I don’t have any Arabic roots, despite my name, Gabriel Omar. But people in this region are always very interested in that name, I get asked about it a lot.
The Italian league isn’t what it used to be. It will be very tough to get back to those days.
Players go where the money is, and there’s a lot of money in the English league. They want to win, so they go to the clubs with the money that help them win. From a club standpoint, English football has improved a lot in the last 50 years but I feel maybe there are too many foreigners in the league to help the national game progress.
Is it the best league in the world? Yes. It’s definitely the most competitive and the nicest to watch.
I got offers every year to play there but never really considered it. For a long time when I was playing, English clubs were not allowed in Europe*, also in those days Manchester United used to win by 20 points. It was no fun. If you were playing for Man U you knew you would win before the league even started. There was no fight like there was in Italy at the time, where every match was tough. Now of course, it is different.
*(Ed’s note – after rioting left 39 dead in the Heysyl Stadium disaster in Brussels, all English clubs were banned from European competition for five years)
The English club I came closest to joining was Tottenham. Because of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa I suppose, who were Argentinian legends with them.
The World Cup is a very difficult tournament. It’s just one month and you need to both play well and be lucky. For those 30 days, one mistake or one wrong decision can send you home. That’s football though…
Did we try and get David Beckham sent off in France 98? (laughs) No, no, no. Obviously you would rather play a team of 10, or 9 or so on, but you can’t go onto the pitch thinking about sending a player off. Beckham was a good player yes, but honestly, he wasn’t that important to us. I did tell the referee I thought he was right though…
I always know which way I’m going to shoot when taking a penalty. I’m confident but the responsibility is a big one. You think ‘whether I score, or miss the history of the game will change.’ You can send your team to the stars or to the hills.
I really enjoyed playing in the Middle East, and like being in the region very much. When I played for Al Arabia in Qatar, I met a lot of Arabs who were always friendly to me, here, there, Abu Dhabi and beyond.
I don’t like the way coaching is organised in Argentina. That’s why I’ve never gone down that path. I enjoy it, sure. But I don’t need it. If I find a good place where I can work for two or three years, then maybe.
I’m quite sure the Qatar World Cup will be moved to the winter. Hosting it there is something new and I think it could be great place to do a tournament. It’s a small country and easy to get around, so in the first stage of the competition where there are three matches a day, this can be the first time you can watch all in a day – you can just walk between the stadiums!
I asked doctors to amputate my legs when I retired. I was serious, it was that painful. I have no cartilage down there, it’s literally bone on bone all the time. Three years ago I couldn’t walk, not even 50m, but it’s a little bit better now – I can move it and have a screw. I can play golf.
Maradona was my favourite player of all time. And I played with him. Outside of that? Well, I played in Italy in the 90s which was the best league around so there was a lot of stars. But Ronaldo – the Brazilian Ronaldo – stood out though. He was very good.
I don’t have a favourite goal. I remember scoring one against Manchester United from 30 metres but we lost, so nobody talks about that. We lost so it was a different goal, a different memory. It is the victory that matters.
I hate losing. Whether a big game or a small game, I would always be at home complaining. If we lost and I scored two, I felt I should have scored three. I complained for 15 years!
But I could never enjoy my victories for long. For ten minutes perhaps, maybe a night – but then you’re thinking about the next match. To win once you want to win again, it’s always a race to improve. That mentality has two faces though, it’s a good and a bad thing.
That is why I like golf. There is always the chance to improve. For me, that’s what life is. Otherwise it has no sense.
Esquire chatted to Gabriel at the Westin, Dubai while he was playing in the Abu Dhabi invitational Pro-Am courtesy of Expat Sport.