Interview: Adlene Guedioura
Talking just after the 2014 World Cup, the Crystal Palace midfielder discusses his legendary father, and future hopes with Algeria.
Adlene, thanks for sitting down. Let’s start by talking about your father, Nacer Guedioura, who was a former Algerian international and one of USM Alger’s best ever players. Growing up, could you tell that your father was famous?
Of course, especially when I go to Algeria. There people tell me, ‘I know your father’ before they recognize me…
Yeah, until now (laughs). I think I spent half of my life relaying messages of ‘Salam’ to my father. But it was a good experience as well. I remember when my father used to participate in gala matches and used to play against African greats like George Weah. It was a good experience growing up. Platini as well…
You met all of these people as a kid?
Yeah. Le Club Variete is an association of retired famous footballers. My Dad played some charity tournaments with them. It was beneficial being amongst them.
Nacer Guedioura played for Algeria four times. Was he disappointed to not have won more caps?
Probably. You know, during his time, it was difficult to go to Europe. You couldn’t leave the Algerian league until you were 28 years old. I think if he went to Europe before he could have had a better career. He still had a good career with USMA…
He’s a legend!
Yeah. But if he went to Europe earlier he could have had a chance to maybe be like Madjer and others.
He had an infamously good relationship with Djamel Zidane. Did you see Zidane often growing up?
He came to France when he had a major surgery. My father was there to assist him during that time. Even last year, when I went to Algeria, I visited him and he had some funny stories about my father.
Djamel Zidane opened an academy in 2006, do you know if it is still operational?
No, I don’t know.
Speaking of Djamel Zidane and Nacer Guedioura, two USM Alger greats: USMA have been making great progress these last couple of years, with heavy investment from the Haddad family. Do you think it’s healthy for the Algerian league?
Algerian domestic league needs to be professional. I think the President Raouraoua (President of the Algerian Football Federation) tried to make that happen. You know, we have to reach the professional level. When you see all the leagues improving and trying to be better. That is the aim of our federation. We have to find good players in Algeria, because I think there are a lot of them. Most can go play in Europe now, and improve the national team.”
In Europe, there are three main revenue streams for football clubs. Gate receipts, TV rights, and private/commercial investment. In Algeria ticket prices are cheap, the only state television broadcasts matches. Do you think private investment should be relied on to stimulate the other revenue streams?
To be honest, I can’t answer that because I’m not on the ground and I don’t know the entire situation.
Going back to the familial aspect of your career. After being cut by Sedan at the age of 21, can we say it was Nasser Sandjak – former coach of the Algerian national team, who knew your father – that revived your career at Noisy Le Sec?
Yeah, exactly. Nasser Sandjak helped me a lot. Like you said, he revived my career, because I was ready to stop football and go to university. Actually, I was at university, but he instilled belief in me and that definitely revived my career.
I once heard Yacine Brahimi say that his time in CFA was extremely complicated and he even said that Ligue 1 was easier for him. Did you also find the lower leagues in France to be extremely difficult?
The lower leagues in France are not like other leagues in Europe. For example, in England, the reserve team plays against other reserve teams, they don’t play in the professional league. As a reserve player in France, you’re playing against first teams. Reserve players tend to be young and developing. You’re playing against stronger, mature, adult players. So that’s why on the pitch it’s tight and so combative. They want to stay up, or win the league to try and advance their club.
Before we talk about England. Can you quickly touch on the Belgian league? What were your impressions?
The Belgian league is one of the best in Europe…
You find it’s underrated?
Definitely. After the top five European leagues, Portugal and Belgium are the best. There are plenty of interesting players like Lukaku, Fellaini. In fact, the entire Belgium team comes from the Belgian league. Many players go to for the exposure, it’s a good springboard to progress.”
Let’s talk about England and your first start for Wolverhampton Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur. Do you remember that game against Tottenham?
“I will never forget that game against Tottenham. Like you said I did really well. We won 1-0. I didn’t score, but I was man of the match. I was on loan at the time and straight after the final whistle, Mick McCarthy, the manager, called me into his office and told me they were going to exercise the option to buy me. He told me, ‘Don’t worry about that, just keep playing the way you have.’ That assurance was good for my confidence.” Tottenham was special because it’s Gareth Bale… Defoe… to be honest, at the time, I did not know who Gareth Bale was (laughs)!
I wanted to ask you about two players, actually. The first is Nenad Milijas. In an interview he was asked about what he disliked most in the world. His first answer was ‘war’; the second was ‘milk’. How intriguing is he?
Oh (laughs), did you meet him?
I really like him. He’s a really good player to be honest. It’s a shame he didn’t have a better time in England. He has a great left foot.
In Serbia, he was highly esteemed….
Yeah, he was the captain! I really rate him and he’s obviously a funny guy as well (laughs).
The second person is Steve Sidwell. He broke your leg in a tackle at Aston Villa. The next time you played against him was at Fulham. I remember he went in on you again, and you had some words for him. Do you remember what you said? Can you repeat it in this interview?
No, because I never forget the time I spent in rehab and come back. So I start against Fulham, I think he was transferred during the window from Aston Villa. He tried to pull me, or tackle me, or something. I was mad because I saw the same thing happening again. So I told him, ‘This time, if you do it again, I will smash you.’ I was angry, but these things happen in football. You never know, it’s not an exact science.
During that time at Wolves, you moved around a lot. McCarthy used you on the right, and in central midfield. For your debut with the Algerian national team, Rabah Saadane, played you at fullback. Today against Columbus Crew, you were playing on the left flank. It’s good to be versatile, but do you think that sometimes it can be a bit of a disadvantage? You don’t get enough time to perfect a position.
No, I think it’s not good to be versatile.
It’s not good?
It’s good to have one or two options. Like central midfield and then right or left midfield. But it’s never good to be right-back, left-back, right midfield, central midfield, striker. It’s good to master one position and show that you are the best there.
So what is your best position?
But there are lots of different roles in central midfield. Against Guinea in the second half, you anchored a midfield diamond. You often play in a double-pivot, or ahead of single pivot in a 4-3-3… What do you prefer?
Central midfield. If I am in central midfield, in a defensive position it doesn’t matter. We can play two or three, or at the base of a midfield, it doesn’t matter.
Crystal Palace play a 4-4-1-1, so what about behind the striker? That’s an option, right?
Yeah, after all I asked for number 10 (Guedioura was wearing #10 for the first time against Columbus Crew)…
Oh yeah, is that permanent?
Because I saw Joe Ledley wear #9 in the second half…
No for him it’s not permanent (laughs). But yeah, I played number 10 for them (Palace) and I did okay against Arsenal and against West Bromwich before my injury. But I feel better in defensive midfield.
Jumping over to the international arena. Were your souvenirs of the 2010 World Cup positive, negative, or mixed?
Mixed. It was my first experience with the national team, but I was disappointed because we could do better. If you ask all of the players, they would say the same. At the same time, I will never forget it. Since I was young I wanted to play in the World Cup for Algeria, and I did it. I made it, so it was something huge for me.
It’s almost a silly question, but if you had to compare the 2010 generation to the 2014 generation, do you think Algeria has improved?
I think so. You know it’s different because you can’t compare generations, but it is apparent because we qualified to the second round. At the same time, we improved in more ways than one. The President (Raouraoua) made things more professional around the team. We also have Sidi Moussa. That is an advantage we didn’t have before.
Can you briefly describe the technical centre at Sidi Moussa?
Sidi Moussa is like a little Clairefontaine. You have two nice pitches. Like, really nice. They are some of the best in Africa. You have a physio room, a treatment room, a recovery room. A pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, and an amphitheatre for the media. So it’s quite nice and we didn’t have this in 2010, and that makes a huge difference.
Before, the national team used to stay in the Cercle Militaire Hotel in Beni Messous?
Yeah, exactly. It was not the best thing for the national team. I heard from other players that fans were coming to knock on rooms at midnight and in the early morning to ask for signatures. Now we avoid these distractions.
You took part in the 2010 and 2014 World Cup preparations. Did you, then, feel a palpable difference in the build-up to the tournaments?
When you compare the two, I think the major difference is experience. In 2010, it was the first time we qualified in 24 years. So I think the President and the Federation learned and didn’t repeat the same preparation. Maybe that’s why we fared better. I think it’s fair to say we were more organized in 2014.
I wanted to ask you about your yellow card in Ouagadougou, during the World Cup Qualification play-offs. It suspended you for the crunch match in the return leg in Blida…
The thing is that I don’t think it was a true yellow…
It was your first foul of the game…
Yeah, it was my first foul, but I should not have been in that position. I tried to cover the mistake of one of my teammates, so that’s why I was near the touchline making the tackle. When I made the foul, I was gutted, but I ended up being injured for the return leg anyways with a collapsed lung.
What about about the three-man free-kicks. You usually line up beside Madjid Bougherra. As he taps it, you swing around and shoot, taking the goalkeeper by surprise. Did you think of it?
No, the idea came from Madjid. He came to me and said, ‘Look I saw this free-kick the other day. It worked well, I think we should try it.’ We tried it in training and we used it during the matches and it worked well. We used it in matches three times to great effect. Against Burkina Faso, the goalie saved it, but Slimani scored the rebound. Against Rwanda the goalkeeper pushed it out for a corner kick. The third time was against Guinea and I scored. It’s not bad, but I think we should keep it secret for the next match (laughs).
Do you see similarities between Tony Pulis and Coach Vahid in terms of mental fortitude?
It’s a little different. Pulis has an English coaching style. But there are similarities in physical preparations and placing emphasis on the ‘spine’ of the team. Both base their preparations on the physical conditioning, and that’s good, because when you are fit, you don’t lose your concentration during the game.
What about the fans? Palace have impressive support. They were at the forefront of calling for safe standing and are really loud. Can we maybe draw a parallel with Algeria?
I think they were the best fans in the league last season. It’s really nice to play there. I love to play in England, I love England, because of this… They respect you and everything. But… Algeria are the best fans. It’s good to have the best fans in England and the best fans in the world. When you play and you have fan support, you can only enjoy football.