Thanks for speaking with us Fernando. So how have you found your first few months at Fulham and what have you made of the Barclays Premier League?
I’m really happy to be here at Fulham. From my first day I’ve felt at home – it’s a very welcoming place. When you join a new team, it’s important to feel that way – if you’re happy off the field, you’ll play better on it. Right now, for me, the Premier League is the best competition in the world. Wherever you go, people watch English football and want to talk about it. It’s very competitive; every week you’re in for a battle.
You’d previously spent your career in Spain playing in La Liga. How does it differ to the Premier League?
The tactics are a bit different and, of course, it’s a little bit more physical over here. Sometimes the football in Spain can be a little slower, so I’d say the tempo of matches was higher in the Premier League. Some of the world’s best players line up in both leagues, so you get to test yourself against some top individuals.
You’re really comfortable on the ball for a defender, why is that?
I’ve always liked to get on the ball, it’s a big part of my game. But my former coach at Athletic Bilbao, Marcelo Bielsa, is the biggest reason – he encouraged all of us to be good on the ball. He’s a very forward-thinking coach and one of the best in the world. His teams play in a certain way, very free-flowing and positive in possession. He doesn’t like it when his defenders kick the ball long, he likes all his players to think and to be in control – that’s what he taught me.
First and foremost, you’re in the team to keep the ball out, but because you’re so good at passing the ball and starting attacks from deep you must feel that you have something to offer both defensively and offensively?
I think I do - over the seasons I’ve got quite a few assists and like to help wherever I can, be that in defence or at the other end. But my main responsibility is to keep the opposing forwards at bay, so that’s what I do. Defending comes first, of course, but I’ll always try and set attacks up from deep. I like to think I can pass the ball well, over long and short distance, and hopefully I can show that with Fulham.
Brede Hangeland is a defender that is also comfortable on the ball. How have you found playing alongside our Captain?
I like Brede very much, he’s a very good defender. He offers a lot of safety at the back and is always very cool under pressure. He’s been at the Club for a long time now and, as Captain, he leads by example. I have a lot of respect for him and I’ve enjoyed playing alongside him when I’ve had the chance.
As a defender, you’ve come up against some of the world’s best forwards – but which ones have offered the biggest challenge?
Wow, that’s a tough question because I’ve gone up against so many – all of which have their individual skills and abilities. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are two fantastic players at Barcelona. They play in midfield but I had to be very wary when they broke. Players like David Villa, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa were always a handful, while I faced Sergio Aguero, Roberto Salgado and Mesut Ozil before they came to the Premier League. Obviously, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are difficult to play against – they’re two of the greatest.
Is Messi the best?
Yes, I think he is – he’s out of this world. Of all the players I’ve gone up against, he was the one who was most difficult to mark. Sometimes you just can’t do anything, you can’t get near him! To stop a player of that quality, it’s more of a team effort rather than one-on-one when for the majority of the time there’s nothing you can do to stop him!
And finally Fernando, what tips would you give to any aspirating young defenders reading this interview?
My biggest tip is… become a striker! Ha ha. No, they might score the goals, but us defenders are important too. The best advice I can give is to keep your concentration out on the pitch, it’s vital. Focus is everything, and if you lose it, more often than not it could cost your team a goal.