Former striker Hristo Stoichkov only has good things to say about Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, despite his side snatching the La Liga title away from his beloved Barcelona.
The 46-year-old Litex Lovech manager played over 175 times for the Catalans, netting 83 goals in the process, but despite maintaining a strong bond with his former club, the Bulgarian has conceded that he can only respect Mourinho for what he has done as a coach.
“I have a great deal of respect for Mourinho,” admitted Stoichkov, speaking to reporters.
“I know him personally and he’s a good guy. I need to separate the fact that he’s the Real Madrid manager from the fact that I’m speaking to him as a person. Although I’m Barcelona through and through, for sure.”
Though Stoichkov remains firmly in favour of Barcelona’s style of play, he also recognises Real’s improvement in recent campaigns.
“I still think that Barca plays better football than any other team, but I have to admit that Real has really grown and for much of last season was the best team in La Liga, which is why it won,” he said.
Real Madrid face Barcelona in the first Clasico match of the league campaign on Sunday.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has silenced rumours of a rift between himself and defender Sergio Ramos ahead of their Champion’s League group game against Ajax, which he admits will be a challenging encounter.
The 49-year-old has spoken of his respect for the Dutch club and believes that his team face a far sterner test in comparison to the last time the two sides clashed.
“Ajax have different players than in previous years, but the philosophy is still the same,” explained the Madrid boss, speaking at a press conference.
“They have improved as a team compared to the last couple of years and that’s why I think we are going to have a more difficult match than last season.
“The team has trained for another year under Frank [De Boer]. The players which left have been replaced with very good players as well.
“Ajax played very well in Dortmund and with a bit more luck they could have won or drawn that game. That’s why I think Ajax can compete with the teams in this tough group.”
When questioned on relations between himself and Sergio Ramos, Mourinho spoke dismissively of claims that a disagreement had occurred and also explained the reasoning by Mesut Ozil’s absence from recent starting line-ups.
“There is no problem between me and Sergio Ramos. Our relationship is good, just like with the other players. If there is a problem we will discuss it internally and we will not speak about this in the media.
“Ozil could play more, but that’s not because of his quality. Ozil doesn’t always play because we have other players that are good,” he said.
Frank de Boer believes Ajax have a chance of causing an upset when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The 42-year-old, who had a four-year spell at Los Blancos arch-rivals Barcelona during his playing career, thinks that despite the odds being stacked against his side, anything is possible if the players believe in themselves.
“There’s a big chance Real Madrid will win, because they’ve got more quality and experience, but if we play our own game, you never know,” the former Barcelona player told reporters at a press conference.
“It is all about believing in yourself. Against Real Madrid last year, and Manchester United, we’ve shown that we are able to keep up,”
“We must be very careful with the ball when we have possession. We did well last weekend against FC Twente, as they were waiting for us to lose the ball.
“But Real Madrid are so effective on the counter. That was very clear last year at the Bernabeu when they beat us 3-0.”
When asked whether he thought the Madrid coach Jose Mourinho would be side-tracked by the prospect of El Clasico on Sunday, de Boer said: “The Champions League is really important for them. Last year they won the title in La Liga, and now they’re aiming for this title.
“I don’t think Real and Mourinho are thinking about El Clasico. The press does, but that does not mean that they do too.”
Ajax’s Champions League Group D match against Real Madrid kicks off at 20:45 at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Feyenoord boss Ronald Koeman believes the Ballon d’Or should be finally awarded to Cristiano Ronaldo as Lionel Messi have already won it three times on the trot.
The Barcelona legend acknowledged that the Portuguese has done enough to be crowned as the best player of 2012, highlighting the former Manchester United ace’s ability to deliver at crucial moments.
“Who would I give the Ballon d’Or to? How many has Messi got? Three? Then I would give one to Ronaldo,” the former Netherlands international said to AS.
“Messi is the best player in the world. However, Cristiano is also a great player like Messi, and he has been making the difference in Madrid.”
Koeman took time to discuss the work of Tito Vilanova in his first few months at Barcelona, and he was full of praise for Pep Guardiola’s former assistant.
“The results of Tito’s Barca side speak for themselves. I think they continue to have a strong team, despite having some injured players. At the moment I think they are very good.”
Finally, the retired defender had a word on Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who he believes can always be relied upon to deliver.
“Mourinho is a very good coach who has succeeded with many teams. Though his style of play is different to that of Barcelona, his teams always get good results.”
Predrag Mijatovic has voiced his opinion that Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo is a more complete player than Barcelona star Lionel Messi.
Both players are widely regarded as the two best footballers in the world at the moment, but the former Los Blancos forward has a clear preference for the Portugal international.
“They’re very distinct players. Their way of playing and moving is different,” Mijatovic was quoted as saying by Marca.
“But, for me, Cristiano is better than Messi. He’s a more complete player. He’s faster, more explosive, he uses both feet, is good with his head.?
“For me, Cristiano doesn’t have any faults. If I have to choose, I’ll go for Cristiano.”
Mijatovic also had his say on Madrid’s Champions League chances and head coach Jose Mourinho, and believes the Portuguese is the right man to guide them to European glory.
“It’s Mou’s third season as coach and the team is mature enough to win the Champions League. Its time has come.
“Mourinho is the best coach in the world. I have no doubts about it. I’m optimistic because, although there’s a long way to go, Madrid have a quality squad and almost made it to the final two years running.”
Real Madrid are currently preparing for Wednesday’s away game versus Ajax.