and attacking instinct. He saw less of the pitch from 2006 onwards as Sergio Ramos emerged, though he filled in when players were injured.

By 2009, Salgado was out of contract and available on a free transfer. Just as he had a forgettable debut for Spain, he would like to forget his final Real game; he was sent off as Real slumped (and Barcelona triumphed) at the end of the 2008/09 season. He received a rapturous send-off months later.

A move to England was a natural fit, Salgado being an Anglophile and one of the few Spanish players to speak English before playing outside of Spain, thanks to a language course in Margate when he was a teenager. Far from being peripheral at Ewood Park, no Blackburn player has started more games than Salgado so far this season.

"He had a slow start here and we weren't convinced he was going to be a success in England," a Blackburn source said. "He was a bit off pace but soon settled. He's now the keenest trainer at the club and the most competitive in five-a-side."

He has been as solid as Blackburn's Premier League status. While the surprise sacking of Sam Allardyce may have agitated Blackburn fans and players alike, it would take much more to unsettle the tough Galician.

sports@thenational.ae