FWA Q&A: KEVIN BAXTERKEVIN BAXTER of the Los Angeles Times on why Manchester is the culinary capital of the world...the wonderful Doghouse...and the importance of learning a second language
Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
As for covering the sport, I came very late to football – and even later to a deep appreciation of it. For more than 20 years I primarily covered baseball and only became involved in football because my newspaper needed a Spanish speaker to follow the Mexico team through its preparations for the 2010 World Cup. I followed the team through Europe then to South Africa. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
Most memorable match?
Still a relatively small sample size. But given the stakes, I would guess I’d have to narrow it down to three from the last World Cup. The U.S. victory over Algeria, which advanced the team out of group play, was memorbable mainly because of Landon Donovan’s goal in stoppage time. Then there was the final between Spain and the Netherlands that went to overtime. But if I had to pick just one – and this might be a game that many have already forgotten – the quarter-final in Johannesburg between Ghana and Uruguay. It was incredible. It the was game with the Luis Suarez handball when he saved a certain game-winning goal, was red carded and when Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty kick, the game went to overtime and ultimately a shootout, which Uruguay won. The result also prevented Ghana, in the first World Cup to be held in Africa, from becoming the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals. A memorable game for many reasons.
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
I could spend the better part of a week answering this question. And we could probably have a great debate on it. So many incredible performances by so many great players. And let’s not forget the women’s game. There are some memorable moments and some fantastic athletes there as well. So as not to be predictable and cliché, I will pick a moment I witnessed – and have not forgotten – yet one many world football fans are probably not aware of. I’ll go with Giovani Dos Santos’ physics-defying goal for Mexico against U.S. keeper Tim Howard in the 2011 Gold Cup final. It was the clinching goal in a 4-2 win and Dos Santos’ skills defy description. He left-footed the ball into a spot so small...do yourself a favor and Google it.
I’ll use the same excuse as before..limited sample size. But Old Trafford has to be on the list for the history. I liked Ethiad a lot (a picture I took there this winter is the screen saver on my cell phone). Some of the new stadiums in Mexico, such as Chivas’ in Guadalajara, are nice. So are the newer Major League Soccer stadiums which are soccer-specific, though they are much smaller than the big facilities in Europe. After seeing the men’s and women’s 2012 Olympic finals, which both drew more than 80,000 rabid fans, I’ll go with Wembley as the best stadium I’ve been to.
...and the worst?
I have to distinguish between big, historic stadiums and smaller, less well known ones. The stadium in Tijuana, Mexico, for example needs a lot of work. But among the large, world-class, World Cup-type facilities I would have to say the Azteca in Mexico City is the worst I’ve been to.
Not becoming passionate about the game earlier.
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Thankfully for the other person, no.
Most media friendly manager?
By and large, I believe American coaches are more media friendly — largely because they are still trying to grow the sport here. So I’ll pick two Americans - Bruce Arena of the L.A. Galaxy and late of U.S. national team and Dominic Kinnear of the Houston Dynamo – and a Swede, Pia Sundhage, former coach of the U.S. women’s team
Best ever player?
I know this will anger the oldtimers, but anyone who says Lionel Messi is NOT the best player ever isn’t paying attention. He is simply outstanding. He is putting up numbers that will never be approached again
Best ever teams (club and international)?
If you are talking about history and not a finite time frame, it would have to be the Brazil national team. As for club teams, my wife, a diehard Manchester United fan, will object but I’ll take Real Madrid and its nine European Cup/Champions League titles
Best pre-match grub?
Wembley. Before a friendly between England and Mexico, May 2010
Best meal had on your travels?
Akbar’s in Manchester. Nothing has come close.
...and the worst?
The media food at any of the Olympic venus at London 2012. Sorry, London. Had a great time. The volunteers were unbelievable. But the food? Not so much.
Best hotel stayed in?
Marriott on La Reforma in Mexico City
...and the worst?
I’ll keep the name to myself. But know who you are, you Durban South African hotel.
Favourite football writer?
I’ll stick with judging my comrades in the States and go with Steve Goff of the Washington Post.
Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Andres Canto (Spanish) of Telemundo, one of NBC Universal’s networks.
If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
More access to the players. That’s not really been a problem in the States and as a result we’ve been able to present a human side to our players that has helped draw fans to the game. Access to players is limited in Europe and largely non-existent in Latin America. As a result I think players come across as one-dimensional football robots. It is also a big reason there’s so much rumor-mongering and gossip. If you can’t ask the player a question and get a decent answer, some writers tend to make up the answers themselves
One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I have to say I’ve been fortunate to cover just about everything anyone could dream of. Two Olympics, Pan American Games, a World Cup. Is there anything else out there? [Cricket? – Ed].
Last book read?
This will make no sense to anyone outside the U.S. but it was Ozzie's School of Management: Lessons from the Dugout, the Clubhouse, and the Doghouse About U.S. baseball manager Ozzie Guillen.
Favourite current TV programme?
Your most prized football memorabilia?
A Manchester City jersey (my wife picks my Manchester United shirt).
Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Learn the game, of course but additionally learn a foreign language. This is a real problem for most U.S. writers who know only English. Unlike in Europe, few Americans speak multiple languages. And then you run into footballers like former Chelsea and Tottenham keeper Carlo Cudicini, who has learned four languages primarily because of football. Or Jürgen Klinsmann and Pia Sundhage who both speak several and you begin to realize language is the key to truly understanding the culture that produces the different styles of football in Latin America, Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK.
NEXT WEEK: The Q&A’s world tour continues and catches up with Tim Vickery in Brazil.