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This Tuesday’s game between Borussia Dortmund and Barça will be very special for me. What a way to start the Champions League! And the Westfalenstadion is an amazing stadium where I had a specular time and where Dortmund, a team that I am very fond of after everything I experienced there, is playing for the first time in the Champions League against the team that I entered as a kid and came out a man: Barça.
I’ll be enjoying the game from my sofa in Seville, where I’m now enjoying my football at such a spectacular club as Betis. It’ll be impossible not to remember all the moments I had at Barça and Dortmund as I’m sat in front of the television.
I can remember the road I took to get where I am now like it was yesterday. I was 8 years old and living in Sant Jaume dels Domenys when I started out at Barça. At first it was tough going to travel from Barcelona to the village and from the village to my house. I had to make the journey every day with my brother, Eric, and it took more than an hour.
Until one day I got the chance to move into La Masia.
The sacrifice of leaving home was hard, but wearing the Barça shirt to compete and not just go out on the street, as I had always done, but to go out on the pitch, was something that got me very excited.
I was lucky enough to go through all the age levels with coaches that I’ll always remember and who helped me a lot, like Sergio Lobera, Fran Sánchez, Rodolfo Borrell, Alex García, Albert Capellas, Albert Benaiges and Pimi [García Pimienta, current Barça B boss]...and I had the fortune of getting to play for the first team. And I say fortune because it was a dream, but representing Barça also brought a responsibility.
I remember years of much expectation, but they were also tough because of the competition for places. I knew I had to deliver my very best because there were children coming from all over the world for trials. Any mistake and you could throw it all away. But with a lot of work and with support from my parents and people, I made it through each of the stages.
I remember one moment that I’ll never forget.
It was in the U18 team when Rodolfo Borrell told us that we were now 16 years old and that football was still a hobby, but we were aware that it could end up being our profession. It was a talk that I will always remember, because it was then that I realised that if I did things right, my dream of turning professional could come true.
Neither can I forget that I went to Barça as a kid and as time went by, with all the pressure involved in being in the best youth football system in the world, combining training with exams at school, you start to realise that you are maturing and getting stronger in character.
The most special moment for me was, without a doubt, the Vicente Calderón. It was February 2009 and Barça were away to Atlético Madrid. I was in the squad. And at half-time Pep turned to me and said: "Marc, get ready for the second half, you’re sure to get on". I couldn’t believe it. It’s a moment when you can’t help thinking about all that it had taken to get here and the dream of making your debut for the team you have supported all your life, with your heroes and in a stadium like this, is about to come true. Without noticing it I had already warmed up and they got me ready to go on for Jeffren. And you know what? I played at right back! Covering stars like Forlán, Kun Agüero...Awesome! You can’t imagine how exciting it was. That’s when I realised that I was ready to make the leap.
Under Pep I travelled a lot with the first team and although I didn’t play much, I learned a lot. Most of all, finding out how the pros live, and I was all ears listening to them talk and also staring at Puyi, Andrés, Geri, Víctor, Sergio, Xavi, Leo ...They were all club legends, my heroes and they had all gone through the same process as me!
But before that, two of my best years in football were my time at Barça B with Luis Enrique. They were two spectacular years. We won promotion to the Second Division and the year after we finished in the highest position ever for the reserve team, third in the league. Tito gave me a permanent place in the first team and although it was a difficult year because of his illness, he gave me loads of advice. It was with Tata that I got to play the most first team football and I got to feel important. It’s a pity that because of two matches we didn’t win the league or the cup.
Another moment that I’ll surely never forget was winning the Champions League in Berlin. It was my second period with Lucho at Barça and it was the year we won everything. And it was a moment when you realise that you have made history being part of a team that has lifted the European Cup. My good form at Barça took me to the national team, when Del Bosque called me up for the team and that was another of my goals achieved. Especially when I could go the next summer from winning the treble to the Euros in France.
After four year in the first team the competition for places got very strong. Geri and Masche were very strong and I wasn’t playing as regularly as I would have liked. And then a chance came up at Borussia Dortmund. I realised that if I wanted to keep enjoying football I’d need to find new challenges, and Thomas Tuchel, the manager at the time, rang me and convinced me to go. It was a new challenge and I wanted to try new things.
Leaving the club where you have spent your whole life is not easy, and more so when you have to take the whole family, but I felt loved there from the very first moment.
In that regard, I am especially grateful to my wife, Melissa, for the way she helped me and the way we adapted. She has lived in lots of cities and luckily speaks lots of languages. Ah, Gala. Ah, Gala! Poor little thing, it was very cold and you sometimes saw the snot dribbling down onto the schoolyard. But we looked after her well. The winters were very cold in Germany, and the days are very short, and so times and schedules also have to change a bit because there are so few daylight hours.
As for football, unless you are part of it, it is very hard to appreciate how special football is for the Germans. More than a sport it is a feeling. Match days are sacred for them and they follow football almost like a religion. You just have to look at the stadiums in the Bundesliga. All full! On any day and at any time. There is a very strong bond between the fans and the team and I feel truly privileged to have been one more at Borussia. Those two years meant a lot to me. It was like taking a master’s degree. In every sense. In football but also in life.
At first I remember that it was the language that I found hardest. German isn’t easy but I did classes every week. At first I mostly wanted to learn words and expressions related to football. I wanted to understand Thomas and my team-mates and thanks to them I won an important place in the first eleven.
Also thanks to Mario Götze and Gonzalo Castro! What amazing buddies. They helped me to fit into the team from the very first day. Mario is a very good listener, and although you are struggling with the language, he always tries to help. And with Marco [Reus] too. He’s the captain, the team icon, and a beautiful person. He’s not big-headed at all and did a lot to help me to adapt.
When I think about Dortmund it is impossible not to think about that wonderful stadium. Signal Iduna Park is magical. The atmosphere is awesome and it makes it very hard for opponents to play. Sometimes we’d go 1-0 down and in ten minutes you’d equalised and gone 2-1 up without knowing how. They are right on you and transmit an amazing force. It’s as if the turf is shaking and they give you the help you need to get through games.
That’s what Barça will be up against. And they’ll need to counter that atmosphere with talent. That’s why this game will be so nice to watch.
My first year was professionally very good, after all we had gone through we ended up winning the German Cup. I matured a lot as a footballer and person that year. I’ll always be grateful for the way both the fans and my team-mates treated me and the affection I received after the incident that happened and that you all know about. I felt very loved.
By the way, in that German cup final that we won we had Ousmane Dembélé with us. What a great player. He had a great season and scored some very important goals. In that final against Eintracht too (2-1).
Before he went to Barça, when we were sharing a dressing room he was always asking things about the club, looking at photos on Instagram and wanting to know what the players are like. When the offer came from Barça I told him that as a team-mate I wanted him to stay at Dortmund, but that if he went to Barça he could be a success because of his talent and because of the way Barça would look after him.
Now although I am at Betis, a historic club with a lot of feeling and passion of which I feel truly privileged to be part and that is growing a lot, I still try to watch Dortmund and Barça games. In that sense, the Betis fans and their stadium don't at all fall short of what I have experienced in Dortmund and at the Camp Nou. The fans never stop cheering you on and push you on throughout the whole game. I think, why not dream of winning a major trophy with Betis, like I’ve done at Dortmund and Barça. Last year we came very close to winning the cup. I hope we get to lift one.
On Tuesday it’s going to be a bit strange watching the game. It’s between two teams where I have felt very loved and I have friends in both one team and the other. Oh, and by the way, before the draw I predicted on WhatsApp with team-mates, relatives and friends that it would be Dortmund v Barça in the group stage. I was right!
I see two teams in good form although these are still early days. I think it’ll be a great game of football.
I’ll enjoy the game a lot and may the best team win!
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