Scoring goals is the most difficult thing: Bixente Lizarazu
Former Bayern Munich and France left-back Bixente Lizarazu talks about the transfer market, training young players, and the use of the video assistant referee
Regardless of their defensive duties in football, left-backs have the knack of scoring some spectacular goals. Ask Roberto Carlos, who scored a curling free kick for Brazil against France in 1997. Or, Tottenham Hotspur left-back Danny Rose, who, on his Premier League debut against bitter rivals Arsenal in 2010, scored a goal that was described by The Times as “a volley so thunderous that you could hear the whack off his boot above the din of the raucous crowd".
Bixente Lizarazu did something similar in the 1999-2000 Bundesliga season. While playing for Bayern Munich against MSV Duisburg, Lizarazu connected with a free kick from the Bayern captain Stefan Effenberg with the outside of his left foot. The ball flew in the top corner as Lizarazu and his teammates wheeled away in celebration. It was, as Lizarazu says, a “perfect pass".
Lizarazu, who won the World Cup with France in 1998, was in New Delhi recently to attend the national finals of the FC Bayern Youth Cup 2017-18 and train with budding footballers from across India. In an interview, Lizarazu, 48, talks about the dynamics of today’s transfer market and why India needs to pay attention to the basics to help football grow. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about the FC Bayern Youth Cup and what it holds for youngsters.
The Youth Cup is a world competition for young players that Bayern is organizing, with India in the final in Munich in May. The players who are selected will have the big chance to train for five days in Säbener Strasse, FC Bayern München’s training camp, to see the players and play at Allianz Arena, which is unusual because the stadium is meant only for professionals. So they’ll be lucky to play the finals there. Maybe, if they are good, they can go to the Bayern academy and even sign on professionally with the club. You never know. It can be a dream for players to go to Europe and to be around one of the best football clubs in the world.
I think this is a great experience, and Bayern is giving this chance in India, China, Thailand, Poland and Nigeria, among other places.
Bayern have won seven of the last 10 Bundesliga seasons. Only Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg were able to break this monopoly...
It’s not always easy to stay at the top. Bayern built a good team and they have had success. But even if you have success, sometimes you can have less motivation. So you have to come back with renewed motivation, which is not easy. This is a very positive philosophy by Bayern that it’s never finished. You want more titles, more Bundesligas, more Champions League titles. This is the culture at all big clubs, be it Bayern, Real Madrid or Barcelona. They (Bayern) are doing a good job and that’s why they are the best team in the Bundesliga and one of the best in Europe.
The competition in Europe is more difficult because you have to compete against Barcelona, Madrid and (the) Manchester (clubs). You can’t win the Champions League every year, but in Bundesliga it is true that there is a big difference between Bayern and the others. But Dortmund were in the Champions League final (in 2013). It was quite good, what they have done.
Liverpool and Manchester City recently spent big on Virgil van Djik and Aymeric Laporte. Do you feel defenders are becoming more important in today’s game?
No, I think you will spend more money all the time on offensive and creative players. I’ll say the truth: Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do. But if you want a good team, you need very good defensive players. You have to find a good mix, but the offensive player will always be more expensive.
The (transfer) market has changed a lot. In my time, this kind of price was impossible. So, now you buy a defensive player for €60 million (around Rs477 crore), it’s amazing. €222 million for Neymar, €180 million for Mbappé or Coutinho for €160 million. You can’t compare the value of a player now. And if the player is being valued so highly, it also means that the clubs have money. There’s a big difference in the money clubs have now versus what they had 20 years ago.
You were a left-back. How has the art of defending evolved over the years? Do you think fullbacks are more attack-minded now?
For me, they are not attacking more. I was a very offensive left-back and so was Roberto Carlos. I feel the new generation of players is better offensively than they are defensively. They don’t have a good balance. So now you have left-backs who are offensive and have good technical abilities, but are a little weak in defence.
I don’t know how to explain that. The game is still the same, the position is still the same. You have to be a good defender and also put in good crosses. So there is no evolution in the positions except for maybe the defensive midfielder. Earlier, this position was all about running, but now it’s about the technical player who gives the first pass. In my time, it was more about tackles and running. Now, for instance, with players such as Pirlo, the first pass is very important. Also, central defensive players during my time were just defensive, but now they have to be good with their quality of passing too.
India hosted the Fifa Under-17 World Cup last year and its Indian Super League can be an attractive prospect. What else do you think needs to be done to promote football here?
Besides having a football club in every town, there’s something easy you can do. It’s very easy to organize football training sessions. You just need that. You can play football alone with one ball and a wall. You pass or shoot at the wall and then control the ball. You can play it with anyone, anywhere—on sand, on grass.
You started your career in France, then played in Spain and Germany too. What can we learn from the level of grass-roots football in these countries?
I would say the training techniques and basic exercise. It’s like a pianist. Every day, a pianist repeats the same movement to train his fingers. It’s the same for football players. You have to train every day till the time you don’t have to think about a movement and do it naturally. If you think too much about dribbling, moving the ball from left to right, by the time you think all this, the chance is gone.
There is something very important in football called the triangle, where, if one guy has the ball, he must have two possibilities of passing. It is difficult to defend against the triangle. Your teammates must move accordingly to give you these two possibilities. Physical condition and tactics are also very important, but ability with the ball is the most important thing, especially for young players.
The 2018 World Cup is just months away. Who do you think are the contenders for the trophy in Russia? Do France have a chance?
France have a chance to win the World Cup. Germany, Brazil and Spain are also favourites this time. I believe more in Germany, France and Brazil than Spain. Spain are very good, but they have won so much that maybe they don’t have the energy you need to reach something you haven’t reached in a long time. It’s been a long time since France and Brazil have had success. And Germany can win the second title with the same generation. For me, it will be between these four teams, but you can always have a surprise in the World Cup.
France have a good mix. The only weakness is lack of experience. But they have the best young players—Mbappé, Dembélé, Pogba, Martial and Coman. And one important striker, not so young, is Griezmann.
What do you think about the use of the video assistant referee?
I was one of the first to say “let’s see", because if it’s possible to have less mistakes in football, then that’s very important. But using video is so troublesome that at the moment I wouldn’t want it, because it’s causing more problems. Maybe we need to try it longer. But I am not happy with the way we are using it.
Wall of fame
6 Bundesliga titles (with Bayern Munich)
1 Champions League title (with Bayern Munich in 2001)
1 World Cup (with France in 1998)
1 European Championship title (with France in 2000)