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Marc-André ter Stegen's injury has meant that Iñaki Peña (Alicante, 02/03/1999) has taken his place for the time being as the regular first team goalie at FC Barcelona. And he has certainly shown that he is more than capable of assuming the responsibility. Here he is to tell us all about it.
* This interview was recorded for Barça Magazine 118 before the 3-2 defeat of Almeria
You are playing first team football for Barça after many years at La Masia, a loan period to Galatasaray and many seasons sat on the bench. Was it all worth it?
Yes, yes. At the end of the day, everybody wants to play and to feel important in the team. And I always knew my role, and my way of thinking hasn't changed now that I'm getting playing time and having a more direct role in the team.
Is this a reward for your patience?
Reserve goalkeepers always need to be patient. You never know when your chance might come. You have to be ready to perform at your best when called upon and to train as if you were preparing to compete the next day. So I have used every training session to improve, and playing under a keeper like Marc, you learn a lot. Everything comes with patience.
The support from home must have been important.
Very important. My partner and my family have had to put up with a lot. It is important to listen to them because there have been many ups and downs.
And has Ter Stegen helped?
Yes, every goalkeeper knows their role and the role of the other goalkeeper. We try to help each other as much as we can. To help each other get better even though we are in competition. We both train so hard and that makes us better.
You have started getting minutes at an awkward time. Would you have preferred a sweeter moment?
You have to be ready for whatever circumstance, but I didn't come into the team at the best time. But all teams have good and bad runs every season and if you come in at a bad time, you just have to hold your head up high and do what you can to help the team.
You've said your role model is Víctor Valdés...
Yes, when i was a kid of five or six, I had my eye on the Barça goal and the keeper at the time was Víctor. As I was a Barça fan, I watched my team and he was the keeper and therefore my idol.
What are you most thankful to Valdés for?
He played the ball out with his feet as Guardiola wanted, playing rather like an outfield player. He was brave and had a lot of character. He was a role model for me like that. If he made mistakes he just tried again and again. That attitude is admirable.
You look more muscular than in previous seasons. Have you been focusing on that?
Yes. When you're not playing you need to create other daily challenges, otherwise everything is harder. If you are playing you don't get to go to the gym as much, and that wasn't my case. So I set myself the goal of building up my muscle mass and that has brought benefits. I feel them when I'm playing.
The coaches have always had full faith in you.
When Xavi arrived I'd been in the reserves for several years and was the first team's third choice keeper. He felt I had the potential to play for the first team and he wanted to me to get playing time somewhere else. He helped me to get the loan deal with Galatasaray. He thought I did well and when i returned he told me he thought I was ready to compete with Marc. That¡s why I signed a new contract last season.
Turkey was a good decision?
I needed a change after four or five years as a reserve keeper. When you're young you need quality playing time. Then the chance came up to go to Galatasaray and I made the very most of it. It was a risky decision because they were in danger of relegation and their keeper, the club hero and captain, Muslera, was out injured. I had a great coach there, Domènec Torrent, and Ricard Segarra was the goalkeeping coach, who had been at Barça. That convinced me to take that option and not go somewhere in Spain. I made the right decision.
How was it to work under Domènec Torrent?
I wanted to go to a team with a similar kind of methodology to Barça and Domènec had worked for many years with Guardiola. I knew what they needed and he knew what I could do for them. And that's what convinced me.
What about your relationship with the Uruguayan keeper Muslera?
Very good. He was an institution at Galatasaray and had been in the Turkish league for 11 or 12 years. I was there because he had a serious meniscus injury and he helped me a lot, both professionally and personally. I am very fond of him and we still talk now and then.
You made your debut at Spotify Camp Nou playing for Galatasaray in a 0-0 draw in the Europa League. That must have been a very special day for you.
It was a mental click. I was able to show that I am able to compete in a top level competition. Of course, I was very pleased with my performance. I think it helped to convince Barça.
But the first to be convinced was yourself…
Yes, I went to Turkey to see if I could really compete at the highest level. So many years as a reserve meant I wasn't getting to play regular football. I had five months playing at the top and that gained me a lot of confidence.
You have yet to play for Barça at Spotify Camp Nou but you have at Montjuïc. And the fans are fond of you. How does it feel to have them chant your name?
Pride and gratitude. Since the first day I played they have shown nothing but faith in me. And that has helped me to perform.
What about Napoli as a Champions League opponent?
At the start of the season we'd have taken the hardest opponent because that would mean that at least we had got through the group stage after not doing that for two years. We wanted to top the group and we did. We have shown that Barça can take on the best of the best. Napoli? We'll see what form the two teams take into that game, but I think it will be especially important to be strong at home.
Is your main aim to become Barça's first choice goalkeeper?
We all want to play. That's why we train. If you are happy being a second choice goalkeeper than that is what you will always be. I know my place in this team, but if one day I become the first choice, so much the better.
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