Alvaro Negredo interview: Al Nasr striker on his first Ramadan in the UAE and why David Silva is Manchester City's best ever player

The Spaniard was made captain soon after joining in September. But while he has prospered in front of goal - 19 goals in 25 games - the Dubai club has struggled for results

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 15 MAY 2019. Alvaro Negredo, former Manchester City player and Spain international, now playing and living in the UAE for Al Nasr. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John McAuley. Section: Sport.
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Experiencing his first Ramadan as a professional, Alvaro Negredo has had to make the necessary adjustments.

“My days are so long,” the Al Nasr captain says, smiling broadly. “I get up at 7am to leave my kids to school, and then train at 10pm. I don’t get home until around 12.30am or 1am and am completely awake. Sometimes I have to sleep three times during the day.”

Not that he is complaining - far from it. Negredo has embraced the change to his schedule these past few weeks, all part of the fresh experience this season as a footballer in the Arabian Gulf League.

“For local players, maybe it’s more difficult this month, but it’s their religion and I respect that,” he says. “I respect all players, all religions, all customs. At the moment, there’s no problem in the dressing room with the players regarding when to train, when to play. Maybe me, in this situation my character has changed totally. This is hard. But, like I said, I respect it.”

It is one of the many differences he lives now in Dubai. It is not Madrid, Seville, Manchester, Valencia or Istanbul – postings during a professional career that has yielded a Premier League title and a European Championship crown. But it feels like home.

Not only to Negredo, who decided in September to swap a manic existence in Turkey with Besiktas for a two-year stint at Nasr, but to his young family too. Shaded from the sun as he sits in the home dugout at Al Maktoum Stadium, the striker seems perfectly at ease. It reflects his life away from the pitch.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 14 FEBRUARY 2019.  Al Nasr Football FC striker Alvaro Negredo. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John McAuley. Section: Sport.
Alvaro Negredo was made captain soon after joining Al Nasr and has hit 19 goals in 25 matches ahead of the final game of the season. Antonie Robertson / The National

“I’m very happy here; my wife is very happy here,” Negredo says. “It’s a good experience for the kids, for the new culture, for the language. It’s a big change in country, school … but there haven’t been any problems. The kids adapt to all situations and understand the moment in my career. And in the future we will be happier for this experience.”

Patently, the family’s well-being matters most. Negredo has the paintwork to prove it. There are the visible tattoos: his arms bear the birthdates of his children, in roman numerals, and their names: Maria (nine), Aitana (eight), and Alvaro Jr (two). Wife Amparo is represented as well. His father and brother also.

Beside Negredo, embroidered on his new silver Adidas Predator boots – the former Spanish international is a brand ambassador – are the initials “AAMAA”, referencing him, Amparo and the kids. Family.

At top of Negredo’s right arm sits a lion, portraying his star sign, Leo. On his left, the European Championship trophy, a permanent reminder of his role in helping that celebrated Spain side triumph at Euro 2012.

There are more tattoos, on his fingers and feet, although Negredo protests that, for the moment, he is finished. Unless, perhaps, if he lifted more silverware, at Nasr.

“It’s possible,” he laughs. “Win the league? Surely.”

Such success hasn’t been possible this season. With the campaign closing on Sunday, Nasr are eighth in the table – a disappointing return on an investment last year that included Negredo and Yohan Cabaye, a fellow former Premier League player. Cabaye left the club in January.

There have been accompanying departures at managerial level, with Ivan Jovanovic replaced in December by Benat San Jose, and Benat then succeeded last month by Brazilian Caio Zanardi. Despite the upheaval, Negredo has struck 19 goals in 25 matches.

“This season there has been a lot of change in the team,” he says. “Three coaches, which hasn’t happened before in my career. But this is football. They can be training one day, and are up, the next they are down. But the experience helps the team, the club, to not let their heads drop. They continue right until the final moment; how they’ve finished the season is a good reaction from the team.

“This is important. It’s possible to maybe change the luck, stay to play one final, or to finish highest in the table. But in football this experience builds your character, your personality. And I believe next year will be better for this club, personally and for the collective.”

As captain, clearly Negredo wants to be there for it.

“This is one reason I want to stay here,” he says. “After six or seven games the board members spoke with me and said ‘I want you as captain’. And it made me very happy. I know the responsibility is very big.

“But the players are an easy group to lead, day to day. All the time it’s possible for them to look at me as an example, to my character, my personality, and to follow me. This is important for me and for the club, and I respect them more for that.

“From the moment I arrived the players have been lovely to me and, for this, I’m really grateful. They respect my career, respect me as a person and me the same, all players. I love them very much. This club is a big club; from all the staff, all the board members, it’s very special. It’s a good opportunity for me, a good experience, and in this moment I’m very happy to stay.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 15 MAY 2019. Alvaro Negredo, former Manchester City player and Spain international, now playing and living in the UAE for Al Nasr. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John McAuley. Section: Sport.
Alvaro Negredo says he is “very happy" at Al Nasr and that his family "in the future we will be happier for this experience.” Antonie Robertson / The National

Negredo has had opportunity and experience at some of Europe’s lead clubs. He began his career in 2005 at Rayo Vallecano, before moving briefly to Real Madrid and then to Almeria. It was with the newly promoted Primera Liga club that he rose to prominence, scoring 19 goals in his first season.

He thrived under Unai Emery, who gave Negredo his debut in Spain's top flight and who later managed him at Sevilla. Negredo has paid particular attention to Emery's recent career – first, Paris Saint-Germain and now Arsenal – and caught up with his old manager in March when Arsenal played Nasr to mark the official opening of the refurbished Al Maktoum Stadium.

“I’m happy for this career he’s had: three [Europa League] titles with Sevilla, more trophies with Paris,” Negredo says. “And now the competition is very difficult. Maybe it’s possible to win one title. I’d be very happy for everything for him. He’s my father in football.

“From the first moment at Almeria, he showed confidence in me: ‘you are the striker, you play even though you’re 19- or 20-years old at this time.’ And after at Sevilla, it was the same. For me, for preparing games, he’s the best. In my career, he’s the best for analysing the game: the videos of the opposition, the videos of us. Normally before a game you’ll have a meeting with the coach, but they were never one the same.”

Much like Emery, Negredo rates Pep Guardiola incredibly highly. He played against the Spaniard’s all-conquering Barcelona side, impressed and exhausted in equal measure, tired of chasing shadows at Camp Nou, or the Juegos Mediterraneos, or the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

He knows well Guardiola’s current home, having represented Manchester City for two years from 2013. In the 2013/14 campaign, the season City won the Premier League, Negredo scored 23 goals in 48 matches across all competitions.

“Guardiola is maybe in the three best coaches in the world,” he says. “For the plan on the pitch, the work during the week to prepare for the game, in my opinion he is the best.

“I speak to the people at Manchester City, and they say he’s the best coach. The football of Guardiola is totally different: always wanting the ball, never losing the ball.

“They have 65 or 70 per cent possession, and when you recover the ball there is no energy for the counter-attack. When you suddenly get the ball it’s so difficult. It was the same in Barcelona when I played them: it was impossible for a striker to run to close every position and then take the ball. For what? It was so hard.”

Alvaro Negredo says helping Manchester City win the 2013/14 Premier League title was his greatest achievement in club football. Reuters
Alvaro Negredo says helping Manchester City win the 2013/14 Premier League title was his greatest achievement in club football. Reuters

Negredo has found it anything but taxing watching City's success this season. He sent Fernandinho and David Silva congratulatory texts last week, after the club became the first in a decade to secure back-to-back Premier League titles. He remembers fondly his time in England, and is especially pleased for former teammates, including Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero. Negredo played with Nicolas Otamendi at Valencia.

“They’re good people and I’m happy for all Manchester, but especially for the players who played with me,” he says. “This year, the title was more difficult because Liverpool stayed with them all the way, to the last match. But 98 and 97 points is crazy. It’s an amazing season.

“From when I played in Manchester City, I say it’s the best league in the world. Winning the Premier League is the best moment in my football career. After the Euros with the national team, but in club football, it’s the title win.

“But this season is not the same. To win consecutive titles is incredible. Still, I’m happy for when I did it with them.”

Personal highlights include the volleyed finish in the League Cup against West Ham United, or the sublime touch and finish in the 6-0 league victory against Tottenham Hotspur.

Now 33, Negredo counts himself lucky to have shared the City dressing room with truly elite-level players. One, though, stands out above all else.

Alvaro Negredo, right, believes David Silva, far left, is Manchester City's greatest ever player. The National
Alvaro Negredo, right, believes David Silva, far left, is Manchester City's greatest ever player. The National

“I like so much Aguero, but my preference is David Silva,” he says. “People look at the goals; the striker normally draws more passion from the supporters. Aguero scores so many goals. But when you play on the pitch, the striker is important but he doesn’t play alone.

“For me, David is the best [in City’s history]. When you take one No 10 with this quality, this vision, for a striker it’s easier. When David takes the ball, you always think ‘his pass will come, it will come to me’. Maybe the striker is more egotistical and it’s always ‘goal, goal, goal’, but David is the player to opens the space when the opponent is closed, always the one with the better solution. When I stayed in Manchester, David was the best. And now he continues to be.”