Former Barcelona and Albacete winger, Emmanuel Amuneke, has predicted a tough LaLiga campaign for Real Madrid following the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo. In this exclusive interview by Completesportsnigeria.com’s JOHNNY EDWARD, the 1995 African Footballer of the Year also expresses his optimism that LaLiga will shape the talents of Nigeria internationals, Kenneth Omeruo and Moses Simon joined CD Leaned and Levante respectively.
The 2018/19 Spanish La Liga season kicks off on Friday August 17, how has the league evolved since you played in it?
No league compares to the Spanish La Liga. The league keeps improving and churning out talented stars. I feel we are in for another exciting season in Spain. No Cristiano Ronaldo, Matteo Kovacic, though he Kovacic) was more of a fringe player for Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid have also recruited well and they will be one of the top teams to battle for the title with Diego Costa back to his best and you won’t rule out the reigning champions Barcelona as well.
Your former team, Barcelona was crowned champions for the 25th time in their history last season, and their rival Real Madrid lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus ahead of the new season. How you think they will fare this season considering the fact that Real Madrid will miss Ronaldo’s influence?
Since I have known the club, Barcelona, we go into every season as a favorite for the title and a team with Lionel Messi will definitely have an advantage, even when Ronaldo was key to Real Madrid’s successes. Now that Real Madrid have lost their fear factor in Ronaldo, I hope that the other players at Real Madrid will see this as a motivation to prove that the Los Blancos are not just about the Portugues captain. It’s going to be tough. The transition won’t be easy, but I feel they will overcome it.
Many believe a replacement should be signed before the transfer deadline window shuts following Real Madrid’s 4-2 loss in UEFA Super Cup to Atletico Madrid. Who do you think Real Madrid should sign as Ronaldo’s replacement?
That depends on who the coach and the board feel fits into their plans. Understand that whoever is coming will struggle to adapt into the system, philosophy and tactics of the coach. So the players left have to build on the core of the team which is still intact.
Even if they sign Neymar, Eden Hazard or Mauro Icardi, will any of them match Ronaldo’s tally per season? Don’t forget Real are also trying to look inwards to promote the next big star like they did with Raul, Iker Casilas in the past. So going for a big star before the transfer window shuts will only hamper the progress of Asensio or Vasquez in the team.
What do you make of Julen Lopetegui as Real Madrid manager?
Well he is a good coach from his days at FC Porto and his record with Spain before he was relieved of his duties. He has a good record and I think he need a bit of time to show his managerial class.
He had the first feel of what he will face this season with the team’s talisman, but I believe it will be unfair to criticise him for that defeat to Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup. I agree that they made some mistakes in the extra time, but he has a team that can fight for the title this season. Nevertheless, it will be tough, I must add that. It is quite apparent that the likes of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia will not be pushovers.
There are other middle table teams that can shock the contenders for the title, so it’s going to be exciting to see how Real Madrid thrives for the first time without Ronaldo.
Two Nigerian players, Kenneth Omeruo and Moses simon will be playing in the Spanish La Liga. Omeruo joined Leganes while Simon teamed up with Levante. What do you make of these moves?
Last season we had six players (Isaac Success, Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye, Imoh Ezekiel, Oghenekaro Etebo, Kayode Olanrewaju), now Kenneth Omeruo and Moses simon will be starring in the league. For me, it is good, but they must play regularly for them to prove they can rank among the best. Omeruo has a good quality in his aeriel prowess, while Simon is very good in one vs one situations. I pray he blossomes in the league because it involves more technicalities than we see on TV.
The Contenders for the Spanish La Liga title?
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Rayo Vallecano, Real Valladolid and SD Huesca all just gained promotion, what are their chances?
Rayo Vallecano and Real Valladolid are not new to the division, so they know what to do to stay up. Get more wins at home and ensure you secure points away from home as well. For SD Huesca, they are recruiting well and I hope they emulate Girona who have remained in the LaLiga after gaining promotion.