This year will go down as one of the most glittering in Barcelona's history. Under the tutelage of the shrewd Pep Guardiola, Los Blaugranas have won every competition they have taken part in, claiming La Liga, Copa del Rey and Super Cup crowns in Spain, and storming to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Super Cup in Europe.
The all-conquering Catalans have not finished yet, and are aiming to cap their annus mirabilis with an unprecedented sixth title: the FIFA Club World Cup, the one and only piece of silverware missing from the club’s bulging trophy cabinet. Barça are set to make their entrance at UAE 2009 in Wednesday’s semi-final against Atlante of Mexico. Beforehand, FIFA.com caught up with French defender Eric Abidal, who arrived at the club from Lyon in 2007 and knows all about the big stage, having helped his country finish runners-up at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
FIFA.com: Eric, the team seems to be going into the tournament on a high. Is that the way you see it?
Yes, it is. We’ve made a good start to the season, winning the two Super Cups and moving to the top of the league, and we’ve been playing well too. We’re also focusing very hard for this competition because we’ve never won it. That’s why it’s so important.
The Atlante players have been saying that they are going to take the game to Barcelona. What kind of match are you expecting?
The coach has watched them and he’ll give us his point of view. The club has a very definite style and that’s the way we usually play, although we do make the odd tactical change depending on each game. Whatever way we play, we always work hard and try to win every match. The mentality of the team is to help each other and to do everything we can to win. Even so, it’s going to be a tough game for us.
You do not see teams taking Barcelona on very often...
That’s true but if they’re feeling confident, I can see why they would come out and say that. From what I can see they have some quick players who play good football and are tactically disciplined. I always prefer to play good teams because you usually get entertaining games against them.
Back in January you said that Barcelona were the best side you had ever seen. If you had to face them, what would you do?
(Laughs) It would be very difficult for me because I’m a left-back and Messi always attacks down the right. I don’t know what I would do but I know that we are not invincible. We’ve drawn and lost games that we were expected to win, like the match against Rubin Kazan, though that was more our fault than a case of them playing well. Luckily we’ve managed to sort out where we were going wrong and we haven’t slipped up too much this year.
How hard is it to cope with the pressure of being expected to win every game and every competition and to play well in the process?
That’s the way things are at a big club. It’s not easy but you always have to go out and try and win everything. It’s important to have a coach who says the right things to the team because that makes it easier to stay on your toes.
You have won five titles this year and are now going for your sixth. How do you stay motivated?
This is our job and we play to win, not to have fun, although we do enjoy ourselves sometimes - it’s difficult not to in a team like this. When you win the atmosphere in training is better, the fans are happy and your family’s happy. And when you run out at Camp Nou and you have 90,000 fans cheering you on, well that’s enough motivation in itself.
Why do you think Barcelona have yet to win the FIFA Club World Cup?
Because it’s an unpredictable game. Sometimes you do everything you can to win and you still end up losing, even when you don’t deserve to. Fortunately we’re here again and we can have another go.
One last question. Do you agree that you are the big favourites for the competition?
We need to be careful because, like I said before, football can be unpredictable. Winning this tournament is just another objective for us. We are going to do the best we can and if that’s enough to win the trophy, then that would just be great for us and the club.