Real Madrid will have several Brazilians on the pitch at Anfield on Tuesday night – and they will be delighted if any of them manage to do what Julio Baptista did back in 2007.
The Madrid forward, nicknamed ‘The Beast’ was on loan at Arsenal when he scored four against Liverpool in an incredible 6-3 Carling Cup win. He even got a phone call from Thierry Henry to congratulate him after the match.
Baptista is now coach of Valladolid’s second team ‘Promesas’ sitting third in the table in the fourth tier of Spanish football.
He joined the club owned by Ronaldo Nazario, originally as an Under 18s coach, but has progressed with a talented group of young players and has them on course for promotion.
When he watches Madrid take on Liverpool this week his mind will go back to that January evening 16 years ago, among the many framed photographs on the wall of his office he proudly shows me one, of one those four goals.
Julio Baptista insists he should’ve scored five against Liverpool in an interview with Sportsmail
Baptista is now coach of Valladolid’s second team ‘Promesas’ sitting third in the table in the fourth tier of Spanish football
Real Madrid make the trip to Anfield to face Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday
‘It was an incredible night. I should have scored five because I had a penalty saved,’ he remembers. ‘It’s the first time rival supporters had applauded me at the end of a game. That’s a good representation of the way English football fans are and the respect that they have.’
One of the goals was a free-kick past Jerzy Dudek. ‘I had recently changed the way I took free-kicks,’ Baptista recalls. ‘I hit it so that it went up over the wall but it came down very quickly and it was in the back of the net before he could react. Steven Gerrard scored a beautiful goal for them too. It was a magical, unrepeatable night.’
It was while the matchball was being passed around the dressing room for players to sign that Baptista got the call that topped things off.
‘Henry was not in the squad because he was recovering from injury,’ he says. ‘But when I got to the dressing room and everyone was congratulating me there was a call from him. I remember we spoke quickly amid all the noise and then he left me a message congratulating me and saying he was proud to see me playing that way in an Arsenal shirt.’
The four-goal salvo didn’t lead to him extending his stay beyond the end of the season but he loved playing for Arsene Wenger who had been interested in signing him when he netted 50 goals in two seasons at Sevilla.
‘Wenger is a great person and he was a great leader and coach. I had very good times with him in that season,’ he says.
As Baptista develops as a coach now Wenger remains a role model. ‘He was capable of getting the best out of every player,’ he says. ‘That’s not easy to do – keeping a dressing room happy and involved when not everyone can play all the time.’
Baptista went back to Madrid and won a Spanish League title. Champions League success was harder to come by and he appreciates even more the merit in Madrid’s extraordinary road to victory in the competition last season.
‘I’m not sure if that Champions League run will be repeated,’ he says. ‘I was at the game against Paris Saint-Germain and against Manchester City and it really was incredible. Madrid have this sort of force with them in their stadium and any visiting player feels it.
‘PSG had the game in their hands and they could have finished it but when Madrid score everything changes and the same happened to Manchester City.
‘You can see it in the faces of the Manchester City players – they are thinking: “This is going to happen again.” You can see the tension. The mental side of the game is so important. When Madrid score their players start to believe and it was that way against Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG.’
Baptista loved playing for Arsene Wenger (right) at Arsenal and insists he remains a role model
Baptista reveals he changed the way he took free-kicks before scoring from one at Anfield
He went on to score four against Liverpool in an incredible 6-3 Carling Cup win in 2007
It was while playing for Real Madrid that Baptista first met Ronaldo Nazario who owns Valladolid.
‘They (Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos) had been idols of mine and then they were team-mates,’ he says. ‘They helped me so much. I think about what I have been able to do in football and it’s in large part thanks to the advice that they gave me.’
Of Ronaldo he adds: ‘When he was close to finishing his playing career he was already preparing for a new challenge. He studied business for a couple of years in London. He is doing a fantastic job not just at Valladolid but also at Cruzeiro in Brazil.
‘When he asked me to join I had done my badges and I was coaching at Leganes and this was a really exciting project with so many things to do. Me and my assistant Jose Luis Rueda, we wanted this sort of challenge.’
Just as Valladolid’s second team are having a good season so the first team is establishing itself in the top flight with Ronaldo a calm hand on the tiller.
‘He has a very clear vision and there is patience with coaches even when the teams are not always in a positive moment,’ says Baptista. ‘He has been a player, so he has that knowledge that perhaps other directors in football don’t have.’
You can tell Baptista, now 41, has found the perfect place to launch his coaching career. He says: ‘When you’re a coach you see the impact you can have on a young player it’s hugely satisfying – especially when you see the gratitude for improving them as players and as sportsmen.’
He keeps one eye on his old club where once again Brazilians are the driving force behind the team.
‘There’s more to come because they are still very young,’ he says of Militao, Vinicius and Rodrygo. ‘They can all get even better. They are all very talented in their position and they will be at Madrid for many, many years.’
Vinicius’ progress is particularly striking because he has had to handle the pressure of so much expectation.
‘He was in a position where he was called to be the main man and at first it was hard for him to be able to do that. He always had huge talent but it needed refining. He was criticised for missing chances – opportunities that it was normal for a player that young not to always take. But he still managed to produce a certain level. And then we have seen him develop and mature and consolidate himself as a very important player on the world stage, and with an impressive level of consistency.’
Baptista (left) reveals how Ronaldo (middle) and Roberto Carlos (right) helped him at Real
Ronaldo Nazario now owns LaLiga outfit Real Valladolid and appointed Baptista as U18s coach
Baptista and his assistant Jose Luis Rueda (right) insist they were ready for the challenge
He also keeps one eye on his old club where Brazilians are the driving force behind the team
Talking to Baptista there is real sense that he has the belief that he can reach similar levels as a manger as he did as a player.
Of the opportunity to take a first-team job somewhere he says: ‘The chance will come, but the most important thing is that when it does come, me and my team are ready for it and the more time when spend working with young players the better prepared we will be especially to bring young players through into a first team.’
And he confirms he had no doubts about moving straight from playing into coaching and then to management. ‘I never thought about walking away from football. I did my badges and there were some tough times. The courses are from 9am to 7pm and then I was going to coach as an assistant at Leganes, but once I’m out on the pitch with the young players I’m as happy as I can be.’
He’ll be happy if his old team can turn over Liverpool at Anfield. ‘I’ll be watching for sure,’ he says. ‘It’s one of those games that you don’t want to miss.’
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