Q&A with Guillem Balague

Guillem Balague

Guillem Balague. The man. The legend. An Adonis of football punditry. He’s been around forever, hasn’t he? He’s written several bestsellers, he’s best friends with Rafa, and he’s got a tan Pat Bateman would kill for. He must be used to the odd interview by now, so what’s the point in asking questions he’s fielded a hundred times before? We already know him as the go to guy for all things La Liga, and his body of work for Sky Sports, The Times, the BBC and more speaks for itself, but which air instrument does Guillem choose to play while listening to Hall & Oates? What does he keep locked away in his garage? And how exactly would he survive if forced to enter The Hunger Games? Shall we find out? Yes, let’s.

Q:Hello, Guillem. I can find no record of your age online, but your radiant, golden brown face has graced our screens for years and yet appears untouched by time itself. This strikes me as curious and leads me to believe there could be something quite sinister at work here. Are you…

A) Dorian Gray
B) In possession of ‘the one ring’
C) Part of a lab experiment to create the mirror opposite of Mark Lawrenson
D) About to explain that it’s down to something else entirely…

A:I’m a very proud 45-year-old, have only one ring (not sure it’s ‘the one’), I’ve read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and I have lots in common with Mark Lawrenson. And if you think I haven’t changed much, I could show you a picture my very good ex-friend Rob Palmer ‘rescued’ from an event he organized. It got the biggest laugh. Imagine: long hair, big glasses, a ridiculously shaped tiny beard, and a chubby face. I’ve not spoken to Rob since.

Q:Well, despite those early fashion fubars, you’ve become the best and most popular football pundit in the world today. That’s a given. But who would you say you still look up to, take inspiration from, and aspire to be a little more like? Is it…

A) Saint & Greavsie
B) That knob who shouts all the time off the Laddies advert
C) Mark Lawrenson
D) No one. You’re the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be, like Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart

A:Can I choose ‘E’? I admire the knowledge and intelligence of Gabrielle Marcotti, who I’ve spent every World Cup and European Championships with, mostly arguing. We meet in the coffee room of the houses we share at 8.00am, looking like we just woke up, but in reality I’ve been preparing for an hour for the verbal fight. It’s so enjoyable. I love the way Scott Minto has taken up the presenting job on Sky, and I’d like to share a studio with Roy Keane, though I’m not sure he would take me seriously.

Q:Like Roy, you often favour a cracking beard, and years ago, my Mum saw you on the Spanish footy and went “Phwooooh!”, like that. She’s still with my Dad, but I quite fancy the idea of you as my Papa and could probably set that up. What would we do together as father and son? Would we…

A) Have a kick about in the park, several times a day
B) Make things out of card and dry pasta and stick them on the fridge
C) Stalk Mark Lawrenson
D) Something else entirely which you’re about to make up, possibly while wondering what you’ve agreed to here…

A:You make me laugh! We’d read, watch TV, play the Playstation, play footy, and walk. And have very long conversations. A very boring dad!

Q:Sounds boss, to be honest. Speaking of pastimes, I was in the garage the other day and found a few pages from an old Razzle, and it got me thinking, “I wonder what world famous football pundit Guillem Balague keeps in HIS garage”? Is it…

A) An old bag of cement, gone hard
B) A silver Mk2 Grifter with one of those sound effect horns on it so you can pretend you’re an ambulance
C) Mark Lawrenson
D) A poorly judged build of a kit car you’ve put together yourself and now can’t get out

A:A jag. Black. Leather seats. 13 years old. Comfy.

Q:Nice. You’re at home, listening to ‘The Essential Hall & Oates’ and loving it. Suddenly, ‘Maneater’ comes on and you lose your shit all over the place and begin to mime. Are you…

A) Playing the hefty bassline, holding the bass really high and tapping your foot to keep time
B) Doing the sax solo and really puffing out your cheeks, getting into it like
C) Smashing fuck out of air drums as if Mark Lawrenson’s face is the snare
D) All of them at once – I’m Guillem Balague

A:Ha! I listen to Tom Waits, Miles Davies, Erik Satie, I love Kurt Weill, Muse, so many… and two women with the most amazing voices; Maria del Mar Bonet and Silvia Pérez Cruz. I am about to publish two EPs with my lyrics. One with Best Boy Grip (of Derry) and another with the Liverpudlians, King and Scholes. The EPs will be released on a night of football and music at the Cavern in Liverpool on the 18th of September (click for details!), and there will be a DJ at the end: Gaizka Mendieta!!

Q:It’s 2.00am and you can’t sleep. Tomorrow’s the big one, Espanyol vs Elche, and the nerves are keeping you awake. You decide to put a dvd on to take your mind off it. Which of these is it never too late to watch?

A) ‘Black Rain’, starring Michael Douglas
B) ‘Romancing the Stone’, starring Michael Douglas
C) ‘Please Make It Stop – A Homemade Compilation of Atrocity’, starring Mark Lawrenson
D) ‘Maniac Cop 2′ (or obviously something else)

A:Does the Lawrenson DVD exist? Please pass me a copy! I watch the director’s cut of ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘In The Mood For Love’ at least once a year. I smile when I think of ‘One From The Heart’ and ‘Out Of Sight’. But now I’m mostly into TV series, like True Detective, True Blood, The Walking Dead, and Modern Family.

Q:If there is a Lawrenson tape you’re welcome to it, Guillem. I’d rather pickle my eyes in cow piss. Speaking of which, you’re at the game and it’s almost half-time, so you quickly head off to get a snack, pushing past a sea of pale barbarians to get there. Do you have…

A) A beef & ale pie with chips and gravy and a slice of lard on the side
B) A bag of pork scratchings, a pickled egg and a red WKD
C) Nothing at all, cos someone mentioned Mark Lawrenson and you lost your appetite
D) An assortment of completely different things which you’re about to list right now…

A:I love beef and ale pies! And scouse. And nights of ham and wine; Ribera del Duero, of course.

Q:The end of the transfer window is fast approaching. You’re very excited and, as usual, have several offers for work, so with whom do you choose to spend deadline day discussing transfers?

A) Jim White at Sky, but you know he often wears nothing below the waist and it worries you
B) Adrian Chiles on ITV, but he reminds you of the movie ‘Ghoulies’ which terrified you as a child
C) Mark Lawrenson at the BBC, but he’s Mark Lawrenson and Mark Lawrenson will be there
D) Haha, as if I’d only have three options – I’m Guillem Balague

A:Jim White is exceptional at what he does, and his contact book is HUGE. He’s done well to have created that niche. I’ve worked with Adrian Chiles at the BBC. It was a kind of foreign correspondents round table for Euro 2000. They got rid of it soon after, and he joked about it being an easy thing to get rid of. At least, I think he was joking, or maybe it really was that bad.

Q:Not for the first time, you’ve been selected as your district’s entrant for this year’s Hunger Games. You’re gutted, but you’ll win it for your family. To survive, you may need to form an alliance with another entrant. Do you choose…

A) The biggest, angriest guy you can find – knowing it’ll get crazy in there and this bloke’s one severed head short of Bundy
B) The smartest kid in the games. He’ll know the best places to hide, and pose no threat at all to your pursuit of the ladies
C) Absolutely anyone who’s up for hunting Mark Lawrenson, even if they might wear you as a hat
D) No one. You’re on your own, just the way you like it

A:Interesting question. I think I would go on my own, but soon I’d put a team together with a mix of smart and strong people. The working path I’ve taken is quite solitary – lots of travelling and business meals – and it’s difficult to create roots and meet with friends when you share your time between England and Spain, but I have always craved to lead a team.

Q:You’re at a book signing. An old woman approaches and places hers on the table, but on closer inspection you realise it isn’t an old woman at all, but notorious Rafa Benitez disliker Neil Warnock in a headscarf. Do you…

A) Sign the book, but peer at him through narrow eyes to let him know you’ve seen through his ruse
B) Jump over the table, remove his headscarf and point at him while screaming, like in ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’
C) Sign the book as Mark Lawrenson
D) Smile, sign the book, and point to your full eyebrows proudly

A:I’ve never met Neil Warnock, but I’m sure he doesn’t mean it when he says his side got relegated because of Benitez. If he does, I’d love to know what he did for the other 37 games. I once signed a copy of my book ‘Messi’ for an old lady who really enjoyed meeting me. We had a little chat and then she rushed away to give it to her son, who an hour later tweeted: “My mum just came home with a Messi book signed, she said, by Messi!”. I did tell her Leo was really small.

Q:You’ve never been a football manager yourself, despite an obvious awareness of the game. Hypothetically, if someone were to offer you a manager’s job, what sort of outfit would you wear?

A) An official club tracksuit, trainers and optional cap – One of the lads
B) Smart trousers, smart shoes, a blazer and a shirt and tie under a cardigan – All business
C) Inexplicable jeans, a pair of cowboy boots and an ill-fitting shirt that shows your tits, all donated by Mark Lawrenson
D) A coat so big you could wear it in bed and still be at the game – like Arsene’s sleeping bag

A:Last season, I was offered a technical staff role by a Spanish coach who wanted to go to Scotland. And I plan to work with Hitchin Town Football Club in Hertfordshire, if they still want me, next season. I would be the club tracksuit guy.

Q:Occasionally, I’ll wake up screaming, having had a recurring nightmare where Garth Crooks is chasing after me in a Bigtrak while lobbing Peperamis from the window. But what, if anything, scares Guillem Balague?

A) That Ossie Ardiles will one day steal your punditry crown after discovering you’re allowed gaps between words
B) The 80s TV mini-series ‘V’ – especially the baby scene
C) Mark Lawrenson’s continued employment
D) As if anything scares me – I’m Guillem Balague

A:Obviously ‘D’. The key to being on telly is to remember that nobody is watching!

Q:It’s your birthday and you’ve decided to throw a dinner party. You’re doing the cooking, Rafa’s sorting the tunes, and Pako Ayesteran’s got a stripper booked for later. But what are you preparing for your dinner guests to eat?

A) Bouillabaisse and caviar – only the very best
B) Corned beef hash or one of those pig loafs with a boiled egg in the middle
C) Mark Lawrenson canapés
D) Nothing, cos you’re nipping down the curry house and plan to pass it off as your own

A:I would take them all to ‘Ametsa’ by Arzak, of course. I can’t cook myself, but I am a great lover of food and the theatricality of top restaurants. My favourite restaurant is in Barcelona; ‘Gelonch’, which is next to my place.

Q:‘Ametsa’ it is then, and who’s invited from the world of football?

A) The very best managers alive today – Mick McCarthy, Steve Bruce, and Phil Brown
B) The best players the world has ever seen – Pele, Maradona, and Adnan Januzaj
C) Absolutely anyone as long as they aren’t called Mark Lawrenson
D) A list of rather different choices you’re more than likely going to answer with right now…

A:I can’t invite Januzaj yet, as the shirt he gave me for Messi to sign has somehow got lost in the process! With Maradona, it would be all about him, and I prefer to listen to discussions. Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino and Mark Lawrenson would be my guests.

Q:I’ve often wondered what happens after we die, and I think the most comforting explanation is that you just start again because this is hell on earth and we’re all stuck here, in these lives, forever. So with that in mind, if you had your time over again, would you still do this interview?

A) Yes, it’s been a lot of fun – like a stomach ulcer is
B) Not for all the tea in Portugal
C) I’d forward the email to Mark Lawrenson
D) Wait… this is an interview?

A:I have nothing else to say! So, clearly ‘C’…

Q:In your honest opinion, who will lift the Premier League trophy next month?

A) Definitely Liverpool
B) I couldn’t possibly say, but I will, and it’ll be Liverpool
C) I wanted to say Liverpool, but it made me think of Mark Lawrenson and now I’m sad, so Liverpool
D) Someone other than Liverpool (Haha, not really, it’ll be Liverpool)