Puyol: "It was Guardiola who told me I'd be marking Figo...”
In the October 2000 Clásico, it was Guardiola, then still a player, not coach Llorenç Serra Ferrer, who told the full-back to start doing his homework on Figo.
Carles Puyol played in no less than 29 Clásicos. Now, the former Barcelona captain is an ambassador for LaLiga and was one of the first to reveal a selection of his own anecdotes of these battles between the two eternal rivals at an event today.
Puyol disclosed how, in October 2000, when he had only recently entered the first team squad and a few months after Luis Figo had left to join Madrid, he was in charge of marking the Portuguese winger on his first return to Camp Nou in an electrically-charged battle royale: “I remember that at the start of the week, all of the sports papers were reporting that [Michael] Reiziger would be the one marking Figo but Guardiola told me to start thinking about the Portuguese player and doing my homework… It was on the morning of the game that [Barça coach Llorenç] Serra Ferrer told me I'd be covering that wing. The atmosphere that night was incredible. It was quite a difficult situation for Figo but even so, I thought he was Madrid's best player on the day. I did speak to him about it later that day but we've never discussed it since”.
El Clásico: “It has always been a special game. And you always get nervous. People start talking about it 10 days before the game. It's the game that everyone waits the whole year for. I've been lucky enough to experience of a few of them and I have some really fond memories - the 0-3 at the Bernabéu (in 2005), the 2-6 win in 2009, the 5-0 at Camp Nou… If I had to single out just one, it would be the 2-6 because that allowed us to extend our lead at the top of the table”.
The repercussions of the game: “When you are playing, you have to focus only on what is happening on the pitch and nothing else. If you are thinking about the public or what the media might say, it's very difficult to concentrate in a Clásico. It's only when you are on the outside of it all that you really see what repercussions it has”.
Vital for Barça: “As a Culé I've no need to say what I want to happen. It's an important game for Barcelona but it won't be definitive if Real Madrid win but even now there is little margin for error. Things could become complicated".
Any tips on taking Cristiano out of the game? “What matters is that Barcelona maintain their game and keep hold of the ball. That will make Madrid less dangerous - not just Cristiano, all of them are good. Barça have to maintain their style”.
What's your prediction? “I hope that we see a great game of football, that the fans enjoy it and Barça win. I'm going for a 3-1. In my own experience of Clásicos, the more Barcelona were seen as favourites, the harder it was for us to win”.
Can you imagine Messi at any club other than Barça?. “No. As a Culé and a friend of his, I hope he continues for many years. This is the best place for him, and he's happy. He's got a year and half to run on his contract and we have to focus on the present but I think Messi's going to stay for many more years”.
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