Interviews

Hilton: 'Zlatan was the best'

Publish on 16/11/2021 at 11:00 - S. WILLIS

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A few days before the Olympico between Lyon and Marseille (Sunday 20:45), Montpellier legend and Prime Video pundit Vitorino Hilton talks OM, Ligue 1 Uber Eats' South Americans and the evolution of defenders' roles in Ligue 1 Uber Eats. Part 2 of a two-part interview...

The position of defender changed significantly during your career...
The role of the defender has indeed changed a lot. When I started playing, it was easy to be a good basic defender. You had to have good headers, be strong in duels and if you didn't know what to do with the ball, you'd send it far forward or into the stands. That's all that was asked of you, your job was done. But I wanted to do something else: work on recovering the ball, pressing and playing out of defence. I took my cue from classy players like Paolo Maldini and Carlos Gamarra, players who played the ball cleanly. If you look at the relationship with the goalkeeper, not so long ago the instruction was to avoid putting him in difficulty by making back passes, and if you had to pass to them, you had to make sure they were on their preferred foot so they could clear the ball.

So, what was it like for you when you left Brazil for Europe?
When I arrived (2001), Lucien Favre was my first coach, at Servette in Geneva. I almost never cleared the ball. I didn't get rid of it; I dribbled or  or anything else, but I tried to keep possession. But he didn't really like that, he said "no, no! Play it forward!". He wanted a direct game, but I didn't understand that tactic. For me, when you have the ball, you have to play. Then I adapted a little more to the Swiss championship and then to the French one, where there was a little less of this tendency.

Were your idols Brazilians?
When I was younger, my idol was Carlos Mozer! He played for OM. He was the benchmark for the position. All the kids wanted to be like him. He was the prototype of a real defender. Then there was another very good defender: Ricardo Gomes, who also played for Benfica before PSG; he had class. He was very tall and therefore formidable in the air, but not only that, he also played the ball well and did it all with elegance.

Did these two great players launch the trend of having Brazilian defenders in France?
Perhaps. They undoubtedly helped to show that Brazil is not just a country of strikers and No. 10s. In Europe, we were talking much more about attacking talent. Their success may have given ideas to defenders to come to Ligue 1 Uber Eats as well. The latest is Matheus Thuler (22) at Montpellier. He knows he has the opportunity to show his worth by coming to this league.

This season in Ligue 1 Uber Eats, there are also Dante (OGC Nice) and Marquinhos (PSG), two exemplary central defenders.
Dante is a player appreciated all over the world, who has built a great career; he is a hard worker who wants to go as far as possible. Even if there is still a long way to go, I wish him to break the record of the oldest player to have played in Ligue 1 Uber Eats. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to do that [Roger Courtois, who key playing until he was 44, holds the record].

And Marquinhos?
He's a class act, even though he can get pretty physical. He's one of the best in the league and even in Europe. He and Presnel Kimpembe are very complementary. Since his arrival at PSG, he has played in several positions. And even last year, he was very good in front of the defence without having any experience there. He has this capacity to adapt while remaining positive. He exudes serenity. He keeps his calm and imposes himself out on the pitch. At PSG, he has also benefited from having very good coaches. You can see that he is very much appreciated at his club, both as a person and as a player.

At PSG, there was a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the many great strikers you had to mark during your 17 years in Ligue 1 Uber Eats...
We talk a lot about players who go very fast like Neymar and Mbappé, but for me Zlatan was the best. I loved playing against him. I learnt a lot from these confrontations. It was very difficult to mark him. First of all because of his extraordinary size. He is tall and strong, but he was also technical. On top of that, he was a very clever and merciless player in terms of putting you off your game. You always had to hold your nerve with him, because he could make you go crazy. They were always exciting games to play.

Finally, were there any other talents that stood out for you during your years in Ligue 1 Uber Eats?
The first name that comes to mind is Hatem Ben Arfa. I don't think I'm the only one who thinks he's one of the greatest talents. He was huge when I was with him at OM. He impressed me a lot, especially in training. What an ability to dribble, to keep the ball! He had so many qualities...

Hilton's former club Marseille face off against Olympico rivals Lyon in the headline clash of Ligue 1 Uber Eats' Round 14 at 20:45 CET (19:45 GMT) on Sunday night.

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