Okay……Let’s start at the start Marc - what were you like as a kid?
I was a quiet boy. I was born in Barcelona, but on my second day we moved to Lloret De Mar. It’s by the sea, a popular seaside resort, and in the summer thousands go there on holiday. I have a younger brother – he loves football, too. My parents have worked in hotels – different hotels – because Lloret De Mar is a tourist kind of place, and in the summer before Covid, we used to get something like 300,000 tourists. As a kid I was polite and I liked to study and play sports.
How and when did Barca spot you?
My father and my grandfather are massive Barcelona supporters and they went to watch games, they had club cards. I used to go to watch Barcelona with them. I started playing football with my father outside, and at five years old I started to play in the village team. Barcelona came to see another lad playing who was a couple of years older than me. They saw me and they ended up taking both of us to train with them. I would have been eight or nine years old at the time – he was about eleven. I was lucky and he was unlucky I suppose as they kept me but didn’t keep him.
Did you live in the middle of Lloret?
My family started off living in the centre of Lloret, but we moved away a little towards the mountains later on. I still have great friends back home……I would say that I have five really close ones who I grew up with. I went to school at Pompeu Fabra. There, we did everything in Catalan and then we’d do Spanish in Spanish lessons. Then, I went to high school to Ramon Coll i Rodés, then to La Masia in Barcelona when I was 16.
Tell us a little about your time at La Masia….
My mum or dad drove me three days a week to training. Unlike Bojan, I studied at home in Lloret. It was really difficult as every training day I’d end up doing my homework in the car, having dinner in the car…….I’d get back about 11pm, absolutely shattered. At 16, I moved to Barcelona, to La Masia.
Training-wise at La Masia, everything was with the ball. Everything. I didn’t touch the gym until I was 17/18 years old. Sometimes you hear about kids of 10 or 11 doing gym work or just running. Not at Barcelona – we had the ball all the time and it’s a concept they have there that has done well for them.
You’ve suffered cruciate injuries on both legs - wow!
Yes, I have done both legs! I had a knee injury when I was 20 (in a pre-season friendly against Hamburg, he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament), and when I came back I was playing with the second team. I was 21 and thought it was time to leave and get regular first team football.
I had already torn my other leg’s ligaments when I was 16, so I have done both legs! The second time I knew I had done it, the first time I didn’t. After the second one, I saw my family suffering and crying; far more than me, so I just had to be strong. It made me stronger, and I wanted to get back to playing again and make them happy again.
You made your first team debut at 17 – did you feel starstruck?
Well yes, you’re living a dream. You see the players on TV, they have won everything, and then at a young age, to train with them – it’s just incredible. I was really happy and my family were really happy. It was a great time for us. It’s rare that you see Barcelona players who have come through the ranks messing about in public life. They all seem so grounded, especially the greats like Xavi, Puyol…..
Do you get media training there?
No, at Barca you didn’t have media training, but you do get taught to be a really good person. They love you to study and they think that comes first, because a lot of players play football but don’t make it, so it’s important they have a god education to have a good career in another area away from football when they leave.
Who were your best mates there?
Sergi Roberto and Marc Bartra are two big friends, but I was really good mates with everyone I played with while I was there.
You were sent off on your Barca debut – that’s not like you! I presume it was two yellows?
No, it was a straight red, ha ha! In England it wouldn’t have even been a yellow card, ha ha! It was on the touchline, I was running so fast and I made a tackle. I was the last man but it wouldn’t have been a red card in England! The supporters were cheering me, but then the ref came up with the red card and I thought “oh no!!!!” Even the other player (from Osasuna) came up to me and said it wasn’t a red card, and then Guardiola, Xavi and everyone started to shout at the ref that it wasn’t a red card!!!! I was really upset. This was my debut for the team I dreamt of playing for. I played thirty minutes, that’s all. It was a great day, but also one of the worst, too.
You were on the bench for the 2009 Champions League Final against Manchester United?
Yes, a great night, and I got a winners medal!
How did you come to play for Stoke City?
As I said, I had a knee injury when I was 20 and when I came back I was playing with the second team. I was 21 and thought it was time to leave and get regular first team football. I was sad as I love Barcelona, but it was the right thing to do and the right time to go. I had some amazing times there, including winning a Champions League medal.
I wanted first team football, simple as that, but I hadn’t really thought too much about whom for and what league, to be honest with you. I hadn’t thought too much about the Premier League at all, to be honest. A lot of people said how physical it would be, being a defender in the Premier League. But a defender has to also be intelligent, be good on the ball, and good tactically, too.
I then had the opportunity to come here and to speak to Mark Hughes who wanted to change the style of play, and he convinced me to come. It was a big step, but one I was really glad I made. I didn’t know much about the city at all, but I had heard that they played a lot of direct, physical football under the previous manager I also heard about Rory Delap, too!
You’ve suffered a few leg injuries at Stoke since you came – is it a possibility these are linked to your ACL injuries?
Yes, it could be possible. With the injuries we were doing everything we can, like changing insoles in my boots, going to different hospitals, things like that.
You lived with your girlfriend Sara (now Marc’s wife), and had several Spanish footballing friends close by?
Yes. The first year I was alone, no other Spanish players were here at Stoke. I went around a lot with Wilson Palacios. His wife was also close friends with my girlfriend, so we did lots together. To have friends around you is really important. For example, when you’re not in a good moment it’s important to have someone there you know. My family came over to watch too, especially in the winter. Sergi and Marc sometimes come over too.
Sara loved it. Sara really enjoyed her time in the UK and we were really happy here. Like you said, we lived near a number of other Spanish and Catalan players, but when I first joined I was obviously the only Spanish player at the club. But it meant I had to go and learn about the culture, learn a bit more of the language, so I’d always use my time to do this.
When Bojan came over, it was obviously great to have another player from Barca to play and socialise with, and then Joselu came too. He’s a Real Madrid player, so we were very wary of him at first, ha, ha. No, I’m joking – the three of us got on so well. Like I said, it was a brilliant time of my career and I was very happy.
You had to be patient to get your chance in the team....
Yes, but that’s to be expected. You have to remember that I was still young and obviously experiencing a new country and a new style of football. I had heard about Stoke’s style of play when they were promoted, but Mark Hughes convinced me that it had totally changed, plus we get to see many matches over in Spain, and so I was really happy to join.
I had always wanted to play in the Premier League and at the time Barcelona were the best team in Europe and I didn’t think I’d have the opportunities to play that I would have if I moved. I knew that Stoke only really had one left back, Erik Pieters, and that’s where they saw me eventually playing……
I take it you didn’t agree with this?
I wouldn’t say that, as I can play in a few positions, but I have always seen myself as a central defender. It was funny, because me and Erik were really good mates and we always shared lifts to training as we lived very close together. Yes, I wanted his place, but that never should affect a friendship. We both gave everything in training, and that’s all the manager can ask for. So, yes, my chances to play at the start were few, but I was loving my time over here. I was really happy, and knew that eventually I would get my chances.
When that chance came along, just how tough was Premier League football?
Very tough, very fast, very physical. But it came as no shock to me because training was the same. However, you can’t lie – it’s a far faster pace of game than in Spain, a lot quicker, with a lot more challenges and tackling. It was great that I played with some really good players, that helped, and as soon as I came over I was in the weights room a lot, ha ha. I knew that I would have to add a bit of weight on and yes, it was needed, as it’s such a physical and demanding league.
The 2014/15 season was a cracker, and probably your best in a Stoke shirt.
Yes, I played over half the games I think. I felt good, and despite a few injuries, I was fitter than I’d been in a long time. I think that season was the was the best period of my career. Ryan Shawcross was a really good defender and I enjoy playing next to him. For me, he was one of the best in the Premier League. He knew exactly what qualities he has. He has superb concentration, and tactically he’s good too. When I play next to him and I want to go forward he sometime shouts me back, “Stay here!!!!”, ha, ha! I like getting in front of players, getting the ball and playing. I also learned a lot off Huthy, too.
Speaking of Ryan, did you see his article recently?
Yes, it was in the Stoke Sentinel, I believe? I loved playing with Ryan and he was a brilliant player and captain. As I have just said, many outside Stoke did not value him as a player as they should have done. I was very proud when Ryan put me in his best 11 as I know how many great defenders he played with at Stoke. It means a lot, and he is someone I admire so much.
That season we had some memorable games….. winning 3-0 against Arsenal and should have been 4-0; the win at Leicester when Bojan scored the winner; Jon Walters’ hat trick against QPR; wining at Spurs; and our last two home games of the season……
You mean putting nine past Spurs and Liverpool?
Oh yes! That Spurs game, we were superb and in particular NZonzi – they simply couldn’t get near him that game. But then the Liverpool game, the last game of the season, Gerrard’s last match…..
Seeing as you mention Gerrard…..
I know what you are going to say Anthony, ha, ha!
No, I felt my hamstring go. Do you seriously think I’d let another team score, ha, ha! No, my leg went as I made a movement and I know it looked like I had, but I can assure you I didn’t. My friends who played at Barca like Sergi (Roberto) and Marc (Bartra) kept sending me the videos of that goal as a joke, saying I’d let him score as it was his final game in the Premier League, but I swear that I didn’t.
We were brilliant that day in the first half, and you have to remember that Bojan wasn’t even playing as he’d injured his knee at Rochdale. That first half is something that I will never forget. We had a very good team then, really well balanced and with very good technique. I signed a new contract that Summer, and I was so happy. We lost NZonzi, which was a massive blow, but we still had a very good team, and had finished ninth and played some top teams off the pitch. The next season for me was disrupted by injury, but we still finished ninth again, and we got to the semi finals of the cup, but I thought we weren’t quite as good as the season before.
You mention the semi final of the League Cup. What do you remember about those matches against Liverpool?
Well, I mainly remember missing the crucial penalty that meant we were knocked out…..
I’ll come onto that in a minute…….let’s go over the two matches first…..
Okay. The first game at our ground - I think we let ourselves down a little. They pressed us from the kick off and we didn’t really play well enough on the night. We might even have lost by more than one goal. We knew that we had played poorly, but we also knew that we were good enough to go to other grounds and win if we played well. That gave us some hope.
It was strange, because the second leg was a few weeks later, and we went into the game after a really bad display at Leicester, but on the night that was one of the best performances I have seen from any team that I have played in. We took the lead through Marko, and at one point in the second half we had Liverpool playing in their own half and were really on top. I think personally, it was one of my best games for Stoke. I played alongside Phillip Wollscheid and I think together we gave a very strong display that night. To lose, was heartbreaking……
Even more heartbreaking was seeing you at the end, Muni…..
It’s still something that I think about a lot. The support from Stoke fans that night was something else. I had always been told that Anfield’s atmosphere was out of this world, but all you could hear that night were our fans. They sung from the first minute to long after we left the pitch. It gave us so much belief, I can’t tell you. When I missed the penalty, they sung my song for what seemed forever.
It shows how much we loved you, mate…..
Yes, I know, and I’ll never, ever forget it. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they’d have had a go at me, because I had shattered their dreams. But they did exactly the opposite. I think that shows two things: Stoke fans are amazing and I’ll never forget the support they gave me that night, and secondly, fans in this country are different. They forgive people and support people who give their all and love playing for their club. At such a low point in my career, all I could see and hear were thousands of Stoke fans singing my name. I don’t think you get that connection in other leagues.
The following season - we again finished poorly…..Did you see the team declining and did you see relegation coming?
A little yes. We lost some influential players both on the pitch and in the dressing room and after we lost to Liverpool in the cup we had a really bad end of the 2015/16 season and let in quite a few goals. That continued the next season, and we didn’t seem to have the balance in the team or squad that we had before. We were a long way away from the team that had beaten Liverpool 6-1 less than two seasons ago.
I remember the last game of the 2016/17 season, we won at Southampton on the last day of the season and I came on as a sub in the last minute. Crouchy scored the winner. I think winning that day might have given us a higher finishing position than we might have expected and may have hidden a few problems. I remember the week before, we had been hammered by Arsenal at home and that just wasn’t like us at Stoke. They could have scored ten and something seemed wrong. But we had such a great support, a wealthy chairman, and had been in the Premier League so long that I was still surprised that we were relegated.
On a personal level, I was very disappointed not to play more games. I thought I did well when I played, but for some reason the manager didn’t put me in. That’s football – I got my head down and trained hard, but when you play well or as well as other players and get left out, it hurts. I remember playing at Burnley and I thought had a really good game. In fact, Mark Hughes singled me out at the end in the dressing room as playing well. Next week against Liverpool, I was back on the bench. But I always respect the managers decisions, but it’s hard…..
But no, I did not see us getting related as when I left we still had enough good players to have stayed up.
Talking of Burnley, that goal…….
I know I scored twice at Sunderland in the cup, but you could see how much that goal against Burnley meant to me and it seemed to make the supporters really happy, too. I’ve never scored too many, but that was a really good team goal, too. A really, really special moment for me and I think everyone could see that.
You mention that Southampton game - you left just after. How hard was it to leave Stoke in the summer of 2017?
It was very, very hard as a person. I loved my time there, and so did Sara. But as a player, you have to be playing, so in that respect it wasn’t a hard decision as I wasn’t getting the minutes I wanted. I’m not someone who can be happy as a sub or not in the squad I have had injuries and so want to make use of every second that I am fit. But me and Sara were getting married that summer and were really happy with our lives in the UK, so I never wanted to leave, but I had to….
You told me in 2016 that you wanted to live in Girona one day as Sara had lived there. You ended up there a bit earlier than expected?
Yes, coming from Lloret del Mar and living in Barcelona since I was 11, I knew how beautiful it is around there. Girona is a beautiful place, but only a small city – but it has everything, even an airport. Believe it or not, although the weather is amazing, as it is in Qatar, Sara in particular likes the different weather you get in the UK. A cold, wet day in Stoke never put us off, ha ha! I had two very enjoyable years there at Girona, the first more enjoyable than the last one. I loved getting messages from Stoke fans on social media saying how they had watched the Girona match that Sunday night……to still be in people’s thoughts was really great.
In fact, I kept getting videos sent or on social media of Stoke fans singing my song at away matches. It was so lovely and it always put a smile on my face. I know it did the same to Bojan, too! I love how in England they sing about ex-players. That makes me so proud to have played for Stoke. Some of the best times of my life…..
After two seasons in Girona you moved to Qatar to play for Al-Arabi Why?
It was exactly the same reason as why I left Stoke – to play more matches. Football is a great life, but it’s not as great if you aren’t playing. I wanted to play as much as I can…..
We played a friendly in Girona against Al-Arabi and one of the Catalonian coaches at Al-Arabi used to be at Barcelona, so I knew of him when I was a kid. We played this game and he told me that he wanted a centre half and did I want to play. I didn’t want to leave but it was a good move for me and Girona as they got a fee for me, and I got to play more games. I spoke to Xavi and the national team coach about the move as I didn’t know about the life or football over in Qatar. They both told me about the football project over here and so I decided to join them.
The standard is about the same as La Liga Division 2 or 3, but there are some good teams and good players over here. The main difference with football in the UK is obviously the weather as it is so hot here in the day. That’s why we often train around 8pm when it is cooler and you can get more work done. In the day, it can be unbearable at times. We live in a complex with a number of other Spanish players and coaches, including Xavi. It’s good because we can all socialise, including the kids. We had Xavi’s leaving meal yesterday, as he’s obviously gone back to Barcelona. We don’t know who the new coach will be yet…...
As a family, we go to the shopping malls, as they are air conditioned and nice places. We have an English-speaking school, so Pau now has lived in three different countries and he’s only five! We have three boys now - Pau, Biel, and Roc. When the kids are at school you are home over here, but when I train I don’t see the kids as it’s night - so it’s a lot different to being in the UK or Girona.
You only played 67 times for Stoke City yet are undoubtedly a cult hero – why do you think that is?
ha, ha….I don’t really know. Perhaps because I am a happy person that really enjoyed my time at Stoke from the day I arrived. I made sure that I got to know places and people, and was always happy to sign things and pose for photos. I always gave it my all on the pitch and hope that you saw my quality at times, too. I am a team player, and I think fans appreciate that.
I loved it when Bojan and Joselu were with us – it was a great time, probably the best of my career. We were called The Three Amigos, and met up with fellow Spanish players from other clubs where we lived. It was a great time of my life, I think fans liked that, and also when fans saw the likes of Sergi and Marc come over and support me and Stoke. Plus my family came over too, which was great for me and great for them to see me so happy.
What do you miss about Stoke?
That’s very easy. The fans. I miss them the most, but I loved everything about my time there and living in the UK.
And a question folk from Stoke often ask – had oatcakes?
Of course, many times. Cheese and bacon was the filling that I would have.
You’re only 29, but what are your hopes for the future and life after football?
I’m taking my coaching badges, so that is one option. Who knows, maybe I will come back to Stoke to work there one day? I would love that. I definitely want to do that if I can. I see they are doing well this season and it would be great to get promoted. If they do, I will be there at the promotion party next year, ha, ha. If I ever got a call to go back of course I would consider it!
I’ve had some big injuries, so when some people say that I get too many injuries I always say that many players would not have played the games that I have with those injuries. To do both my knees was really bad and it’s something some players wouldn’t come back from, but I’m tougher than I look, ha, ha!
You’re the happiest bloke on the planet, aren’t you?
Ha, ha. Sometimes I get angry, ha ha! But it’s important to show you are happy. I like being happy. There are a lot of bad things in life, and although I am desperate to play every game, bad things in life puts not being in the team into perspective.
And finally, do you have a message for Stoke fans…..
As I said, the Stoke period was the best of my football career. Some amazing memories. I hope to go back there one day - even as a supporter - because I want to feel again the atmosphere and passion that you have for football. Let’s hope this season is a good one for Stoke and promotion is won and then I can come to celebrate promotion with you. Thank you for the support and love that you showed me, and you will never be forgotten. You are amazing!