Barcelona is a political club. The Catalan mentality is present throughout and is also symbolised in so many players, as was the case when I was there in the early 2000s when you had the likes of Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Albert Ferrer. They were the symbol of the club.
Every decision you make on and off the pitch – most of the time its influenced by politics. It’s said so often: this is more than a club, més que un club. This is the slogan and the philosophy of the team. When you sign for them you know this, on top of knowing that it’s one of the world’s biggest clubs.
They are proud of this mentality but it can sometimes be difficult to understand and if you add in pressure from fans and the press, things can become very tough for players. I felt it when I was there. As soon as I signed, they told me: “You should speak Catalan instead of Castilian.”
I found it more difficult to adapt there than I did in England.
Something’s gotta give
With the Eric Abidal and Lionel Messi situation, I think it all depends on what happens in the next transfer window. Many players were disappointed with the previous summer’s activity, with so many players rumoured to come in who never came, Neymar being one example.
When you add in the investigation into medical procedures involving Abidal and the club, it has all contributed to his image being slightly impacted. He has also had recent trouble with Xavi, who’s a legend at Barca. It was hard to understand what was going on there, with talk of Xavi joining as manager.
Seeing Xavi’s reaction afterwards, it showed to me that there’s a lack of communication and that someone is lying. Something similar has happened with Messi – we’re not used to Messi speaking out on social media in such a manner. Usually he’s very quiet, so clearly he must be very upset.
If you look at Abidal’s place in all this, I’m sure the club will be looking ahead to the next transfer window and looking at his responsibility for it. Barca lost to Athletic in the Copa Del Rey on Thursday night and you look at the reaction of Jordi Alba after the game in light of what happened between Abidal and Messi and you think, “come on, this is Barcelona”.
Why on earth has a small story suddenly become one of the biggest stories surrounding the club? I was surprised by the reaction in the media about the whole thing, but if that can happen it shows me there are bigger problems in the club.
And you can see that on the pitch – I’ve watched them recently and I’ve been bored. It’s slow, they’re weak defensively and lack creativity.
Premier League would not be a good next move for Messi
Messi is not Cristiano Ronaldo. Physically he’s not the same machine. Ronaldo is a monster, but at 32 Messi has only one or two more years playing at the highest level. Even playing alongside great players at Barca, he won’t have the same pace or the dribbling ability. I’m sure he knows the end is not far away.
Honestly, I don’t think he’s suited to the intensity of England. He doesn’t like being closed down and being fought – in Spain he’s protected. It would be a pleasure for English fans to see him there but I don’t see why a club like Man City, for example, would move for Messi at 32 or 33. If City wanted to buy him, they should have tried to do it a couple of years ago.
Messi has won so many trophies and when I look back on Barca’s team from 10 years ago it’s clear now the club was at its peak. Those players wrote their own legends in that period.
It’s normal that after you reach that level you realise there’s nothing else above it, and the only way is down. You can’t stay at the top forever. If you look at the players they’ve bought since then, you can see they haven’t had the financial might to compete against the biggest powers in the transfer market.
They’re one of the biggest clubs but financially they’ve been a bit of a nightmare recently. Now they have to sell before they buy and these days if they want to bring in the world’s best players it costs them €80m or more.
Meanwhile at Arsenal
When Mikel Arteta took over at Arsenal, the team was sick. Sick on the pitch and in the dressing room. They were losing shape and blindly going nowhere. They were weak.
Now, after several weeks of the Arteta regime I’ve seen different things happening in terms of intensity, togetherness and work rate off the ball. The mentality is different and some players are getting back to form, like Granit Xhaka. I’m very pleased with how he has played and the mentality he has shown.
Mesut Ozil has looked better on occasion and I’m happy with what I see from Lucas Torreira. The players seem to be getting the message from Arteta and I think it’s clear what he wants from them on and off the pitch in terms of discipline and commitment. It looks like they’re following the rules he sets out on the training pitch.
They haven’t been winning as many games as they’d like but they also haven’t been losing. More goals are needed if they want to win, which is the major problem. The first priority when Arteta took over was to stop the team conceding stupid goals, and he has done that. But in the meantime they’re suffering a bit up front – I think if they keep playing like this that, sooner or later, they’re going to win games.