Dating managers, sunburn & Facebook fraud

I write from a tram on the way from Barça’s training ground back to the city centre. I’ve just interviewed Sergio Busquets for a forthcoming issue of FourFourTwo, having spent much of the past few months organising and writing up the feature and interviews with players like David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and Sergio Busquets. Ibrahimovic spoke candidly too…then moved to Milan.

You need a network of reliable contacts to find out what is happening inside any club. They take years to build up. People you meet for a beer or coffee and help you piece together the jigsaw.

Sources who will tell you invaluable information off the record so you understand context, issues and dynamics at a club like Barca, which has ever-shifting plates of power.

I was given a direct route into the mechanics of Levante last week, when I was in town for the Valencia/United game.

An English lady I met five years ago doing a piece on the Levante v Valencia derby has been a great help when writing about that city. She helpfully fixed an interview with a main man, took me to the stadium, turning heads wherever she went before she dropped me at the Mestalla afterwards. She explained that even though she supported Levante, she’d be going to the game later.

“Have you been to the Mestalla before?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “I used to go often. I was with the manager there for four years.”

Well there’s one reason for being so well connected, then. She also moved to Lisbon when her then boyfriend managed Benfica. He’s now at Atletico Madrid. Good on her for looking after her compatriots.

One of the first people I saw at the Mestalla was former Manchester United midfielder Paddy Crerand. He’d forgotten to put sun cream on again and was beaming red. The red-eyed Red with a red face.

“I know,” he said, like a little boy who should know better. And I was introduced to David Pleat, who told me that he used to play with my uncle John at Exeter City.

It made my night, Pleat explaining what type of player he was and describing the time they played Manchester United in an FA Cup tie in 1969. They’d formulated a plan to stop George Best. It didn’t work.

“He didn’t have the pace of his dad (former United winger Charlie),” said Pleat about my uncle. “But he was a great sportsman.”

John also played first class cricket for Leicestershire. I’m starting to feel like a failure for never receiving money to play football, or indeed any other sport, unlike the rest of the family.

That could continue with my brother Sam, a forward who turned 16 last week and is at Stockport County. I watched him against Burnley and he did well.

He spent six weeks at Manchester United last year and scored the winner at Aston Villa away, but Stockport wanted £70,000 for him and United baulked.

He needs to keep his head down, work hard and get lucky, but he got some good advice from Arnau Riera last week.

Arnau was down in Manchester for the weekend after being given two days off from full time training with Sunderland, where Niall Quinn has been first class, inviting a bit part former player back to complete his rehabilitation from a cruciate injury.  

Quinn makes a fuss of Arnau and introduced him to Steve Bruce, another former Manchester United man, last week. Bolo Zenden has been supportive too, plus Julio Arca, who is putting him up in the North East.

Arnau told me how he’d requested to be a Facebook friend with his housemate Arca. The Argentinian didn’t respond, so the Spaniard asked him why. 

“I don’t have a Facebook account,” said Arca.   

“You do, you have 600 friends.”

“What?!”

It was news to him. The Facebook frauds strike again.

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