The latest episode of ‘LaLiga Inside’, a collaboration between LaLiga and Goal.com hosted by Carol Tshabalala, featured a big Bafana Bafana reunion.
Tshabalala spoke with former South Africa national team players Nasief Morris and Stanton Fredericks about LaLiga, the campaign just ended and their own playing careers.
Morris’ Spanish adventure
Having spent the 2008/09 season at Recreativo Huelva and the following campaign at Racing Santander, Morris has first-hand experience of playing in Spain and knows what it’s like to play at the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabéu.
Before his Spanish adventure, the centre-back had spent his entire career in his native South Africa, with Santos Cape Town, and in Greece, but his move to Spain showed him just how important a competition LaLiga is.
“I think it’s the most exciting league in the world,” Morris explained. “Fortunately, I had the opportunity to play there for a couple of years and it made me realise then, when I was there, that it’s actually one of the biggest leagues in the world.”
Even though it was a completely new experience for Morris, who was 27 when he arrived in Spain, he did his best to integrate quickly.
“I have that ability to be able to adapt in any situation,” he said. “There may be a different mentality and different scenarios, but I make sure as a professional that I try to settle in as quickly as possible so that I can do my job.”
Although Fredericks never played in LaLiga, instead spending most of his own career in South Africa – most notably with Kaiser Chiefs – and Greece, he would have loved the chance to represent a Spanish club.
“Who doesn’t want to play in the best league in the world?” he said. “I know that’s up for debate, but I think that technically some of the best players in the world grace the pitches in LaLiga. Unfortunately, Spain was never close to my options. I was closer to England. But, if I look at the way I play and my type of football, I’m sure Spanish football was more suited to my type of play.”
Real Madrid, this season’s champions
The retired Bafana Bafana duo also discussed the 2019/20 LaLiga Santander season and Real Madrid’s title win, the club’s 34th Spanish championship. In Fredericks’ view, Zinedine Zidane deserves a lot of the credit.
“Before Zinedine Zidane came in, it was a ship looking like it was about to sink,” he said. “There was a lot of inconsistency, which isn’t what a team with the stature of Real Madrid is known for. But I think Zidane has come in and saved the day.”
Morris tried to explain what went wrong at Barcelona, who topped the table during the coronavirus-enforced pause, but who ultimately finished five points behind their rivals.
He said: “It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. If you look at the players that they have, if we have to compare between Real Madrid and Barcelona, then there’s the age average. If you look at the Barça players then most are into their 30s. They have a couple of young players coming through, like Ansu Fati. But I think Real Madrid took the opportunity. They just took the upper hand and said ‘This year is our year’ and took it.”
Africans light up LaLiga: Thomas Partey’s excellent season
Many African players excelled in LaLiga this season despite the difficult circumstances, Thomas Partey of Atletico de Madrid among them.
Fredericks explained just how much he has enjoyed watching the Ghanaian midfielder this year: “An exciting thing about Atlético de Madrid is the African presence there, with Thomas Partey in the middle of the park. I think the team revolves around him. Yes, there is a solid defence there and they always know how to defend nicely, while going forward they can switch it up. They have numerous ways of approaching a game.”
Morris has also enjoyed witnessing the evolution at Atleti and would like to see Diego Simeone’s men challenge for the title next term. “I’d love Atlético de Madrid to win it,” Morris said. “You don’t just arrive one season and win it. It’s a plan. I think they’ve shown enough consistency and quality that they can challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for the title next season.”