REAL MADRID

"I played for Madrid and won the league with Atleti"

Javi Hernández was a youth team player at Real Madrid, he’s also Guti’s cousin and recently won the Indian SuperLeague with Atlético de Kolkata.

"I played for Madrid and won the league with Atleti"

Javi Hernández is one of those players who has no problems settling into different cultures, different leagues. He came through the youth system at Real Madrid and starred for Castilla; he’s the cousin of one of the club’s most respected figures José María Gutiérrez (formerly known as Guti), he’s just won his first league title – the Indian Super League, scoring twice in the final for ATK – the team that was previously called Atlético de Kolkata, the club which Atlético Madrid operated in India. He told AS all about his adventure in India, a country which has also been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Congratulations for winning the Indian Super League… even if the final was played behind closed doors.

Yes, it was very strange. There were just 50 people in the whole stadium. Funnily enough, only the final was affected for some reason. There are 10 teams in the league here, so we all play 18 games and the four top teams play each other in the semi-finals over two legs then the winners play the final. The semis were open to the public. There are fewer cases of coronavirus in India compared to Europe and they chose to play the final without public the day before.

You scored twice but didn’t pick up the MVP award...

Er, no! Normally, they give our four awards in every game and this time, no, I didn’t win … (laughs). The important thing though is that we were crowned champions.

Since your days at Real Madrid Castilla you’ve travelled the world - Sweden, Romania, Azerbaijan, Poland and now India…

You get used to it. I left Spain five years ago and I don’t regret it. Everywhere you go it’s a different experience and every country is a world in itself.

Spanish football is popular in India. In every game you meet someone from back home…

Yes it’s a bit like that. Half of the coaches in the Super League are Spanish and 90 per cent of the teams have at least one Spanish player. That makes things a bit easier – it’s almost like playing in Spain.

Your team, ATK, used to be Atlético de Kolkata, a club related to Atlético Madrid… and now have a core of ex-madridistas…

Javi Hernández, con el resto de integrantes españoles del ATK indio.

Yes, there are three of us. Agus and me arrived at the start of the season and Mandi joined in January. We played together 12 years ago in the youth teams at Real Madrid and now we’re back together, playing for a team who wears the Atleti kit… (laughs). Who would have imagined that back then?

What’s India like?

You’ve got to know what you are letting yourself in for and how things are here. It’s a country with a lot of contrast. We live in a hotel but there is a great deal of poverty nearby. On a football level you can’t compare it with Spain. Clubs can have a maximum of seven foreign players but only five can be on the pitch. Years ago, the league lasted three months so the players signed up on the premise it would be just short term and left afterwards. Now it lasts longer and so we tend to stay longer; for example I’m under contract for another season although the pre-season doesn’t get underway until July… The season has never finished as earlier as this.

How popular is football in India?

The sport’s been growing since the Indian Super League was formed but here, what you normally see is cricket; I’ve been here seven months and I still don’t understand the rules! (laughs).

How do you keep up with Real Madrid?

I can get to watch the games through Facebook with English commentary. It’s been a strange season but I hope they win it. They put themselves in control winning the Clásico but it all changed after that; there’s still a long way to go. I’ve got a lot of friends there and so of course I want Madrid to win it.

Are you also looking out for Almería, and your cousin José María Gutiérrez…

"Estoy convencido de que mi primo va a poner al Almería en Primera"

Javi Hernández

Sure, of course. Let’s see if we see them in LaLiga.

He no longer wants to be called Guti…

At home we always called him José, so it’s not so strange for me (laughs). I’ve never called him Guti. He’s not a player anymore and now he prefers to be called by his first name.

With the league won, you’ll be coming back to Spain for a visit. Will it be nice to come back – in spite of the coronavirus scare?

Yes, my wife lives in Madrid and I have been chatting to her and my family in Salamanca on skype this week. Maybe I won’t get to see them there this time, but at least talking to them makes me feel closer to home…