Frederic Kanoute backs Sevilla to compete for title soon
Since the restart when Sevilla defeated Real Betis, they have won against Leganes, Eibar and Athletic Bilbao. The draws came against Levante, Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Valladolid.Updated: Jul 15, 2020, 20:34 IST
By his own admission, Frederic Kanoute is a “one club man in Spain.” That club, Sevilla FC, is back in the Champions League after 2018; the fourth place being confirmed following Villarreal’s 1-2 defeat to Real Sociedad in La Liga on Monday. Unbeaten in nine games since the 2019-20 season resumed, Sevilla beat Mallorca 2-0 on Sunday.
Since the restart when Sevilla defeated Real Betis, they have won against Leganes, Eibar and Athletic Bilbao. The draws came against Levante, Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Valladolid. They were third when the league stopped in March after 27 games and they could regain that spot should Atletico Madrid, with whom Sevilla are level on 66 points after 36 games, slip.
“I am really happy about the way they played, really happy with the quality and the depth in the squad. They don’t look up to any of the teams. Even when they play Barcelona or Real Madrid they look like they want to win. And they have been a tough team to beat. For the past 15 years, Sevilla has been competitive against the big two,” said Kanoute who won successive UEFA Cups with Sevilla in 2006 and 2007 and played seven seasons with the Andulasian club.
Sevilla lost 0-1 and 1-2 to Real Madrid this season, drew home and away against Atletico Madrid (1-1; 2-2) and held Barcelona goalless. It makes the 0-4 defeat in Camp Nou last October seem like an aberration.
“It is a team similar to Atletico Madrid, they are very competitive. They always want to be a contender to disturb the hegemony of Barcelona and Madrid but obviously it will take a little bit more to reach their level,” said Kanoute.
Sevilla finished sixth last season and Kanoute said former Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui has built a balanced team. Days after Lopetegui joined, Sevilla released 24 players. Fifteen footballers joined in July among them Lucas Ocampos (Olympique Marseille), Luuk de Jong (PSV) and Oliver Torres (Porto). In the January window, Sevilla off-loaded Javier Hernandez and got Youssef En-Nesyri who scored on Sunday.
“I like the work Lopetegui has done with this team. They have been very positive, want to have possession and control games. What they miss…. I would say upfront they could need someone who can score on a regular basis,” said Kanoute, a La Liga ambassador. Away to Barcelona, De Jong missed three chances which led to Lopetegui saying that the defeat was “undeserved.”
“But if Sevilla carry on like this, hopefully, in the coming years they can compete for the title,” said Kanoute. Only four times in this century has that not gone to either Real Madrid or Barcelona. That’s not going to change this season with Real Madrid winning 2-1 against Granada on Monday to be two points from wresting the title from Barcelona and winning their third La Liga in eight years.
“There have been games where Real have struggled but they have been still been able to force wins. That is important when you arrive at the end of a strange competition,” said Luis Garcia.
“(Federico) Valverde has been one of their best players so far. Rodrygo too has been impressive but the key players for Real this season have been Sergio Ramos and (Karim) Benzema. From the back scoring goals and being the leader of the team. Benzema’s has scored goals and (has been) the one going back to carry the ball forward,” said Garcia, also a league ambassador.
Born in Barcelona and having grown up supporting the club, Garcia was asked at Monday’s video conference whether Lionel Messi would end his career at Barcelona. Garcia smiled and raised his right hand wrapping his index finger on his middle digit. Messi, said Garcia, could play till 2025. “Every year he shows us something different but keeps up the same amount of goals, assists.”
‘Barca can manage transition’
The conversation moved to teams transitioning from one generation to the next. It took years for the Australia cricket team to cope with Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee retiring together; the West Indies have not won an away series against a team ranked higher since 1994-95; Chicago Bulls haven’t won the NBA since 1998 and Manchester United the Premiership since 2013. After winning their 10th league title in 15 seasons in 1990, it took Liverpool 30 years to win another one.
“Sometimes it takes one year, sometimes three to five,” said Garcia. “When I signed for Barcelona in 2003, it was a moment of transition. Soon after, they began to win everything. So, yes this could be a moment of transition,” said Garcia.
One of the reasons why Liverpool’s grip on English football waned in 1990-91 was that 10 of their regulars then were nearly 30. Eight players in the current Barcelona team are over 30. Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Arturo Vidal and Gerard Pique are 33; Ivan Rakitic is 32; Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are 31 and Neto will be on Sunday. It was one of the reasons why they struggled after the restart when games came thick and fast in a hot summer.
Barcelona are trying to fix that, said Garcia. “It looks like they are trying to move forward … Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, (Frenkie) de Jong. These players are adding to so much quality and will learn from the experience of the players they have around. They are bringing youth to the first team.”
But if they win Champions League this season, would you call it a season of transition, Garcia asked. “We can talk about transition the day they don’t win a trophy. It can happen especially after a team wins eight of the last 11 La Liga trophies but I don’t think the transition will take long given the kind of quality they have in the squad,” said Garcia.