Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Allianz Football for their second annual BarcaDays event in Catalunya, where over a dozen lucky competition winners had the opportunity to experience the city of Barcelona and enjoy a number of unique activities. We’ve already brought you a summary of our first training session at La Masia with a couple of FC Barcelona coaches, and I touched on our experience at the Camp Nou for the resounding win over BATE Borisov, but the undoubted highlight of the event came a little earlier on Wednesday.
The group were packed onto the event coach to travel to the outskirts of the city, where we would embark on a special guided tour round Barça’s new La Masia facilities, opened back in the Guardiola era in 2011. Since the switch to the new building, La Masia’s training pitches are far less accessible than they once used to be – making this a real "money can’t buy" experience for the competition winners.
Especially as were joined on this escapade by a familiar face: former Blaugrana and Portugal star, Deco.
I know, I gave the game away before the event – but Deco joined us on our tour, taking in the sights and sounds of the new facilities and when the tour was over, he was more than happy to spend half-an-hour with us, talking about his life, his time at Barça and who makes the cut in his ‘dream team’...
Hi Deco, thanks for coming all the way from Sao Paulo to talk to us, what are you doing with your time now that you’ve hung up your boots?
No, it’s good to be back; I’ve been spending time back in Brazil, with my family – five children, three boys, two girls. They keep me busy now!
What can I say; we didn’t have a lot to do at home!
OK, so what would you say is more difficult for you: playing in midfield, against fellow stars like yourself…or playing at home with your five kids?
Oh, definitely against my kids! It’s always been difficult, but especially now that they are growing up. My eldest is 15; the others are 13, 12, 8 and 5. And all days now against them, they are difficult!
I can imagine! You’ve made quite an easy and natural transition away from the game entirely now that you’ve hung up your boots. What advice would you give to today’s players who are coming to the ends of their careers in terms of ‘life after football’?
After football? Hmm... it’s very difficult for the older players after football, because when you talk about some of these players, everyone thinks about them playing, and playing for the big clubs. That was my life, my career – but there are others playing for small clubs and for everyone, it’s difficult. There’s not really a lot of talk about depression affecting players, but when they finish their careers, they are still young and a lot of guys did not learn a profession – they didn’t learn how to do anything else and that’s why I think there’s a lot of this [depression] today, but no-one talks about it.
In my case as an example, I did everything right. I try to work now that I’ve finished football, of course, but if you see players when they finish there is maybe 7% who have a skill and have jobs... it’s very difficult, very complicated. Still no-one talks about that. Not even just in football, but in all sports. Basketball... any professional sport it’s the same: it’s very difficult because you are still young really, but at the same time you are told that you are too old to do this anymore...
So would you say that the financial aspect is very much a secondary issue, and should clubs instead do more to help manage their players with that psychological transition into life post-football?
Yeah, it’s not just about things like finances, social routines or lifestyle habits, it’s more about the psychological side. There are a lot of people, ex-players; they don’t know how to manage that, you know? They’ve finished their career and all this – more the emotional side – it’s tough to handle. You need to be open about what you’re experiencing. Discuss your feelings and be open-minded about what’s next for you and your family.
At Barça, it’s different. Barça have their own network for ex-players and they can organise so you can play with and against other ex-players, but elsewhere and even here, it’s always very complicated.
Changing the subject to a lighter note: looking back to your time here at Barça, looking back what would you say is your favourite memory from your time with the club?
When I came to Barça, it was what, 11 years ago? The last title that Barcelona won [prior to 2004] was 7 years ago. The last Champions [League] title was in ’92. It was a difficult time and I remember all the fans, they said "we need to win something, even the Copa del Rey – anything is good" and that’s it; our team… we changed that dynamic. We changed that because we won, we won back Barça’s pride – that special feeling when you play for, or support FC Barcelona.
Winning the Champions [League] in Paris, it was such a great experience, evoking that feeling of pride among the Catalan people. We had one million, two million people lining the streets, welcoming us back from Paris and celebrating with us. In football, to me, when you win something important, it doesn’t just feel good because you have won but because you have brought pride and joy to all the fans. That journey home from Paris to be greeted by so many Culés... it was such a powerful experience, one that will stay with me forever.
Of course, after winning the Champions League and winning La Liga, you went to London and you had a spell at Chelsea. We know you still follow the game; what do you think about of Jose Mourinho’s current situation?
[laughs] Well, I think first of all I’d like to say it was a great experience for me to play in the Premier League. My first year was very good, but in the second I had a lot of family problems, medical problems – my father back in Brazil – so at the end of that second year, while I wanted to stay, I had to come back. I didn’t plan to go back to Brazil, but as it was personal problems, I had no choice.
For me, it was a shame. I loved it there; the game is different. In Spain, you have more time to play. Technique, possession and tactics are what’s important. The Premier League is so fast, physical and competitive. The competition is different and I think at this time, the Premier League is even more difficult with the recent injection of sponsorship money. All the clubs – even the new clubs – are better and with more money than in the past 4, 5 years. That’s why Chelsea and Jose are finding it tough and struggling to compete... that’s why it is different to them from 10 years ago. Now it’s very complicated to even win against the Stoke City’s in the league – it’s just the way it is in England at the moment.
Final question: you played with some great players throughout your career and if you had to pick a team of 11 players – your ‘dream team’ from all the people you had played with – who would be in the line-up?
Oh, that’s a tough one…including me, or no? [laughs]
We’ll leave up to you!
Well, I had a lot of luck because I played with some of the best players; great players from some of the best clubs. Porto, Barcelona, Chelsea and the National Team… it’s a difficult choice. You say I need to pick eleven players but now it’s even tough to just pick one! These days there is so much talk around who is the best… Leo... Cristiano... Neymar... but they forget that football is a game with 11 players.
Anyway, in my opinion, if I had to make a choice, maybe I would start with Carles Puyol to play on the right. Centre-half is Rafa Marquez, of course from here in Barcelona and Ricardo Carvalho from the National Team and Porto. The left... Sylvinho also from Barça.
In the midfield, maybe Xavi and Maniche, again from the National Team and from Porto. Of course Leo [Messi]… Leo... Ronny [Ronaldinho]...Cristiano. With those guys, they could all do something special, they could all make the difference... but it won’t be a team without me! [laughs]
Goalkeeper? Oh! I played with some of the best... Victor Valdes at Barça, Vitor Baia for Portugal and at Porto... but Victor was the best. I think he would be in the team for sure.
Easy follow-up, we have to ask: who would the coach be?
Again, I had a lot of luck in my career to work with Scolari, Mourinho, Ancelotti with Chelsea…it’s difficult to choose one. I’ll pass!
Thanks for your time Deco!
Not at all, my pleasure.