LaLiga Santander – Barcelona Discussed Barcelona in an interview
Carles Puyol was once considered to be the best centre-back in the world and now he believes that his former teammate Gerard Pique is the top central defender in the game.
Puyol has explained what makes Pique so great, while also discussing football’s other top centre-backs.
During an appearance as part of Heineken’s UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, the Catalan sat down with MARCA to share his thoughts on his former club and a number of different issues.
You said you wanted to play until you were 40, but you retired before that. When did you realise you couldn’t carry on?
“When I couldn’t train. The last two years were very complicated with knee surgeries. Everyone knows my way of playing and understands that in sport you have to give 100 percent. When you can’t give that, you have to step aside.”
Do you think your challenge on Luis Figo marked your career?
“Yes, I had been on the team for a year and it was important for the fans. He had gone to our biggest rival and it was a very tense match. I remember the atmosphere, I had to mark him across the pitch and many times the referee whistled and I just carried on running. We didn’t listen to anything.”
Was his move to Real Madrid a betrayal?
“These are football matters, but when one of the captains leaves to go to your biggest rival, it always hurts.”
You worked with Louis van Gaal and Pep Guardiola to name just two coaches, but which one did you get the most from?
“Van Gaal was key, as he trusted me in a difficult moment and gave me my debut. I appreciate everything I’ve been able to experience. Frank Rijkaard was very important and the years with Pep were the ones I enjoyed the most.”
You played a key role in the Guardiola team that won six trophies. Is that an unrepeatable achievement?
“You never know if something is unrepeatable, but that team played exceptionally well and this has been recognised by many people, not just Barcelona fans.”
How do you remember all the Clasicos of 2011, and those press conferences given by Jose Mourinho?
“Those moments also formed part of the matches, and sometimes that motivates you more and gives you a boost. It was a difficult time, very tense, but I was focused on my knee and being able to play.”
Why has Guardiola not won the Champions League outside of Barcelona?
“Because it’s very difficult. He’s doing very good work with Manchester City, just as he did with Bayern Munich. It’s nice to see his teams play, you quickly recognise his style. I hope there is a Barcelona vs Manchester City final. Football lovers would like that.”
Do you think that Barcelona have lost their style?
“No, I think Barcelona are trying to play that way. They want to have possession and to dominate games, but it’s not always possible. If you compare them with the Barcelona team that I had the good fortune to play in that had Xavi and Iniesta, it’s difficult to get such a team again. The idea and philosophy are the same and they try to play the same way, but it’s not easy.”
What has happened to Barcelona in recent years, having not been able to win the Champions League?
“They have been good, but we’ve had some very bad days. In Rome, in Paris or against Juventus. These are the days when things just simply don’t go well. In this tournament you can’t afford to have those days. It must serve as a learning experience and we’ll see this year if we have it in us to win.”
Has the club lacked leadership in those moments?
“Not at all. In the Barcelona dressing room there are great leaders, players with a lot of experience and quality.”
Is there an overreliance on Lionel Messi?
“When you have the best player in history it’s logical that you depend on him. However, there have been great players around him who are making history too.”
Why does Messi not play as well with Argentina?
“You have to be a team, have a philosophy and execute it well. I think Argentina have some very good players, but they haven’t played as a team.”
Cristiano Ronaldo scores a hat-trick and then Messi responds. Are the pair reliant on each other?
“I don’t think so. I don’t believe Messi reacts to anything. It’s just his way of playing, he’s always decisive. To say Messi played well against Lyon because of Ronaldo’s hat-trick just doesn’t make sense. In 10 matches where Messi plays, nine will be spectacular and the other one will just be very good.”
Matthijs de Ligt is emerging and Virgil van Dijk has exploded. Who is the best central defender in the world?
“Gerard Pique, without a doubt.”
What about between Ramos and Pique?
Is Pique a better centre-back than you?
“Yes, he’s the best central defender in the world. We’re different. He is key to Barcelona in everything he contributes, in his leadership. He’s a phenomenon and a great friend.”
Is Arthur the heir to Xavi at the Camp Nou?
“He can be. He’s only 22 years old and he’s demonstrating a huge personality and similar qualities, but to compare him with Xavi is a huge statement. We’re talking about one of the best midfielders in history. You have to take things step by step, let Arthur work and congratulate him on how he is playing. He should look to Xavi, watch videos of his games and learn from him.”
How would you have managed the Ousmane Dembele case as captain?
“He’s a great player, but sometimes you can have difficulties. We have to let him work and make him see that everyone, when they are young, has made mistakes. He’s in the best possible place, he should take advantage of this opportunity. With the ability he has, he can make history.”
Is Ernesto Valverde the right coach for Barcelona?
“Totally. Being at Barcelona is a totally different experience. It’s a very demanding club, but he’s doing a wonderful job.”
What is Philippe Coutinho missing at Barcelona?
“I think it’s a matter of confidence because he has the quality. He’s shown it with other teams, even with Barcelona when he first arrived. He just needs confidence.”
Was Neymar wrong to leave Barcelona?
“You would have to ask him. For me, I was in the best place with the best possible teammates. He was a very good player, but he wanted other challenges and we have to accept that. Now it’s easy to say he was wrong with him having injuries and PSG not doing as well as expected, especially in the Champions League. He has a lot of his career left and when he retires he’ll be able to take stock of things.”
Have Real Madrid’s Champions League triumphs overshadowed the domestic trophies won by Barcelona?
“The club has had some good seasons. It’s seen that in the years Barcelona won the league and Real Madrid won the Champions League that they have achieved more, but it all depends on an individual’s opinion.”
What do you think about Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid?
“He has had eight months to think, reflect and decide what he wanted to do. The team hasn’t succeeded without him and they’ve accepted that, but the questions is whether Zidane can do even better than last time.”
What do you think of Luis Enrique’s appointment as Spain coach?
“He’s a very good friend and Spain couldn’t wish for a better coach. I wish him luck and I would have liked to be able to work with him, I would have learned so much.”
How do you assess La Roja at this moment?
“There is a generational change taking place. We have been able to achieve fantastic triumphs, winning two European Championships and a World Cup. Now there is a change, but I think there are good players who are able to do great things with a fantastic coach.”
What did you make of Julen Lopetegui’s departure at the World Cup?
“It was a complicated situation. You know the situation well, but I wasn’t there. I would say that the situation wasn’t handled well, but to make a proper assessment you need to have been there and have been involved in it.”