Made in Liverpool but he shone in the Galactico era at Real Madrid, five years after Michael Owen’s retirement, he will attend the Champions League final as a spectator.
A final he would have dreamed of playing as a footballer.
From his position as a football commentator in England, he sees Madrid as favourite, but warns of the dangers of a Liverpool side that have surprised many this season.
Below are excerpts of his, (MO), interview with Marca (M).
M: Do you think this final can surprise you?
MO: There are two very different styles. Liverpool play very well against very good teams, like to win the ball quickly and head towards the goal.
They don’t really build a lot of play, and they don’t worry too much about keeping possession, but they do look to take the ball away from the opposing defence and make fast counterattacks.
I think it’s going to be a very good final, and I think with a lot of goals.
M: Tell me about each team’s strengths and weaknesses.
MO: Liverpool have achieved very important results against the great teams this season, and it is good for them to face clubs at the highest level.
Maybe they don’t play so well against teams that only want to defend and put players behind the ball.
With a natural game that’s so fast, they can beat anyone.
But Madrid is the favourite because when they need to win, they do.
I already said at the beginning of the season, on UK television, that Real Madrid would win the Champions League again this year.
Although now I see it more as a 50-50, because Liverpool are a very good team.
It’s the perfect ending for me, my two teams.
The strong point of Real Madrid is the experience they have in this type of match, and players as decisive as Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco.
M: The need for Liverpool to win a great European title again, can it be a factor to be taken into account during the match?
MO: Liverpool have been growing as a team little by little during the last few years and now they’re very strong.
For several years they had a good attack but were very bad in defence, and now they are improving in that facet.
Van Dijk is a player at a very high level, his arrival has helped a lot.
It seems to me that Liverpool will be among the best teams in Europe during these coming few years.
They won the Champions League in 2005, but didn’t have a particularly good team.
For me, this team is better than the one that won it, and I think it will return Liverpool to the top table of European football.
M: Do you see Bale as a starter in the final?
MO: We saw what he did at Tottenham, he was brilliant, and the style of play was perfect for his characteristics.
I can understand that he doesn’t start as many games as he would like, because Real Madrid have several incredible players, and it’s not just Gareth Bale who has to fight to be a starter.
I think Bale will be among the substitutes, and will leave the bench to try to change the game if Madrid needs it.
I don’t think that Zidane has him in his starting lineup, but I still think he is a great player and maybe he can have a great influence on this final.
M: Have we been able to see the best Bale in Spain?
MO: It’s hard to know the answer.
I think he started very well, he was successful and he scored important goals, like the one he got in the Copa del Rey final.
But I think it’s something that happens with all players: they can fit better in certain teams than in others, because their characteristics adapt better to one game system or another.
The top players will always be very good wherever they are, but it is possible to be a phenomenon on a team and a little less on another, due to the fact that you have to play within a system that suits you better or worse.
Bale has always been a very good athlete, very fast, he has always liked having plenty of space on the left wing, and he has been able to win games on his own.
He is undoubtedly a top player, but in recent months his performance may not have been at the level that neither he nor Real Madrid would have liked.
It will be interesting to see if he has something to say in the final, and it will also be interesting to see what happens next and see if he has a future at Real Madrid, because he is still a very valued player here in the United Kingdom, and many clubs would be interested in signing him if he is not a starter in Madrid.
M: To British footballers, do you find it hard to adapt to other leagues?
MO: Well, I don’t know if it’s true because for me it was a very good experience.
I loved my time in Madrid.
I felt that I had adapted well, I scored many goals, and I also think that David Beckham did very well in Madrid.
Of course, the Premier League is different from La Liga.
In La Liga, especially in Madrid, you have a lot of possession, so you have to be very good technically.
In England you have to be very good physically, and technically as well, but maybe it is not as necessary as in Spain.
In the English league we have been brought up in another way.
From a very young age you need to be very physical, while in Spain this isn’t the most important attribute.
M: Did you get to enjoy Real Madrid or was there pressure to always play like a Ballon d’Or winner?
MO: I loved playing at Real Madrid. I enjoyed it very much, the city is beautiful and the people are very friendly.
I was quite young at that time, I think I was 24 years old or so, it was very exciting to have that experience, I enjoyed it a lot.
The only problem for me was that I had great companions.
Then I didn’t know if I was going to play a lot during the following year, and since it was a World Cup year, I wanted to be a starter in the English team.
Real Madrid had signed me for eight million euros, and the president received an offer twice that amount and was satisfied.
So I think we were both happy.
Even now, after all this time, the club is still very good to me, they always tell me that I am a part of the family.
I go there very often, I went to present the Ballon d’Or to Cristiano and I still feel part of the club, that makes me very happy.
M: Did Real Madrid see the best of you?
MO: Yes, they gave me many opportunities, many games.
I think I started 20 games, and I was substitute for the same amount.
But it was almost impossible for anyone to play all the minutes of all the matches with Raul, Ronaldo, Morientes . . .
I think I scored in eight or nine consecutive games, also in El Clasico.
I had great moments and I have great memories of being a Madrid player.
For me it was a great honour to play in the club.
M: Would you be able to compete for the Ballon d’Or in the Messi-Cristiano era?
MO: “(Laughs). I believe that Ronaldo and Messi have changed football.
I could have been the Ballon d’Or maybe when Ronaldo was starting at Manchester United or Messi at Barcelona, but when they reached their highest level it would have been impossible.
Maybe now there are players who start to approach their level, because they are getting older, but during the last ten years they have been far above all others.
M: Who do you think will win the 2018 Ballon d’Or?
MO: I think a lot will depend on who wins the Champions League.
If Real Madrid wins, then Cristiano will be there once more.
If Liverpool does it, Salah would be favourite.
He has been absolutely brilliant this year, and has done very well in the Egypt team, taking them to the World Cup.
M: Should Madrid pay any price for Salah?
I think it’s normal that Real Madrid are interested in all the best players in the world, that’s exactly how it has to be and how the club should work, but I don’t think Salah is going to leave.
I think Salah is very happy at Liverpool, he has had a great season and will be a key part in the exciting times ahead. — Marca.