Friday 16 November 2018, 10:58

Capela: I'd love to be a soccer pundit

  • NBA’s Clint Capela chats to about his love of football

  • He raves about Henry, Mbappe, Pulisic, Ronaldo, Shaqiri & Weah

  • Capela dreams of a career in football after he’s quit basketball

Clint Capela spent the middle months of 2018 negotiating a $90 million contract to continue slam-dunking a Spalding ball alongside ‘The Beard’ and CP3, AKA James Harden and Chris Paul, in a breathtaking Houston Rockets side. If he’d had it his way, the 6ft 10ins center would have been kicking a Telstar 18 for Switzerland at the FIFA World Cup™.

Capela, indeed, is as big a football fan as he is a human. While Lebron James was practising baskets in the warm-up at the STAPLES Center last month, the 24-year-old was doing a crowd-wowing keepy-up routine with that 22-ounce, size 7 ball. His Instagram account is decorated with photos of him with Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Thierry Henry, Kaka, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s filled every Panini sticker album from Korea/Japan 2002 onwards. And despite living the exhausting, road trip-jammed life of an NBA player, he plays EA Sports’ FIFA video game like a pro and watches football galore on TV.

After hitting a game-high 24 points against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Capela chatted to about his first sporting love. Clint, tell us about your love of football growing up… Clint Capela: I’ve loved soccer since I was six years old. Me and my friends would play soccer all the time. After school, every day, whenever we could. It was my dream to be a footballer, to play in the Champions League and the World Cup. I used to think about it all the time. I was pretty fast, had good technique. When I was 13 basketball came along, but soccer’s still a really big part of my life. Whenever I’m free I’m either watching soccer on TV or playing FIFA. I watch a lot. I don’t just watch games, but I like to analyse them. I’m a really, really big fan.

Who were your heroes growing up? I grew up watching the French national team. I liked all the players – Zidane, Thuram, Desailly, Pires, Karembeu, Makelele – but especially Thierry Henry. I met him last year. He came to a game. It was actually in San Antonio, because he’s a great friend of Tony Parker. I saw him courtside. I couldn’t believe it! I had to go up and tell him I was such a fan. I was star-struck – it was Thierry Henry! We exchanged contacts and he invited me to his house in London. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

On the subject of meeting former footballers, you and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid got to play in the UEFA Ultimate Champions match last year, alongside the likes of Cafu, Deco, Marcel Desailly, Luis Figo, Ryan Giggs, Roberto Carlos and Clarence Seedorf. What was that experience like? It was an incredible experience. To see players you grew up watching on TV live, and to play with them, was an amazing experience. It’s hard to believe but I was a little nervous. I felt weird. It was like, ‘Wow’. I was asking them a lot of questions. We had a lot of fun.

And you’re friends with a number of footballers? Yeah. I’m good friends with [Paul] Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, and [Ousmane] Dembele, so I was really pleased for them at the World Cup. France played a great tournament. To score four goals against Argentina and again in the Final, and to beat a very good Belgium side, you really deserve it. And Mbappe was unbelievable. To do what he did at his age, it was something amazing. I think it was one of the best World Cups ever.

You were obviously very busy during June and July. How much of the tournament did you get to see? I tried to watch as much of it as possible. I was in Houston, Geneva, Mexico, Serbia, all over, but I watched all the Switzerland, France, Brazil matches, and all the other big matches. If I could have, I’d have watched every match.

What did you make of Switzerland’s campaign? We usually do a great job at the World Cup. We always seem to do well in the group and then go out in a very close match [in the Round of 16]. We lost 1-0 to Sweden and 1-0 to Argentina – a very strong team – in 2014, and we lost on penalties to Ukraine [in 2006]. What I’d really love to see is Switzerland reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. We have some really good players – Shaqiri, Xhaka, Embolo – so it would be good to get to at least the quarter-finals for the first time.

How good is Xherdan Shaqiri? Shaqiri is unbelievable. He’s been the best Swiss player for a lot of years. His left foot is fantastic. He’s fast, he can dribble, he can shoot from a long way out. He scores a lot of great goals, especially the bicycle kick (against Manchester United in pre-season). When he went to Liverpool, I think everyone thought he wouldn’t get a lot of playing time, and at first he was just coming on for Mane, Salah. But he’s worked so hard to get into the team. He’s been brilliant in this new position. I think he can play anywhere – in midfield, further up or on the wing.

USA missed out on the tournament. Do you think they have a bright future? I think the future’s going to be very good for the US. [Christian] Pulisic is doing great things at Dortmund, he’s already a great player, and I’m really excited about Timothy Weah. PSG have so many great players, so I really hope he can start getting enough playing time because he’s got all the skills to become a top player.

Talking of great players, who do you think’s been greater: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? I like Ronaldo more. He’s worked so hard to get to where he’s at. Of course Messi’s a genius. They’re both unbelievable, but I admire Ronaldo more for all he’s done to get to where he’s at.

You’re only young, but have you thought about getting involved in soccer in some capacity when you’ve finished playing basketball? Definitely. I’d love to be a soccer coach and something I’d really love to do is punditry. Watching and analysing games, that’s what I do for fun. It’s a big, big dream.