Wow, this is quite a week. First the big launch of Barça: The Guardiola Years and now an exclusive interview with the one and only Ray Hudson! I’m sure many of you will be very familiar with Ray. For those who aren’t, Ray is a former player and coach who works as a commentator on La Liga for beIN Sport (http://www.beinsport.tv) who provide sports coverage for millions of fans around the world. Born in Gateshead, England, Ray played 40 times for Newcastle before moving to the United States to play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League in 1977 where he played alongside some of the game’s greats such as George Best, Téofilo Cubillas and Gerd Muller, and faced others such as Pele, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer. Ray began commentating in 2004 and he has now built up a cult-like following for his expressive and emotional style of describing players and goals with elaborate metaphors. There is a twitter account dedicated to his quotes and YouTube has hundreds of videos celebrating his commentaries. My personal favourite is when he described Messi as going through an opposition defence ‘like smoke through a keyhole’. I was delighted to get this exclusive interview with the great man himself for Barçacentral.
Barçacentral: Hi Ray, first I’d like to thank you for the interview. You have now commentated on hundreds of games involving Barça. Do you have a favourite memory from the commentary box?
Ray Hudson: Way too many, my cup runneth over… That Ronaldinho bicycle kick at Camp Nou, and Messis golazo against Athletic Club this season. Riquelme’s magic for Argentina made me feel honored and blessed to be able to attempt a description of undiluted, footballing genius.
Barçacentral: How do you consider the chances of the main contenders for this season’s Liga?
Ray Hudson: Look out for Atletico Madrid…I said it at the start of his first season when Simeone took charge! Some people were still doubting,very much, and I won’t say who because that would be indiscrete… (Phil Schoen).
Barçacentral: Barça have won only one of the last eight Clásicos while Madrid have won four of those games. Who do you fancy for Saturday’s Barça-Madrid?
Ray Hudson: Very hard to call isn’t it? Neither club is hitting their high notes. As lethal as Real Madrid can be on the counter, I’m not sure they’re fully in sync….and they miss Ozil badly. Barca have looked as wobbly as a waiter on a very rocky cruise ship in defense, yet have been much better defending than at this point last year! No real animosity brewing but I think this will be a helter skelter match. Brace yourselves….Barca 2 1/2 Real Madrid 2.
Barçacentral: Who do you think will turn out to be the best signing, Neymar or Gareth Bale? And do you think either of them will reach the standards set by Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
Ray Hudson: Neymar seems a better overall fit for his club…I can’t comprehend the Bale signing. They have a better player in Di Maria. Either way Neymar can’t eclipse Messi and Bale can’t come close to over-shadowing Cristiano.
Barçacentral: Do you think we’ll ever see Messi, or anyone else for that matter, achieve 91 goals again in one calendar year?
Ray Hudson: No.
Barçacentral: Did Barça make the right choice with Tata Martino? Considering the last few years of continuity in the club’s playing philosophy, is bringing in somebody from outside a positive thing?
Ray Hudson: Only time will tell but the early signs are pretty damn good. I think Ancelotti has the tougher task at Madrid.
Barçacentral: Most Barça fans seem to believe the club should have signed a central defender during the summer. Do you think there is sufficient cover for that position and how do you rate Marc Bartra’s chances of success at the club?
Ray Hudson: Bartra looks like he’s going to be extremely good but he’s still developing and learning. I still believe in Carles and maintain there is no better insurance policy in defense for Barca—he covers OTHER defenders’ mistakes! But his sun is setting, sadly and like Xavi he’ll be irreplaceable in the context that he’s set as a club immortal.
Barçacentral: If you could only have one, who would you choose: Xavi or Iniesta?
Ray Hudson: Xavi.
Barçacentral: If Victor Valdés leaves Barça, as seems highly probable, who do you think would be the best replacement?
Ray Hudson: I said before he went to Napoli…Pepe Reina has everything to have a chance at stepping into Victor’s beautiful boots; in every way, shape and form along with his Barca history.
Barçacentral: Given the recent controversy over referee Cesar Muñiz Fernandez’s handling of the Elche-Madrid game, do you feel the refs in Spain are fair or is there something dodgy going on?
Ray Hudson: Go have a look at Hamlet Act 1, scene 4
Barçacentral: Turning to football in the United States, do you think there will ever be a national soccer league that can be compared to the level of the top leagues in Europe?
Ray Hudson: Eventually, given the signs of the strides MLS has taken, but it has a hard march ahead no doubt. It’s often an overlooked but very obvious fact, that the United States has had its own very established, wonderful sports for generations..it’s just gonna take time to catch up with the rest of the world who have been in our game for a hell of a lot longer and there’s no fast track or short cut…the progress the game has made in this country has been undeniably impressive…so onwards and upwards.
Barçacentral: How do you think beIN SPORT is aiding in soccer’s rising popularity in the United States?
Ray Hudson: The extra exposure of world class leagues and footballers can only help and remember it’s barely been a solitary year in existence. People have no concept, believe me, of the enormity of the challenges this company has overcome to be positioned in the place it is now, after just fourteen months, and it is just beginning.
Barçacentral: If you had to pick just one, and it doesn’t have to involve Barça, what would you say was the greatest game you have ever seen?
Ray Hudson: As a 10 year old boy in Newcastle watching England’s World Cup final against West Germany. The game had everything including England’s most glorious achievement in the game. It’s been downhill ever since but that Final, to a saucer-eyed 10 year old, was Mt Olympus.
Barçacentral: And finally, who do you fancy for this season’s Champions League?
Ray Hudson: Bayern Munich….sorry.