FWA Q&A: Guillem Balague

Guillem BalagueSky Sports’ Spanish football expert and Espanyol fan Guillem Balague on drinking 120-year-old brandy, a frozen Scottish breakfast and an on-air attempted mugging.

Your first ever newspaper?
It was Diari de Barcelona, a Catalan newspaper. I think it’s the oldest newspaper in Spain.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
I used to deliver bread at 4am. I also worked as a barman in a pub in Liverpool.

What was your finest achievement playing football?
I was chosen as the second best goalkeeper in the league I played in as a kid. I was 12 at the time. Perhaps the achievement was slightly tainted as the best goalkeeper was also from our team. Sadly he wasn’t Iker Casillas!

Most memorable match covered?
It has to be the Champions League final in Istanbul when Liverpool beat AC Milan. I wrote a book about it. It was an incredible game to cover as a journalist. For me it was also emotional as I had a lot of friends involved… Rafa Benitez, Luis Garcia, Xabi Alonso and Josemi.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
When Iker Casillas lifted the World Cup in 2010. I never thought it would happen after so many years of promising so much but underachieving. I spoke to Peter Shilton recently and he said that in his day Spain were a mentally weak team. Now we are talking about a side on a different level to the rest.

Best stadium?
For noise and atmosphere when I’ve been there, Anfield. The new stadium of Espanyol, my Spanish club – Estadi Cornellà-Prat – is lovely.

…and the worst?
Real Mallorca’s Iberostar has hardly any atmosphere, neither does Real Sociedad’s Anoeta. Both have athletic tracks which kills the atmosphere. No matter how many people are there the noise disappears.

Your best ever scoop?
I broke the story of Cristiano Ronaldo going to Real Madrid. Not sure if this is a scoop but I am proud that Sir Alex Ferguson has agreed to write a foreword for the book on Pep Guardiola I am writing.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
This is loosely connected to new technology… I was in a Soho street doing a live interview for Spanish radio, a show called El Larguero which has 1.3 million listeners. I was chatting to the presenter and the chairman of Real Madrid. I was on the phone referring to notes that were in my computer when two guys tried to snatch my laptop. I ran away from them and was almost out of breath still on air. I didn’t want to explain what was going on.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Gabriele Marcotti. He’s been confused many times with me. It’s being foreigners I guess.

Most media friendly manager?
Many… Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Rafa Benitez – people don’t know what he is really like – Jose Mourinho… quite a few.

Best ever player?
It has to be Iván de la Peña who played for Espanyol from 2002 to 2011. He was also with Barcelona but played with much more heart for Espanyol.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
At international level what Spain are doing is unbelievable. I’ve seen performances from them which are out of this world. At club level this Barcelona team is different class as much for how they do it as what they are doing… they will be talked about for many years to come.

Best pre-match grub?
Has to be Arsenal, for sure.

Best meal had on your travels?
After Barcelona’s 6-2 victory in El Clásico at the Santiago Bernabeu in May 2009 I went to Asavores in Madrid with an agent friend of mine. We were treated to fantastic meats and fish, ending up with a 120-year-old brandy.

…and the worst?
A frozen breakfast in Glasgow. Yes, frozen. And no, it wasn’t defrosted. It was, I think, a fish with breadcrumbs and it was rock hard. I wondered if it was some kind of Scottish speciality but no, it was frozen.

Favourite football writer?
Gabriele Marcotti, no doubt.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Because I work with them most days on Sky Sports’ Spanish football coverage I know how good Rob Palmer, Gerry Armstrong, Kevin Keating and Terry Gibson are. They are so committed and love the job they do. I would also mention Adrian Durham who presents talkSPORT’s Drivetime show. He is very intelligent and I like what he’s doing.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Open training sessions once a week with a mixed zone for the media. The more friendly you become with players the more difficult it can be to criticise them. It would help the press to get to know and understand players more. I did a Soccerex panel with Gary Neville last month and he was speaking along those lines.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
The NBA finals.

Last book read?
I read the Spanish version. I think the English title is What The Internet Does To Our Minds by Nicholas Carr. It outlines how the internet is making us more superficial as a race.

Favourite current TV programme?
I am revisiting the Wire closely followed by the Walking Dead.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I have a seat from the old Wembley which is on a wall in my home. Also a thermos flask which Espanyol gave me.

Twitter username: @guillembalague

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