Thursday 4 June 2015 11:54, UK
In a wide-ranging interview, Javier Mascherano answers questions about his Champions League memories, Barcelona, his favourite players and more...
Did you watch the Champions League as a child?
I remember my first Champions League final in 1996. Juventus-Ajax. That's the clearest memory from my childhood. The Champions League was something very distant for us. I grew up in a very small town with 50,000 inhabitants, and it was a way of being able to watch my idols or people I admired play football on television.
Who was your idol?
Maradona was an icon and role model for the whole country. In my position, I've always admired Makelele. I grew up watching him play. I was able to play against him in the final stages of his career at Chelsea when I was at Liverpool. I've always liked his way of playing football and given my position and style, he's been a mirror to compare myself against.
What is Luis Enrique like as a coach?
Obviously there are two things. The first thing is being the Barca coach is different to being the coach at another club. Why? Because if you come here, you have to adapt to the philosophy of the club.
During the season, he's hammered home the idea of pressing, of us once again becoming a team that presses when we lose the ball, and of trying to always keep up a high level of intensity in our game, taking risks in defence, and trying to be compact. These are things this same team did a few years ago under Guardiola.
For a variety of reasons, we stopped doing some of them, and this season we've reverted back to old habits that were familiar to us.
Did you have to change your game when you moved from Liverpool to Barcelona?
Yes, I had to grow, to improve a lot. Before I came to Barcelona, I only thought about one facet of the game, destroying, destroying. My qualities were completely defensive and I would try to give balance to the team, to destroy the opposition's game, and I wouldn’t take responsibility for organising my team’s game, our attacks.
I’ve always believed that training with great players makes you a better player. And that’s what’s happened to me. I think that nowadays I’m an improved player in many areas of the game, particularly when it comes to creating.
I’ve improved my short and long passing, my control, obviously I’m never going to have the quality of Busquets, Xavi or Iniesta, but I can deal with situations that before I maybe would have struggled with.
Your highlight of this season’s Champions League?
In footballing terms, I'd say the first half in Manchester [2-0 win over City]. It was a great first-half performance.
Messi was unbelievable. We had Leo at his very best. I think those were among the best 45 minutes I've seen him play, he played out of his skin, and we dominated Manchester City in every department.
That's obviously one, and I'd obviously also pick out the semi-final, having knocked out Bayern and getting to another Champions League final, that’s a great moment. But in footballing terms I think the team produced a very good performance against Manchester City, especially in the first half of the first leg.
What is Lionel Messi like as a person?
He's really calm, a person who has a calmness which is very difficult to come by.
He tries to live a very normal life, despite the fact that in the outside world, it is very difficult for him, because of who he is and what he means in the world.
But it's surprising how normal he is, because it must be very difficult in his position, where everyone wants to meet you, where you basically don’t have a private life other than within the walls of your own house.
Why is it difficult to play against Juventus in the final?
They have that Italian competitive edge. It’s always difficult to overcome that. They are very tactical. They understand football. And, on top of that, they have a lot of talent. They have a lot of power up front, with Tevez, Matri and Llorente.
In midfield they are also very strong, with Pogba, Vidal, Pirlo’s talent, Marchisio. It’s not a traditionally Italian team. They play like Italians, but they have a lot of talent and they know how to attack. And they can play in different ways: with a line of five, with a line of four, with a lone striker… They have lots of variety. And that makes them very difficult to play against.
What has Luis Suarez added to the team?
A lot of things, because the first thing is he’s a fantastic goalscorer. We’ve seen this at Ajax and Liverpool, but also he’s very aggressive. We need a player like him, because sometimes we have to control the game, but we need a player up front controlling the centre backs and pushing and working.
He’s a top player, a very good person and his adaption to the team was fantastic and very quick.
It’s not easy, because we play in a different way than he played at Liverpool. It’s not easy to come and try to play in the way that Barcelona play. But he was fantastic this season.
What would your all-time 6-a-side dream team look like?
Victor Valdes - He is one of the best goalkeepers I have seen, and I have played with him.
Carles Puyol - If I have to choose another defender, I don’t want to because the team would be too defensive, so midfielder...
Xavi – He has been the architect of this team and its history.
Claude Makelele - He was my idol during my childhood and for a long time.
Lionel Messi - He is one of the best, if not the best player ever in this sport.
Ronaldo - I’d have to pick Ronaldo, the Brazilian, because, well, he was just marvellous.
A few words on seven Barcelona players…
Andres Iniesta - The magician
Gerard Pique - (Strong like) a tree
Lionel Messi – The best of everyone
Xavi Hernandez – The architect
Sergio Busquets – The Trapeze artist/acrobat
Claudio Bravo - The personality
Luis Suarez – A beast
You can watch the Champions League Final live on Saturday June 6 from 6pm on Sky Sports 1 HD