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Roque Santa Cruz: “My best football is yet to come”

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By David Redshaw

Saturday 17 September 2011

Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz has been with Real Betis less than a month since joining on loan from Manchester City, and he maintains in an interview with AS that his best football is yet to come.

- You have been here three weeks. How are they treating you in the Betis dressing room?
It’s easy to adapt to this group. The players are good, friendly and they have given me confidence very quickly.

- You come from a dressing room full of stars at City. Have you needed to change?
I haven’t needed to change because with Betis I am more interested in the fans and the clubs’ philosophy, and this team plays good football, keeps the ball and creates opportunities. I made the right decision and I hope to be here a long time.

- Will you start in Bilbao?
I hope so but I don’t know if I’m ready for 90 minutes yet, not without problems...I think next week I’ll be 100%.

- There have been doubts about your fitness. Do you still have some good football left in you?
Over there [in England] they spoke about my injuries but I always knew I’d recover and get back to full fitness; it has made me stronger and I intend to improve my weaker points. Now, being at maximum fitness, I hope to avoid any new injuries. I’ve got stability and a young family, with three sons, and live a healthy life...Roque Santa Cruz will be here for a while. I’m only 30 and I think my best football is still to come.

- It’s a far cry from Bayern Munich, where you arrived at just 17-years-of-age. There, for example, you won the Champions League against Valencia in Milan.
I didn’t play in the final because I never came off the bench. The stadium just exploded; the match presentation is a wonderful memory in itself. But there were times with Bayern that surpass even that match, because although we won on penalties we were clear favourites. I played in five finals and won two Bundesliga titles while I was there.

- You were with Bayern eight years.
Yes. It’s difficult not to be happy at Bayern. They look after the players, it’s how the club is. They are like a family and if you wanted to finish your career there then they’d keep you. But when things were going badly due to injuries I said to Uli Hoeness, then director of football and now President, that I needed a change of scenery. They asked an affordable price for me but at the time it was too high for Betis and Blackburn Rovers bought me.

- Is it true you were negotiating with Betis’ President Lopera?
Yes, four years ago. I even met him. Lopera seemed amiable and spoke about the players. I liked him.

- Did any of your colleagues stand out during those years?
I loved playing with Toro Acuña, who you will know well from his time in Spain with Real Zaragoza, Deportivo la Coruña and Elche. ‘El Toro’ is still playing (aged 39) in Paraguay. He is a phenomenon with a great personality and apart from that was also a brilliant passer of the ball. I really enjoyed playing for Paraguay alongside him.

- Do you have a favourite goal?
All goals are good, but I’ll never forget one when we beat Argentina for the first time in an official match. We have great rivalry with them and it meant a lot to the people of Paraguay.

- You are very involved with your national team and have played in three World Cups.
Paraguayans live for football and I’m delighted to have played in them for my country. It was important to me to play three consecutive World Cups. Also to reach the quarter-finals and do well against Spain in the last one and to play in the final of the Copa America. The people back home are fanatical about the national team.

- There isn’t much gossip about you in the Press.
I always protect my family and I won’t live with or have a relationship with the Press. I’ve never taken notice of criticism or praise. That’s for the supporters. I think the player is the one who knows if he is doing well. When I’m bad I’m the first to know.

- Pepe Mel doesn’t think you are bad, he’s only paid you compliments. Does the fact he was a forward himself help you perform better ?
I don’t know. It’s true he might criticise me more by his own standards. But basically Mel gave me the confidence to play here, and that was important in my decision to come to Betis.

- You will be the third Paraguayan to play for Betis after Virgilio Ferreira and Carlos Diarte.
Ferreira’s signing caused a great stir because at that time he was very big in Paraguay at Cerro Porteño. And Diarte was very popular. In my country Betis has always been seen as a traditional Spanish club.

- What are you expecting from La Liga? More of Madrid and Barca, Messi and Ronaldo?
Messi is an idol and I’ve played against Cristiano, who is also a genius, but I’m looking forward to getting to know the Spanish football culture.

The original Spanish version of this interview conducted by J.A. Espina and J. Jiménez and published on as.com can be found here.

To make sure you don't miss any of A Different League's Spanish coverage this season, follow the La Liga dedicated Twitter feed: @differentliga

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