The oldest player in Europe's major leagues, Juan Carlos Valerón discusses his hopes for 2016, his Deportivo heyday and how he has gone 21 years without a red card.
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Few players in Spain are held in quite the same high esteem as former international midfielder Juan Carlos Valerón, who at 40 is the oldest player still plying their trade in Europe's biggest six leagues. Now back at boyhood club Las Palmas, the Canary Islander spoke to UEFA.com about his ambitions for this season as well as his glory years with Deportivo La Coruña.
UEFA.com: Do you feel the same way about the game heading into 2016 as you did in 1996?
Juan Carlos Valerón: I want to enjoy this year, to be in the team and to help out. I'm living out these final stages of my career as I always have done: I feel it could be my last year, but then there are always circumstances that make you decide to play on. I feel strong. The most important thing is for Las Palmas to remain in the Liga. I'm completely focused on achieving that.
UEFA.com: You have played for 21 years without picking up a red card. Do you see yourself as an example of how footballers should conduct themselves?
Valerón: I've always tried to behave honestly, looking to do the best for those around me. I've always tried to be true to myself. It's not always easy as you're conditioned by a lot of different circumstances, but it's important that the people around me like how I am and how I act.
UEFA.com: You joined Deportivo in 2000 and ended up staying there 13 seasons. What do you remember from that time?
Valerón: It was incredible. To be in that side, with those players, fighting for top spot in the Liga, beating some historic outfits in the UEFA Champions League ... it will always stay with me. Those years at Depor were everything I wanted as a youngster when I started, both on a personal level and for the people of the city.
UEFA.com: How would you define that team?
Valerón: We had a really competitive squad with a coach [Javier Irureta] who knew how to get the best out of us. We had amazing players all over the pitch, with fantastic characters and personalities. We went onto the pitch with respect but never scared or with an inferiority complex. You can only get that mental strength with the calibre of players we had.
UEFA.com: Which player impressed you most back then?
Valerón: For his mentality, leadership and the way he conducted himself, Mauro Silva left a huge impression on me. He was a world champion. He trained exactly as he played in games – he always competed with the same desire and attitude. You saw him enjoy his football and thought: "That's what it's all about. Absolute quality!" He always played calmly and with purpose.
UEFA.com: The sensational 4-0 comeback victory against Milan in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals deserves a mention. Was that the highlight of that period for you?
Valerón: There's quite a few but that match had the biggest repercussions, both in terms of the result and the fact we did it against Milan after losing the first leg 4-1. It was a spectacular comeback. We'd done some good things in Europe but to get to the semi-finals was very special. What happened at the Riazor that night was incredible.
UEFA.com: Do you regret the fact the 1-0 semi-final loss to Porto was decided by the smallest of margins?
Valerón: We always thought it was a unique opportunity; we knew it was going to be very hard to get there again. We were unlucky to come up against a side that knew how to play us. They didn't allow us to play our own game and their experience ensured things went their way.
Oldest players to feature in the league this season
ESP: Juan Carlos Valerón (Las Palmas) – born 17 June 1975
POR: Nilson (Moreirense) – 26 December 1975
ITA: Francesco Totti (Roma) – 27 September 1976
ENG: Kelvin Davis (Southampton) – 29 September 1976
FRA: Vitorino Hilton (Montpellier) – 13 September 1977
GER: Claudio Pizarro (Werder) – 3 October 1978