Sergi Samper eager to make mark on Barcelona first team
Sergi Samper returns to training with Barcelona on Wednesday and hopes that this will be the season he finally makes his mark on the first team.
Samper, 22, joined Barca as a 6-year-old and last year's season-long loan move to Granada was the first time he had ever been away from the club.
A change of manager, a lack of football and relegation meant things didn't go as the young midfielder had hoped in Andalusia, but he learned from the experience and is now ready to show new Barca coach Ernesto Valverde that he deserves a shot at Camp Nou.
"Yes, yes, yes [I'm back to stay]," he told Diario Sport when asked if he was returning to Barca for good or if another loan move, or even a permanent transfer, could be on the horizon.
"Like I have said, I signed a four-year deal [in 2016] and I know the club have faith in me. The idea was to spend a year away on loan and then to come back and now I'm desperate to get started again. I am really looking forward to demonstrating that I can play here."
While things were far from smooth at Granada, Samper doesn't regret making the switch and is grateful for experiencing something other than what he had grown used to at Barcelona.
"It was a drastic change of style," he said of his year at Los Carmenes. "Things didn't go as I expected, but I'm sure I have improved in many aspects and that will help me in the future.
"I think I'm stronger mentally. Every week it was a final; there was a lot of pressure because we were fighting for survival. I've learned a lot of things that [at Barca] you don't work on, like the physical aspect of the game, individual battles, the defensive aspect..."
Samper came through Barca's La Masia academy with Gerard Deulofeu and Hector Bellerin, two players who left the club on a permanent basis.
However, it's already been confirmed that Deulofeu will return from Everton in a deal worth €12 million and the Catalan club are also reported to be pursuing a deal to bring right-back Bellerin back from Arsenal, too.
"We all have a great relationship," Samper added. "I hope everything works out -- well, Gerard has has already confirmed he's coming back and I hope Hector returns as well."
When Bellerin left for Arsenal as a 16-year-old, Samper also had offers to leave Barca, but opted to stay to fulfil his dream of making it at Camp Nou -- something he now hopes will take a step closer to completion this season.
"I'm sure that the offer on an economic level and sporting level for them was better, but in my case, I was clear that I wanted to be a success here," he said of Bellerin and Jon Toral's move to Arsenal in 2011.
"But my dream was and still is to be a success at Barcelona, so in the end, it was more a question of sentiment. I see myself here [in one year]. I hope I stay at Barca for many years. It's my dream and I hope to be a success here."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.