It's a good time for Mexican football: Giovani dos Santos
It's a good time for Mexican football: Giovani dos Santos
He's only 25 but already has 81 Mexico appearances to his name. A childhood star, Villarreal's Mexican attacking midfielder Giovani dos Santos started his club career at Barcelona, where he made his debut at 18 and was a mainstay during Frank Rijkaard's final, troubled season in 2007-08.
With Barça changing managers, dos Santos accepted an offer to join Tottenham in England after being convinced by their Spanish manager, Juande Ramos, that he'd be a regular in their side. Ramos was dismissed months later and dos Santos struggled for minutes. He was sent on loan to Ipswich, Galatasaray and Racing Santander before joining Mallorca on a permanent transfer in 2012.
He excelled in a struggling team and moved back to the Spanish mainland in 2013, signing with newly promoted Villarreal, where he was joined a year later by brother Jonathan. The pair are expected to feature in El Tri's forthcoming friendlies on Wednesday in Amsterdam against the Netherlands -- a rematch of the dramatic quarterfinal game in the World Cup -- and on Tuesday in Belarus.
We met at Villarreal's training ground.
How does it feel to play for El Tri with your brother?
Jonathan has been called into the squad for the two friendlies and we're both delighted with that. We live together and play together at Villarreal. Now we could play together for Mexico. He's played before, but hopefully this will be the start of him playing regularly for our country like I've been fortunate to do. Things have been going well for Mexico and we're unbeaten since that game against Holland in Brazil.
What's does national coach Miguel Herrera have that his predecessors do not?
He's a real motivator, you see how much winning means to him. He's also very close to the players. He has the trust of the fans. He's a passionate man and fans like him for that. He wasn't named permanent boss last year, but led us to the World Cup and now he's permanent. We're happy with that.
Do you think it is more important to win the Gold Cup against the United States and CONCACAF, or compete at the highest level against Argentina, Colombia and Brazil in the Copa America?
They're both important. The level is higher in the Copa America, the players of a higher standard. It's harder to win the Copa America and maybe the stronger team will play there, but the Gold Cup is also important to Mexico. We're unique in that we can compete in both the competitions.
Did you ever expect Carlos Vela to play again for Mexico?
Yes. He's agreed to it and that's good for him and for Mexico because he's not played for three years. We need our best players and he's one of them. I'm sure he'll be committed.
Is El Tri's latest roster of strikers the best ever assembled?
There are some really good Mexican strikers at the moment: Vela, Chicharito [Hernandez], Raul Jimenez, who all play in Spain. Oribe Peralta and Pulido, who play in Mexico. I can play, too! It's a good time for Mexican football and that has been reflected in our results in the last year.
Is Chicharito better off playing as a sub at Real Madrid or a starter at a lesser club? Does that affect national team performance?
When you play for the biggest teams there will always be issues with minutes because they have so many great players. He's new to the club and waiting his time. He'll get a chance and I think he's good enough to take it and to both play and score regularly. The coach will decide when, but he's a player with a lot of quality, one of the best goalscorers around.
Will Raul Jimenez have the opportunity to shine with Atletico Madrid? When?
He has to be patient, same as Chicharito. It's not easy when you change countries and clubs. The style of football takes time to adjust to. Plus he's joined a club who are the champions of Spain, with a squad full of great players. But they bought him and spent a lot of money on him because they wanted him to play, not watch and he's featured already. Physically, he's very strong with an excellent touch and that's an asset for any team. I'm sure he'll feature more, he just needs to work hard and be patient, which he'll know.
Do you look forward to defending Mexico's Olympic gold in Brazil?
Of course, though I'm not sure I'll be there because of my age, but it's a great opportunity for the many talented young Mexican players. We won in Wembley Stadium, a historic stadium, against Brazil. Now Mexico has a chance to win in the Maracana, another of the most famous stadiums in the world. And maybe against Brazil again! I'm fortunate, not many footballers have an Olympic gold medal.
Looking back at your time in Premier League with Spurs, how do you compare your time playing in the EPL vs. La Liga?
I enjoyed England and Tottenham is a great club, but it was frustrating not to play more. The manager changed after I'd been there a few months and I didn't get the minutes I wanted. Every footballer wants to play and I do that now in Spain with Villarreal, just as I did with Mallorca. That's important, I'm playing every week. I liked living in London -- though I didn't live in the centre -- and I liked the Tottenham fans, if not the weather! I'm happy now, especially as I'm here with my brother. As for the difference in the style, it's more physical in England; the style tends to be more direct. Spanish football is more technical, with more passes and the ball on the ground.
Do you think naturalized players benefit El Tri or take away opportunity from Mexican players?
If you have a Mexican passport then you should be welcome to play for Mexico, to do your best for the country. You should be welcomed. Competition is also good.