Breathe soccer. It gushes out. He talks like he played, with determination and conviction. At full speed, like when he pushed across the field in his good midfielder days. Luis Miguel Fernández Toledo (Tarifa, Cádiz, 62 years old) every time a Spain-France is disputed, or vice versa, his heart skips a beat. Feelings pile up. At the age of six his mother and five siblings left their Cadiz residence to settle in Venissieux, on the outskirts of Lyon. There he began to play football with a foreign record until he ended up playing, for a decade (1982-92), 60 games with the French team. Then he became a coach and now he would like to return to the bench.
Question. Another Spain-France and the memories spin again in his head.
Answer. It is natural. I was born in Tarifa, but France opened its arms to me and my family when I was not even six years old. I have made a career here, I live here, and every time I defended the shirt of this country I gave myself with honesty and professionalism as I was obliged to do. Nor do I forget the affection they give me every time I go to my country and I do not forget my stages as a coach at Athletic, Espanyol and Betis, even if it was shorter.
P. Did you like France on Thursday?
R. In the first half he was out of the game and in the second he had a good reaction, which was expected, because the first was not normal for a team like this. He came out with a better attitude, motivation, with good pressure, not to let the Belgians dominate the game as they had done until then and came back well.
P. The variant of the three centrals (Koundé-Varane-Lucas) has become fashionable again and Deschamps pulls it.
R. All coaches change systems, from animation. He had tried it before and it hadn’t worked well for him. He is trying again because he thinks that by playing this way he can lead to victory, which is what it is all about. It worked out well for him if we consider that the three center-backs have two very long wingers with them and the winning goal came in a play and center from right Pavard and a shot on the other side of the area from the left, Theo Hernández. With four defenders, the full-backs do not have the same route and with three, due to their characteristics, these full-backs contribute a lot in attack. Systems, when you win you are right and when you lose, you are not right.
P. As a coach, what do you think of Griezmann’s preponderant position behind Benzema and Mbappé and with the freedom to play all over the field?
R. It seems to me that it is your site. The place where he can be found again, to be the player he proved to be at Atlético in his first stage. He is doing well at 1-4-2-3-1, playing behind the forwards. He looks comfortable there. At Barça he played more for the bands and he was not so comfortable. He never lacked attitude, but he could not find the performance that he had had until then, scoring goals and passing goals with Atlético. Now he’s back and he’s happier. I think he is enjoying football again and also playing with Benzema and Mbappé gives him more confidence.
P. He seems to be the leader of the attack, everything goes through him …
R. No, the leader of the attack is Benzema. He is the one who has more experience, more influence. He has the experience of the player who has already succeeded and who continues to succeed. Karim is in command of these maneuvers. Make a difference with the ball at your feet and also without it. As he does now in Madrid. He plays and also places the companions. It is in its prime.
P. Benzema and Mbappé understand each other as if they have been playing together for years.
R. Sure, they are two players of a very high level. On Thursday we were all very aware of Mbappé after his statements and those of his mother about his future. We didn’t know how he was going to react on the pitch. We wanted to see his attitude and he was good, decisive, he made a difference and he was happy to play with Benzema and Griezmann.
P. As a midfielder, did you miss Kanté?
R. Sure. When it is not noticeable. With him, the team is better, more secure. His pressure, his recovery, his omnipresence throughout the midfield were missed. Hopefully he’ll come back quickly. Pogba needs someone to be by his side, to work, to bite, to recover. Rabiot is a good player, but I like Kanté better. France with Kanté is another.
P. I would also see Spain …
R. Yeah right. I loved it. He played great. A game of great intensity, of great quality. He played without complexes against an Italy that had 37 games without losing. I think that Spain was reunited with its old football and it had been a long time since it practiced. I really liked Gavi and always Busquets. I hadn’t seen him play at that level in a long time. He prevailed in the center of the field, took the ball well, reached the area. I’m happy for Luis Enrique, who is giving the team that mentality and attitude that he has always had as a coach.
P. Did you know Gavi?
R. No. I had seen him for a few minutes at Barcelona, but against Italy I saw him as a kid with character, with personality, with quality, with a good attitude, which I like. He was seen without complexes. He recovered, he pressed. With the ball he always tried to play. Playing with that tranquility and ease is not easy when you debut. He has won a lot of points in that game. He marked differences and may be the player who gives Barça a new attitude, more continuity with Busquets.
P. Another Spain-France final 27 years later.
R. I see it evenly matched. Because of his style, from what was seen from Spain, the normal thing is that he has possession and France if he plays like in the second half he can hurt Spain with his pressure and arrivals.
P. What do you remember about the Euro 84 final (France won 2-0)?
R. That I had a really bad time. I had players in front of me who were … how to say it? Itching, messing with me because I was Spanish and I was playing with France. They didn’t seem to understand that I had to give myself up and be honest with a country that had allowed me to be a footballer. They told me everything, but I don’t want to comment on it anymore. I have seen them later, we talked and everything is forgotten … I was not a
P. It would be Camacho, who was the veteran, to put pressure on him …
R. They all went, because everyone passed me by and said something to me: talking, biting. That day I was fine because I wanted to assert that France had not been wrong with me. Playing with Giresse, Tigana and Platini had its demands, I had to do my job and it didn’t bother me to run, fight, recover, give and arrive. He was happy with that position and proud to show the Spanish that he had the ability to play soccer. My mother, my brothers, the whole family, and that was my hobby, my stadium. I wanted to show more than ever that the French had not been wrong in giving me nationality.
P. The reality is that you never lost against Spain. He scored six goals with the national team and two were against La Roja.
R. I played five times, won four and drew one. And those two goals were in a friendly in Bordeaux (2-1) in 88 and another in the Betis field with Platini as coach in the Euro 92 classification. We won 1-2.
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