Manchester United was where you became a professional. Did you learn a lot in the Premier League?
“A lot. Despite not playing as much as I would have liked, I learned a lot from all the players, the manager and from the bad moments. When you want to play and you know that you cannot do so as much as you want to. Those are bad times that you have to cope with along because it affected me living alone and, in all honesty, made me mature a great deal.”
What is Sir Alex Ferguson like? Do you remember the first time you spoke to him?
“An great affect. The first time had a real impact, honestly. I was 17 years old and to find yourself with Sir Alex Ferguson makes you so nervous, but little-by-little he helped to give me a lot of confidence. To me, I have always said, he was like a second father. My family was in Barcelona and I was on my own and he helped me in every aspect, not only professionally but also personally.”
Did he give you any advice before you came to Barcelona?
“No, he simply he said that he would like to offer me a new contract. He understood the situation perfectly about me coming to Barça, the club of my life, and he wished me all the luck in the world. He then sent me a letter when I was here in Barcelona, to me and my parents, recognising that maybe he had made a mistake, but that a decision had to be taken and he was very pleased for me.”
You played alongside great players like (Nemanja) Vidic, (Rio) Ferdinand, (Wayne) Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I learnt a lot, above all from Rio and Vidic who play in my position. Playing with them was a unique experience. They help you so much on the pitch and show you how to move, to position yourself, to make the right decisions and that is a great experience. You could pay to have those types of lessons anywhere.”
How was Roy Keane? A Manchester United legend and a character of the game.
“He is the player that has the most influence in a dressing room that I have ever seen. I have been in many dressing rooms and with very important players, but I remember reaching half time in games and it was only him that spoke, the one that made the speech. Sir Alex Ferguson was to one side and he spoke. I am still profoundly affected by him.”
What happened with a mobile phone and Roy Keane?
“I used to keep it in the pocket of my tracksuit that we wore when we met up with United and I hung it on the peg and it began to vibrate. There was no sound, it just vibrated and he did not like mobile phones in the dressing room. You had to be completely focussed on the game an hour beforehand and then it began to vibrate and he noticed it and there was a bit of a kerfuffle.”
Then he discovered it was your phone?
“He discovered it and he told me off.”
But you respected him?
“Yes, especially at the time when I was so young. In England the older players are highly respected. The veterans are still highly respected. Here in Spain as well, but the relationship between the older and younger players is more fluid that it is in England. In England it is more complicated and you have to respect the older players a lot.”