In just a few days, Barcelona will play the traditional Camp Nou opener, as they contest the 50th edition of the Joan Gamper trophy at home, this year against Serie A runners-up AS Roma. The match is attractive in many ways, but one of the most interesting reasons is the return of a Blaugrana great: Seydou Keita comes back to Camp Nou three years after ending his triumphant Barça career.
The Malian midfielder was one of the key members of the Pep Guardiola Era. One of the first names on the coach's mind to enter as a substitute, Keita offered a completely new style. Even though he was able to play the tiki-taka, his ability to come in as a replacement to any of the midfielders and add a lot more verticality and presence in the offensive box was always fundamental to the scheme.
Keita gave an interview to Barça's website to preview his return to what he calls home. He also talked about his current club, and how it will feel to play at Camp Nou again in front of fans who love him. Here's a few highlights:
How is the Italian experience going for you?
"Very well. Last year we had a good season, we came second in the league, although I have to say the second half of the season was difficult. We ended behind only Juventus, who made it to the final of the Champions League, so I think I can say it was a good season."
How are Roma preparing for the Joan Gamper and the season that’s starting?
"We know we’re playing the best team in Europe, the champions. So it is an important game for us. We’re playing against a top class team and there are just a few days to go before we start the official competitions. Roma is the kind of club that always aims to win some kind of trophy at the start of the season, whether it’s the league or cup. Juventus are obviously the favourites, but we have a team that can do even better than last season."
Since you left, this is the first time that you have come to the Camp Nou wearing a different shirt. How are you preparing for that moment?
"I’m happy. As it’s a friendly, there’s less pressure. So I can enjoy it more. I had the best four years of my life at Barcelona, both personally and as a player, and I’ll never forget that. The fans always treated me very well, they never booed me once. I would say that this is like a homecoming, back to the place where I won everything."
What do you think of the current Barça team?
"The season hasn’t started yet, but look at last season! They won the treble, so what more do I have to say?"
You were there for the first treble. What differences are there between that team and the one now?
"It’s hard to compare two very different times. Now they can win all six titles as well. But the most important thing is that they won the treble again."
Do you think Barça will be able to win all six trophies?
"Of course! It is much harder to win the treble than the sextet. It takes five games to win the two Super Cups and the Club World Cup, a lot less than winning the Champions League or la Liga. I wouldn’t say the job is already done, but they are very close and they have the squad to do it."
How would you define the Neymar Jr-Messi-Suárez forward line?
"Everyone knows it’s the best forward line in world football. It was unreal for them to score as many goals as they did last season. And it’s also unreal for a team to have three strikers of such class at the same time. Even with Suárez suspended for four months things worked out very well for them."
What is your fondest memory of your time at Barça?
"There are so many. I was probably there for the best four years in the history of the club. Plus I was lucky enough not to go through any difficult times on a personal level. So I’d like to remember all four years as a whole."
How would you like Barça to remember you?
"As a player that gave everything he had in the four years that he was there. Somebody who wore the shirt with dignity and who respected the club. That would be enough for me."