Exclusive Interview: Ramon Vega

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ‘'Hi Ramon, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF this afternoon.  At the beginning of your career you had a season with Cagliari Calcio at a time when Serie A was in its fullest pomp!

RV  ''Yes, and I have plenty of highlights from my time in Serie A at Cagliari Calcio.  First of all Cagliari Calcio in the nineties was a big team and Serie A was one of the biggest leagues in the world.  I come from Switzerland and at the time Swiss football was just coming up, we were qualifying for big tournaments such as Euro 96 - that was a huge success for Switzerland.  I was asked to play in Serie A especially for Cagliari Calcio.  As a centre half to be requested to play in Serie A is a huge compliment because some of the best centre halves in the world were playing there at the time such as Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi and so on.  My highlights were playing every weekend as a centre half against the best strikers in the world.  There was Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta, Beppe Signori, Roberto Baggio, Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savićević, in fact, if you name it as a list it just goes on and on.  Pretty much every weekend as a defender you really were competing against the best strikers in the world.’'

JR  ‘’It doesn’t get any bigger than those names.  Serie A really was quite incredible back then.  But then you took on a new challenge with Tottenham Hotspur, in fact you enjoyed success at a club that hasn’t won what it should have won over the years.

RV  ''Tottenham Hotspur was for me without a doubt a fantastic time.  There were highlights such as winning the 1999 League Cup Final against Leicester City.  As you say, I look back now and realize that it is something of a rarity to have that medal because Spurs didn't really achieve too much since then.  Within the last 25 years I am still one of the players who won something for Spurs and it is remarkable to be honest for such a big club, but at the same time my time at Tottenham Hotspur was a new chapter in coming to England and learning a new culture having come from Italy where the culture was completely different.  

I think English football at that time was not as professional as it is today with the knowledge, know-how and the confidence that it has today.  At the time the English players and teams did not have the same professionalism so it was very strange to start with in terms of training, preparation and diet.  It was like they were 10 to 15 years behind in that respect.’'

JR  ‘'You were capped many times by Switzerland at a time when the Swiss national team were really on the up.  What was it like to represent your country at that time?

RV  ''First of all as an international player it is always an honour to play for Switzerland, it always gives me great pride.  At that time in the nineties our Switzerland team was the first for nearly 30 years to qualify for a major tournament.  We achieved that when we qualified for the 1994 World Cup in the United States under Roy Hodgson and also Euro 1996 in England.  So we were the first generation that helped the team get to where we are today and what you see at Euro 2020.  we launched it and put Switzerland on the map as a football country, because before that there was no football culture at all and you go to the watches, banking and chocolates, it was as simple as that.  So now Switzerland is more revered as a football nation, we had players which brought the country to an international level, so from that point of view I am very proud that I was part of that history‘'

JR  ‘’Coming from a country that perhaps didn't have the cache of other footballing nations, it must have been a real eye-opener to see the top talent in the worlds top leagues.''

RV  ''I was lucky to play with some very quality players during my career.  In Switzerland, Italy and England.  In Switzerland I played with Giovane Élber, the Brazilian striker who played for FC Bayern Munich and VfB Stuttgart, we played together at Grasshopper Club Zürich and at Tottenham Hotspur with Jürgen Klinsmann, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola.  I was honoured to play with such good players in those days because they were players at the top of their game.’’

JR ‘'I guess that goes the other way too as a centre half playing against the worlds top talent in the worlds best leagues?’'

RV  ‘'Yes of course, at the time in Italy there was so much talent.  I still believe today even when you look at the Premier League which they say it is one of the best leagues in the world, but I think Serie A in its prime was without doubt the best league in the world with the best players and strikers in the world.  Every weekend you would face the world's best players and strikers from Zinedine Zidane to the Brazilian, Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta, Beppe Signori, Roberto Baggio, Dejan Savićević and Zvonimir Boban and you can't say that about the Premier League because you don't have that kind of talent on show, and that is the difference between Serie A then and the Premier League now.  I would say in terms of toughest opponents the Brazilian Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta were the two that I played against.’’

JR  ‘'Ramon thanks for your time today, just finally, which coaches enabled you to get the best out of yourself as a player?

RV  ''A good question!  I think starting at Grasshopper Club Zürich, Ottmar Hitzfeld was one of the key managers.  He gave me the opportunity to come into the side.  He had the quality and the intelligence with how to deal with and handle players.  Managing is one of the key elements that you need to do in terms of the tactical and technical side of things, that is a given as a manager, that you have to look in to how you prepare for the opponent.  But I will tell you now that I think that 90 percent of the managers work is to focus on the emotional side and dealing with the individual players to prepare them.  If you have that skill as a manager then you have got the potential for a high success rate. 

From a football point of view Dutch manager Leo Beenhakker opened my eyes to how football looked from a players point of view and a tactical and skills point of view.  I gained an awful lot working under him when he was at Grasshopper Club Zürich.  I think Roy Hodgson when he managed the Swiss national team was excellent too.  He had that international knowledge and experience which brought me to the next level.  Roy Hodgson also changed the model of the youngsters for England during his time managing the English national team.  Every manager before that would only pick experienced players and the English national team could not come away from that mindset.  But he took the risk and realized that England have some very good talented young English players that deserve a chance.  Some are actually still playing today under current manager Gareth Southgate.  It was Roy that brought those youngsters into the team.  These three managers had the most impact in my career.’' 

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.