Albert Ferrer on Barcelona vs. Chelsea and how Luis Enrique is perfect for Blues
BARCELONA -- Albert "Chapi" Ferrer could consider himself a trendsetter. He became the first Spaniard to ever play for Chelsea in 1998, having been part of Johan Cruyff's Dream Team at Barcelona, and was just the second player to turn out for both the Blues and Barca (after Mark Hughes.)
Since Ferrer, another 11 Spanish players have gone on to play for the Premier League champions and the total number of players to have played for both Chelsea and Barca is now up to 13.
Ahead of his two former sides meeting in the Champions League this week, Ferrer spoke to ESPN FC about his desire to return to the UK, his future plans in coaching, how Ernesto Valverde has improved the Blaugrana and whether Luis Enrique would make a good Chelsea manager.
Q. What have you been up to since leaving your post as Mallorca coach [in 2015]?
A. I'm coaching the Barcelona legends side, which is a team of the club's ex-players. It's a really cool project. We get to do a lot of travelling, visiting really interesting countries. We have a game coming up in India [against a Juventus side on Feb. 17 in Mumbai] and it's likely we'll have one in Egypt, too. There are also games later this year in Brazil and in Peru. It's great, because you get to play with and coach players that you might not have played with during your playing days with Barcelona, players that were the best in the world in their day.
Q. But surely you'd like to get back into coaching professionally?
A. I am really happy with the Barca legends project right now... but it's true that getting back into coaching is something which appeals to me.
Q. In England?
A. Especially in England, that would appeal even more. I had a couple of conversations with [English clubs] last season, but nothing came of them in the end. I have contacts in England, but at the moment I'm just waiting. Experience teaches you that things often happen when you don't chase them. So I'm relaxed [about getting back into coaching]. We'll see what comes up, but for now I'm really happy with what I am doing.
Q. You obviously had a good time in England as a player.
A. Signing for Chelsea was a great experience. I spent five really food years of my career there. Maybe the signing initially came about by chance. Chelsea are a great club and the Premier League is a great league, they had won the [FA] Cup the year before and I thought 'why not?' Maybe I was one of the first Spaniards to try their luck in England. I was really happy there and the club was slowly growing. It was a really positive experience. I think also, from that moment on, Spanish players began to look at the possibility of playing abroad.
Q. It must have been different from Barcelona, especially at that time?
A. It was much calmer, much more relaxed at Chelsea than at Barcelona. England's a country without dedicated sports newspapers, so there was much less focus in the press than in Spain, where a lot is continually said and talked about. In England, I found a much more professional situation in that sense, and at the same time [everything was] much calmer. It was a feeling of being freed a little bit, you know, when you come from the demands of Barcelona. Even though Chelsea are a great club, you don't have that constant pressure from the newspapers, you're left with the feeling that everything is a little easier.
Q. Do you still think that's the biggest difference between the two clubs?
A. I think the difference, more or less, is [still] the media atmosphere. It is the same [now] because I think that media in England still aren't the same as the media in Spain, I think the media atmosphere there is much more relaxed, even these days. But there's more pressure at Chelsea now [than when I signed] with the arrival of [Roman] Abramovich and the demands of being one of [Europe's] big clubs. I think in that sense there's a little more demand at Chelsea now.
Q. How do you think they're doing going into the Barcelona game?
A. It's been a complicated season. I think that after a good season, the following season is always difficult. Their rivals have also all strengthened since last season... I think they started the season quite well, but they've gone through a tough spell. The fact they have a small problem up front, the injuries they've had, the fact that when [Alvaro] Morata's not playing in some games Hazard has had to play through the middle... Hazard's not a No. 9. I think Chelsea need him deeper to create chances and direct the play.
I think there's also a question in terms of defending, they're not as convincing as they have been at the back, not like in the past. All these little things have made the season a little more complicated, but that's normal when you've had such a good year and then your rivals, above all the two Manchester sides, have strengthened so much.
Q. Can they beat Barca?
A. I think it will be a hard-fought tie. Chelsea aren't in their best form but they will make it tough for Barca. I think we will see two very different games. The one at Stamford Bridge will very be different to what we will see at Camp Nou because it's much smaller, so there's less space. There will be much more space at Barcelona. I think with the second leg at Camp Nou, for me Barcelona are the favourites. I think they will reach the quarterfinals. I want them to go through and I'm convinced they will.
Q. They're looking good under Ernesto Valverde as well.
A. Valverde's improved Barcelona, there's been a huge change [from last season]. I think the way they've dealt with the departure of Neymar has allowed them to evolve their football a little, starting to play like a lot of other teams, with a 4-4-2 with more bodies in midfield, suffering less in defence. The change of system has gone really well for them. Recently, with 4-3-3, they were struggling at times, above all with counter-attacks. But I think they've got that under control now. They're a more solid team and, above all, they're a really complete side.
Q. The best side in Europe?
A. If not the best, one of the best. We will see if they're the best with the return of the Champions League. I think Man City are at a great level; PSG, too; Real Madrid are always a side to watch out for. Those four or five teams are all at a similar level, maybe Barca are the best right now but all of those sides are capable of winning the Champions League.
Q. You were briefly with Valverde as a player at Barcelona.
A. Yes, I remember Valverde well as a player. He was a skilful winger, very clever, very intelligent. He was someone who knew what decisions to take on the pitch, he got between the lines. I really liked him as a player, he was so skilful. He wasn't a tall player or a strong one so he had to depend on his intelligence. He was a really good player in his time and I think he's now an exceptional manager. He's very clear with what he wants, transmits his ideas well and he's good with the players. All of those qualities combined can only make a successful coach.
Q. Another former teammate, Luis Enrique, has been linked with becoming the next Chelsea manager as well...
A. Lucho's a different type of manager [to Valverde]. He had a great [three years] here with Barcelona and he'd already shown at Celta [Vigo] that he's a great manager. I think he would fit in [at Chelsea] perfectly. There are already various Spanish players there.
Q. What would Chelsea get? Would he do well in England?
A. He's a coach that wants his teams to be aggressive, to be committed. I don't think he would have any problem adapting to English football. It's true that speaking English is important, above all to try and transmit your ideas, but Lucho has been learning [English].
But I think above all the tone of how you transmit your ideas is more important, how you get through to the players, and there are many ways to do that. I think the adaption [from La Liga to the Premier League] is much easier than it was in the past, and in the case that Lucho goes to Chelsea I'm sure that he would be successful.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.