Abelardo / PHOTO: Sporting de Gijón

Abelardo Fernandez will return this Saturday to what was his home between 1994 and 2002. Eight years in which he earned the affection of the fans due to, amongst other things, his strong mentality, his spirit of sacrifice, and his friendly character. As a central defender, he almost never figured in the potential first team line-up early on, but always ended the season as a first team starter. As a coach, he's taken on the really important mission of saving Sporting from relegation.

How did your move to Sporting come about, following Preciado's sacking?
"I was training Tuilla, and a few weeks ago, when Tejada took over the team, the club called me to help him out. Then Javi arrived and he wanted me to stay. When Sporting ask you to be assistant manager to Clemente, one of the best managers ever in Spanish football, it makes one proud and happy".

You came back to the Camp Nou as a player, for Alaves, and now you're coming back as a manager. How do you feel about it?
"When I set foot in the Camp Nou, beautiful and unforgettable memories come back to me. I spent eight very happy seasons there, I even got married and had my children in Barcelona. In addition, I have strong links to the city and I come back two or three times a year. It will certainly be nice, but I'm representing Sporting and for one day I'll want Barça to lose".

In your time as a player you had managers like Cruyff, Robson, Van Gaal, and Clemente himself. Which one had most influence on you?
"I was extremely lucky to work with the top managers and try to take the best from each of them".

You've always been linked with an attacking football style, so how does that work out with a slightly more conservative manager, like Clemente?
"I don't agree at all that Clemente is a conservative manager, because if it's so he wouldn't have won two league titles with Athletic Bilbao. What he's instilling in Gijón is not defensive, because under him we are playing with four very attack-minded players. At the Camp Nou we'll go out believing we can win, if not we might as well stay home".

You're six points from the safety zone. Do you believe in a miracle for Sporting?
"We're convinced that we have to try. In the last two matches we've improved, especially in defence. We've managed two draws and now what we need is our first win to help with the spirit of the team".

Is this the biggest challenge of your life?
"I was lucky enough to do things that even in my wildest dreams I couldn't have imagined, like make my debut at Sporting, and spend 8 seasons at Barça. Now the challenge is to learn, little by little".

What is more likely, Sporting staying up, or Barça winning their fourth consecutive League Title?
"It's tough for both of us! Hopefully we'll both succeed, it would make me very happy. Anyway, I'd take Sporting to win on Saturday, and stay up, and Barça to win the Champions League and the Cup".

Is this Barça team the best you've ever seen?
"Possibly, yes. When I was 16 or 17 I was surprised by Arrigo Sacchi's Milan, with the way they played to win matches. This Barça is the best in terms of football, both offensively and defensively. It's a generation and an Academy admired by everybody".

Better than the era of the Dream Team, that you knew towards the end?
"Cruyff, and then Van Gaal and Rijkaard, had them playing great football, but this team is better and the axis of the side is home-grown, which brings pride to all of Catalonia. Pep is the key to their success for sure".

How do you think you should cope with them, pressing high up the pitch or defending deeply?
"It's what no manager is able to answer, because if you pressurise them high up the pitch, they beat you, and if you're too defensive, just the same. First, it requires maximum concentration in defence, then you must not lose the ball in your own half, and finally you must maximise the few chances that Barça let you have".

What did you think when Messi saw his fifth yellow card in Madrid?
"It was a relief, I can't deny that. We knew that Messi and Busquets were both close to suspension. Even so, they don't have replacements or anything! Alexis, Cesc, Pedro ... they'll give us plenty of problems".

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