x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

City perfect to help Garcia achieve dreams

Midfielder believes his stint with the English champions at Manchester can lead to Spain call.

Garcia is settling in well at Old Trafford despite the intensity of the English Premier League.
Garcia is settling in well at Old Trafford despite the intensity of the English Premier League.

He is hoping to break into perhaps the most exclusive group of football players on the planet. Today, no accolade signifies excellence like being part of Spain's fabled midfield. It is a challenge that the man who has shared dressing room lockers with Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Raul, is looking forward to.

And Manchester City's Javi Garcia believes that joining the Premier League champions will help him achieve that ambition.

"Of course I realise that being a midfielder it is very difficult to break into the Spanish national team," the former Real Madrid and Benfica player said.

"But it is every player's ambition to represent his country, and I believe that playing for a great club like Manchester City will help me do that."

Garcia has already tasted international success with Spain's under 19s, winning the 2006 Euros alongside the likes of Chelsea's Juan Mata, Barcelona's Gerard Pique and Queens Park Ranger's Esteban Granero, a fellow teammate at Real Madrid Castilla at the time.

He has just one cap for the senior Spanish team - 22 minutes of a friendly against Serbia in May - and a formidable cast stands in the way of becoming a regular in Vicente del Bosque's side.

Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas are well established European and World Cup champions. Among those performing understudy duties are Arsenal's Santi Cazorla and Jesus Navas of Sevilla. Bayern Munich spent €40 million (Dh236m) on Javi Martinez in the summer, yet he only has eight caps.

Being in the company of big names is nothing new for Garcia. As a 13-year-old trainee at Real Madrid he grew up idolising members of another exclusive club, the famous Galacticos.

"The heroes I looked up to were Ronaldo, Zidane, David Beckham, Luis Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos," he says.

"And then when I grew up I was lucky enough to train with those players."

And it was not long before he made his Primera Liga debut at the age of 17, a 5-0 win against Levante at the Bernabeu on November 28, 2004. A transfer to Osasuna in 2007 and a return to Madrid a year later followed, before Benfica signed him for €7m in the summer of 2009. It was his excellent performances in Portugal that persuaded Manchester City to make a move for him last summer.

He has found it easy to settle in England. For the first few weeks, he concedes to having spent a lot of time with Spanish-speaking players such as David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero. But he insists that he does not want that to become a trend.

"I would like to improve my English and want to spend time with my other colleagues as much as possible."

In fact, he claims the only thing he misses from back home is the food. "Probably the most difficult thing to adapt to is the food because I like Spanish food," he says smiling.

"It's difficult to find places that make Spanish food in England, but my girlfriend cooks for me at home, so I'm happy with that.

On the football front, the culture shock was one newcomers to the Premier League game often experience. "The biggest difference between the game in Spain and Portugal, and the one in England is the intensity," said Garcia, on a visit to City's official School of Football at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City, and to meet fans at the CityStore in Marina Mall.

"In English football you are always under more pressure and the game is played at a higher velocity than in Spain, where the game is slower and you can pause on the ball more."

The success of the likes of Mata and Cazorla as well as Alonso, in his time at Liverpool, bodes well for Garcia.

The best player he says has played alongside is another reminder of the experience the 25 year old has already in his career. "Zidane," he answers before the question is even completed. It is a time he looks back on fondly.

"Making my debut at 17, and standing next to Zidane, Beckham and the rest was a dream come true," he says. "Walking out onto the pitch with those players was an experience I will never forget, in years to come I'll always look back on that moment with pride."

Equally obvious is Garcia's choice for most difficult opponents. "Messi, Cristiano [Ronaldo]," he says with an obvious shrug.

And the shadow of Ronaldo and Real Madrid looms large in Garcia's near future. On November 21, City host the Spanish title holders in a Champions League qualifier they almost certainly need to win to advance from the group stage.

"I already had the opportunity to play against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu," Garcia says, referring to last month's 3-2 defeat.

"I was happy to meet up with old friends from the past and of course I'm looking forward to the game next month". But, in true professional manner, Garcia refuses to dwell on the outcome.

The game he is looking forward to most this season? "The next game."

akhaled@thenational.ae

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