Fernando Morientes is the epitome of a team player. The Spanish striker, who played for clubs from Real Madrid to Liverpool during his career, shared the bench with everyone from Luis Garcia, Steven Gerrard, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
They’re big names, and it’s a bigger challenge to match them. But, when we met up with Morientes just before his two former teams went head-to-head in the Champion’s League final last month, he explained that the key to building a successful team is making sure every single component, no matter how superficially insignificant, is of the highest calibre.
“You need everything,” says Morientes, one of Heineken’s Champions at the brand’s City of Champions event in Athens. “You need a very good manager, to instil a good mentality. It’s important that he has also played football, walked in your steps.
“After that, you need a key player — be that Cristiano Ronaldo or otherwise. And that’s the key to a very good group. The combination of talent and experience.”
Morientes, who moved from Spain to Monaco to Britain throughout his career, also highlights the importance of ingratiating yourself into a team. Be it in football, or in his later career as a coach, the Spaniard knows that everyone has a responsibility to play their part in a bigger group.
"That’s the key to a very good group. The combination of talent and experience..."
But, he adds, he doesn’t think this responsibility increases with age.
“Everybody has their own responsibility in each game or situation,” says the striker. “If you are young, you still have a responsibility, because all the supporters will be looking at you to prove yourself still.
“At the beginning, it’s always difficult to fit into a new team,” he continues. “The culture will be different, in the club socially or in the country with a new language. You need to get to know your new teammates. But then, if you have a good club, good teammates, it will be easy. You have your role, and you need to play that.”
Morientes is one of the UEFA Champions League legends in Athens to celebrate the final, 20 years on since he won his first. Heineken, who brought the striker in so fans could share the drama of this final with a footballing great, believe that every match delivers excitement, emotion and unpredictability. Morientes, Heineken in hand, emphatically agrees.
“When you play 90 minutes, anything can happen, so you just hope for the best team, to give you the best chance.
“You’ll always feel pressure,” he adds, “And teams can be difficult to fit into. But the easiest team to fit into is your national team. That’s the dream since you were young, and you all feel the same. Your dream is done.
“But, at the same time, it’s very difficult, because you have a lot of responsibility. But that responsibility is easy to handle with the right team. When you play, when you win, when you lose — if it’s with the right team, it’s an amazing sensation.”
Fernando Morientes is an ambassador for Heineken. For more interviews with leading sportsmen, buy the current issue of Gentleman’s Journal and learn How to Win…