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The son of a Basque father and a Galician mother, Urko Pardo started out at Anderlecht in Belgium, and then spent eight years of his youth years at Futbol Club Barcelona. The goalkeeper has dual Belgian and Spanish nationality, and has played for Apoel for the last three seasons. After beating HJK Helsinki of Finland and Aalborg of Denmark in the qualifying rounds, the Cypriot outfit are through to the group stages of the Champions League for the third time, and fate determined that Pardo will now be up against his former club. He spoke to us about his life in Cyprus, and also his fond memories of his time at Barça.
How’s your Cypriot experience going?
Very well. I’ve been here for three years, since the 2011/12 season, and I’m very happy. Yes, the football here is very different, but it’s also very competitive. Being a small island, people don’t follow our league very much, but there’s a strong level and it’s an interesting competition. There may not be much of a history to Cypriot football, but the league is very competitive.
Are you looking forward to playing at the Camp Nou?
We’re very much looking forward to playing there and enjoying it. But we’re cool about it. We’ve got a bit of European experience behind us and we’re confident about the game.
There may not be much of a history to Cypriot football, but the league is very competitive
Is Cypriot football very different to in the rest of Europe?
A lot of foreigners come here. A lot of Brazilians, Portuguese, Spaniards and so on. And all those different players sort of bring their experiences here, because there isn’t much of a history of youth football in Cyprus. There’s no Masia or academies like that. The football here is more technical and physical than in other European countries.
Are there any parallels between the Spanish and Cypriot leagues?
More than parallels, I’d say differences. For a start, there’s a big difference in the clubs’ budgets. But because of the world financial crisis, a lot of players from elsewhere have come here and that’s helped to raise the level. This league is growing.
What are Apoel’s strong points?
We are a team that works hard for each other. A team that shares the workload and gives everything on the pitch. We’ve got European experience. Most of us have played in European competitions already. And we’re very keen.
We are a team that works hard for each other
What do you expect from the trip to Barcelona?
To get a good result, why not? We are coming as a quality unit and we want to try to balance the result. Like I said, we’ve got European experience and we’re confident we can get a good result at the Camp Nou.
Who are the standout players in the Apoel team?
To be honest, if I were to name anyone, it would be disrespectful to the others. But of course, any of the strikers in this team are dangerous.
Tell us about your experience at FC Barcelona. What memories do you have of your eight years at the club?
I have wonderful memories of my time at Barça. I always felt really comfortable there. Of course I took some time to adapt at first, but once I did, I learned so much. I identify with the club’s values. With how it concentrates on youth players. Barça made me a good footballer but also a good person. I’m very grateful to the club.
Barça made me a good footballer but also a good person. I’m very grateful to the club
After leaving Barça, you went club-hopping around Europe. How was that experience?
Truth is, it was not a hard decision to leave the club. The situation was different back then. There weren’t as many openings for young players. We weren’t shown the same confidence, and I thought it would be better to try my luck abroad. First, I went to the Greek league to play for Iraklis FC, and after that I was at Olympiakos.
Did you play in the Champions League for Olympiakos?
In 2009/10, when we got to the second round. We lost to Bordeaux. Playing in Europe always provides experience.
What do you think of the new-look Barça under Luis Enrique?
I think it’s a team that’s been reformed, but that has stuck to its foundations. It seems to be going well so far. Of course, it’s a great team that’s hard to beat.
Have you ever played at the Camp Nou?
Not in an official match, no. Only in training. Once, in the 2002/03 season, but I was unlucky at tore cruciate ligaments in the last game of that season.
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