The former Barça player, a member of the squad of the first Barça triplet, is looking for a team in this winter market
The 33-year-old midfielder reached his peak in form in the United States and became MLS champion
He is a member of the mythical generation of ’87 that gave birth to players like Messi, Piqué and Cesc
Member of La Masia’s Generation of 87, the one that brought together from fry to cadets names like Piqué, Messi and Cesc Fàbregas, and that counted the games by goals scored instead of by victories, Victor Vazquez (Barcelona, 33 years old) was called to be the great figure of the Barça quarry —even above Messi—, but two knee injuries kept him off the pitch for almost a year and a half. Now, with a backpack full of experiences, some better and others in more inhospitable places, he is looking for a team after terminating his last contract with Belgian Eupen after only two months in the team.
In the lower categories of Barça he coincides several years with Piqué, Messi and Fàbregas, among others. What memory do you have of that stage? I have a spectacular memory of having coincided with all those players, and some who have stayed by the way, because of course, we cannot all arrive … It is very difficult, but I remember it with pride. We won the games very easily, we always won all the leagues and cups … and all that with an incredible atmosphere; the one about children enjoying football, which was what it was all about. Not to compete to win, but to enjoy. We were growing and each year we were better. Until there comes a point that one jumps before the other, or they need a defender before a forward, and we have already separated. But from fry to cadet A we were always together. And those have been the best years of my life, for sure.
In many articles of the time they put the label that Messi has won in the end. Like the one who had to reach the first team, who was decisive, who marked everything … At the beginning, when I was signed from Damm, I was playing forward. The first years he was always the ‘top scorer’ and scored many goals. It was what I was born with, I liked to score goals. Then at three or four years old, when Leo arrived, we were changing and he also played as a midfielder. There I felt much more comfortable, because I collaborated more in the team’s game, since at that time, being a forward, I had to always be in the area to finish. And with that change in position I felt better, more involved when it came to combining, making nice plays. And then if he could finish them, much better.
But tell me the truth, were there spats with Messi to see who scored the most goals? (Laughs) They were always healthy piques. Everyone thought that they were piques as a competition to see who finished as the top scorer, but it was not like that. They have always been very healthy and with the aim of having fun and enjoying themselves. Never from selfishness or saying “I want to score more than Victor, or I more than Leo.” No, at no time has it been like that and at no time did we feel it that way.
Do you have a relationship with Messi right now? The truth is that little. We recently created a WhatsApp group of the Generation of 87 and we are all stuck there. We have ever spoken with all of us and sometimes I with Leo privately, but little. I do not like to bother and less with the problems he has had this last year with the club. I prefer not to get involved, or be writing to him because things are bad. If we ever write to each other, great. We will always be there, but obviously we don’t have that relationship that we had ten years ago.
Do you know at least if the famous celebration he made by scoring in the 2017 MLS (US league) final came to him, in which, as he did at the Santiago Bernabéu, he took off his shirt and showed it to the stands? Yes, I know it came to him, because I do speak with Piqué more often and he said: “How have you copied yourself from Leo, eh?” It was a bet that I had with my family and friends, who told me that if I scored a decisive goal in the final that I would celebrate it in the Leo style. Well, I’m not one to do these things, but since it was a final, I knew that it also had repercussions and it made me happy, I did.
In the youth category he accumulated two knee injuries. How long did you go without playing? The first time I wasn’t there long. It was just a small kneecap dislocation that popped out for a moment and snapped back into place. So I was away for a couple of months. Although once it was overcome, he was already a certain fear, because his knee did not feel the same. That time was difficult because it was one of the first serious injuries I had as a player just when I saw Barça C and Barça B close by. And I had a bad time. But hey, then with a good treatment, talking a lot with Dr. Cugat and with the Barça people we were able to move forward and I continued well until … well, until what happened in the Barça B era happened.
The breaking of the crusader? As was? Well, it was an unfortunate move, which can happen to everyone in football. A Villarreal B player in a match in Second B was late, I wanted to put a long ball to the other side, he hit something above my shin and I heard how my knee hit a very, very loud crack. I thought the worst. So it was; 14 months out. Anterior cruciate ligament tear of the knee.
Did you then have the feeling that you could be forgotten or that you could become a broken toy of that promising generation? Not that they were going to forget about me, but they were going to run over me. There I felt that my football train was passing, because at Barça there are a lot of talent and incredible players. Then your opportunity will surely pass due to so much time that I was going to be out and that you know that other players are obviously going to take advantage of it. And in fact, so it happened and they took advantage of it.
How is the decision to leave Barça at the age of 24? I had been in the subsidiary for five years, I had played a game with the first team, but I saw that it was going to be very difficult to settle down and I did not want to be the typical bench player. So I preferred to leave Barça, make my own career and start enjoying another type of football.
It was then said that Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger had taken an interest in you. Was there real interest? Yes, it was because Barça told me about it, but it was never an interest with a firm offer on the table.
He signed for Eupen in the Belgian league in August and, having participated in just 13 minutes, left the club in October. Why? Because when I arrived at Eupen I was not in a very comfortable family situation. I decided to go back to Europe because with the sports director, Jordi Condom, I get along very well and I decided to try the experience. But after two months, between the lack of minutes and the family problems not being resolved, I decided to talk to Condom and we agreed to terminate the contract. I was able to come to Barcelona to be close to my family, which is what I needed, and today, things having been sorted out, then to wait for new challenges in January.
Is MLS among your plans again? Yes of course. MLS for me is one of the best leagues where I have been. I have very good memories of Toronto and the league. And yes, obviously it is within my plans. But hey, today there is nothing official or interest from any specific club.
Do you think you could fit in in Toronto again? Fitting in for sure would fit, because Toronto’s point guard is more or less the same, even though now Greg Vanney (the coach who signed him) has made the decision to leave. But the club has been working very well for years and yes, it is clear that it would be a very good option for me. Although not as a franchise player (players above the salary cap), because I am already an age and I also have to understand that they try to sign younger players.
The Los Angeles Galaxy has signed Greg Vanney as their new coach. If I called you, what would you say when you picked up the phone? Well, the truth is, I wouldn’t think about it. I have a very good relationship with Greg, as with everyone in Toronto, but with him I always had a special ‘feeling’ and we have continued talking since I left Toronto two years ago. If he called me, then delighted. It would be nice to go to one in a city like Los Angeles too. I also have good friends there, like Jonathan Dos Santos and other players I already know from the league. It would be an interesting challenge. That he does not call me, because nothing happens, because he also has to make a new team there.
If the option of the United States does not go ahead, do you consider playing again wherever it is? Wherever it is, not really. I want to continue playing soccer, since I still feel good and I am at an age that I cannot stop playing for long because it shows. But I can allow myself to say no to some places where it might be more difficult for me to go for the family issue, or for other circumstances.
And if a proposal from a club that interests you does not arrive, are you considering withdrawal? No, that’s far. If I did not have an attractive offer at a professional level, I would look for any option in Europe that would allow me to continue playing at least this half a year and then in the summer market I would look for other options. But I’m quite confident in everything I’ve done in my career and I think interesting things are going to come out.
In your time in Qatar, were you happy? The first six months in Al-Arabi yes, the truth. But after that time I changed clubs, to Umm Salal, and I did not know that this was as small a team as the one I found myself, so I was not as happy as in the previous one.
Looking at it with perspective, and despite winning economically, was it worth leaving Toronto for the experiences in Qatar? Yes, I take it all as a positive experience in football. I’m not sorry about anything, really. Everything we have decided, both my family and I, has always been because we wanted a new experience. Although obviously, I think that because of everything I won in Toronto and what I have been as a player there, I would have liked to stay longer in Canada. But when you get closer to an age you prefer new experiences, a little more money and live, because overall in football the career is very short.
In Cruz Azul (Mexico) he had knee problems and, after medical treatment, he became infected, which left him out for several months. Was that episode decisive to say “this is not my place”? It was not decisive, but it was a moment when I did not feel comfortable with how they came to treat me medically. Because actually, and I have to say it like that, although it tastes bad, but it was their fault. There was a bad injection that they gave me in the knee and I assume it was infected by that product. Because my knee had never been swollen. We were very scared because it was my knee that was operated on. So I decided to speak with the doctor and the president, so that they would let me return to Barcelona so that Dr. Cugat could intervene. And well, yes that episode helped make the decision to leave Mexico.
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Regarding the fact that there are no declines in American soccer and that, therefore, the fans are not so demanding in difficult situations, did it give you the confidence that perhaps you lacked in Mexico so that we could see your best version? Surely yes. But the one who really gave me confidence was the club directly with the base and structure that they had made. I spent a very bad year in Mexico to get to a place that was totally different, in which everything was much easier and in which things suddenly turned out by themselves. Because with the talent and the desire that that group had, the results came and in the end you are happy.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.