Can you watch Atlético?
Yes I follow everything daily. And you know? I suffer more. Before I didn’t, I was on the inside and enjoying it. I was able to help if something was wrong, I was able to fix it. Now, I feel powerless.
I’m sure it was strange, watching the first game and not being in it…
A lot (he smiles). It seemed like I was still there, that I was, in some way, warming up. I know every exercise by heart.
And now your ‘14’ shirt is Rodrigo’s…
In the end of the day, it’s the players that mark an era, not the numbers. I like that Rodrigo is wearing ‘14’. His story is similar to mine. He left; he did well at another club, and then came back.
You like him then?
He’s a very capable player. He wins back a lot of balls and he positions himself well. Now he has to adapt to Atléti's game. He’s not going to have as much possession as he had at Villarreal.
Is it difficult to adapt?
Not if you really want to win and contribute to the team. I’m sure Rodrigo will adapt quickly.
Would you have liked to have been there this year to advise him?
That weighs on me a little: leaving and not being there to make his adaption a little easier. That was the plan, with Rodrigo, with Thomas. My advice to them would be to observe their teammates, the coach and the dynamic. That’s how you learn.
Who called you (from Qatar)? Was it Xavi?
Yes. He asked Fernando (Torres) for my number. Two, three days after, he called me. He told me that his boss had seen the (Europa League) final in Lyon. “He says that you are his man, that you have to come here to Al Sadd”. I did not give it much attention really. We had the Europa League, and the dream of winning the Champions League. I told him it wasn’t the time and it stayed like that.
But there was another call…
Two days before the news broke (Xavi called again). “Xavi, we’ve already talked about this,” I said and hung up. After the first call, I had a meeting with Miguel Angel (Gil). He told me: “Come to my house and let’s talk.” I went. (Atletico) was going to make me an offer because I was staying… a contract for one more year. “Gabi, I’m calling you on behalf of the brother of the Prince,” Xavi was then telling me. “The figures have changed. Forget the others; forget the conditions you put yourself. They are very interested.” So I called my agent Manuel García Quilón: “Listen, speak to Xavi, it’s about the offer from Qatar." Three days later I signed. It was an opportunity that was not going to come up again. But it was unexpected, I didn't have time to think.
Because if you think about it, you wouldn't go.
Those three days were very difficult. I was in Alicante with my children. I travelled to Madrid to meet the club’s special envoy, and I closed it. When I went back to take my children home, I was crying all the way. “What’s wrong, dad?” my son said. I was thinking: “What I have done with my life.” But I have done it for them, for my family. I’m convinced that if there was a moment to go, it was that. Although, I have left things to do. Not winning the Champions League has stuck with me. But, you know, the day that Atletico lift (the trophy), I will have lifted it too.
What did Diego Simeone say when you called him and told him you were leaving?
He understood. He told me it would be a loss that was going to hurt the dressing room a lot. But that I had given so much, and that because it was such an important offer, and because of my age, he was going to help me to leave.
Two years ago, you had an offer from China…
Yes, and financially better, but we had just lost the Champions League final. They were insisting a lot, but I said no. I couldn’t go.
You have been in Qatar for 15 days. What has surprised you most?
The heat! It’s tremendous. They have told me that July and August are the worst months and after it gets better. I spoke with Xavi and he said: “Stay in a little hotel, it's easier to adapt.” Everything is going well… better than I thought.
What’s your view on the Super Cup?
Atléti need to win. Not because it's Madrid but because it is a push to start the the league well. And they're going to do it, I'm sure. Simeone has prepared the preseason thinking about this game. I know. I haven’t been there but I was there for others and I know this.