x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Barca star who didn't make it to the top

Arnau Riera, the former B team captain, tells the tale of his career.

Arnau, left, in action for his last club, Scotland’s Falkirk.
Arnau, left, in action for his last club, Scotland’s Falkirk.

I started my youth apprenticeship at Mallorca, but moved to Barca. Even at youth level, the main difference between the two clubs was not only the quality of the players, but how you were encouraged to think quicker at Barca, to always think about moving the ball forward.

The influence of [Johan] Cruyff was everywhere. Training was always done with a ball at your feet. Barca has been the only club I've played at where it was like that. Players are made to feel special, too. The transport to games, the hotels, the tracksuits, the kit, everything is perfect.

I played with Andres Iniesta and Victor Valdes as they progressed through the B team. I also trained with the first team and played several friendlies, where I roomed with Samuel Eto'o. The first team was just another step up in speed.

It was unbelievably fast, but apart from that, Barca do all they can to minimise the step up. That way players don't feel extra pressure when they move from the B to the first team. They already know the Barca way.

Mentally, nothing fazes you and the formation and system is the same 4-3-3 at all Barca teams.

By 2005 I was the captain of Barca B and newspapers said I was the next player to break into the first team. Lionel Messi played in my team; his talent was obvious.

I hit him hard in training one day so that he knew he was playing with the big boys. He flew up in the air like a fly, then landed, dusted himself down and carried on. Quiet off the pitch, he was a bomb on it. He moved quickly into the first team. I didn't.

Xavi and Iniesta were ahead of me, Thiago Motta, Rafael Marquez and Gabri too. I couldn't see how I would get in so I moved to Sunderland on a three-year contract in 2006. I got man of the match in my first game, then Roy Keane was appointed manager. He didn't play me once, didn't give me a chance.

I went on loan to Falkirk in Scotland in two one-year deals. It was a drop down, but I enjoyed it. Iniesta got in touch when Barca played Celtic in the Champions League; he's a good lad. Then I ruptured my cruciate ligament in 2009.

I was soon out of contract and not earning any money when [Sunderland chairman] Niall Quinn invited me to finish my recovery at Sunderland - a kind gesture from a great man.

I've been living with [Middlesbrough's] Julio Arca for the last three months and I'm fully recovered, fit ready to play again. I hope to go on trial and find a club in the New Year. I'm 29 and willing to go anywhere. It's a long way from being at Barca, but I'm not bitter at all. I just want to be playing football again.

* Interview by Andy Mitten