Sunday, October 1, 2023

Mark van Bommel will face the club with which he won the Champions League: “Even after the final I didn’t go out with Ronaldinho”

Before taking his men to the Monjuic stadium, while the Camp Nou is under construction, van Bommel reviews his brief stay with the Blaugrana. “The pressure was enormous there, that’s for sure,” he recalls. There are two newspapers: Mundo Deportivo and Sport. Every day they had to fill its pages. “You had to be 100% prepared for each game.”

His arrival

“First week with the nuns”

It is quite surprising that van Bommel left PSV at the age of 28 to embark on his first adventure abroad. With his family she settled in Gava Mar, south of Barcelona. He also rented Frank de Boer’s house next to the beach. “The children had a lot of fun, they spent nine months in the water,” confesses the former middleweight. Me too ? “I’m a professional, I haven’t been there once (smiles).”

The jump from Eindhoven to one of the biggest clubs on the planet might have been too big. “Honestly, it wasn’t too difficult. Naturally, he had already played in the Champions League with PSV. Many of my compatriots had already played for Barça. I knew how it worked. I met Larsson and van Bronckhorst. However, life was totally different from that in the Netherlands. Sometimes we trained at night. “We were playing at 9 at night and the restaurants were still open at midnight.”

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It was still necessary to learn the language(s). To everyone’s surprise, van Bommel already spoke Spanish well when he arrived. In his first press conference with the Blaugrana, the Dutchman even made a joke. “In fact, before I got on the plane, I spent a week with the nuns of Vught (at the renowned Regina Coeli Language Institute) learning Spanish. From 9 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. I took classes there. On Tuesday you told yourself that it was a wasted effort given the amount of information. Then, on Thursday and Friday, it all came back. Even today I can make myself understood. In Catalan also a little.”


“What if I send a message to Xavi? He changed his number 8 times and I 3.”

In the dressing room

“The reunion with Xavi? As if we had seen each other yesterday”

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Result of this intense language learning: “I understood very quickly everything that was said in the locker room.” Nothing better to facilitate his integration with the Barcelona stars of the time. “There was Ronaldinho and, yes, Messi had just joined the group. Which one was better? They are obviously incomparable. At that time, Ronaldinho was ‘the’ player. He was amazing. I know that his behavior has often been questioned. But on the field he was a true professional. Otherwise, you won’t be able to act like him. Outside he was surrounded by many people. No, I never went out with him (smile).”

In addition, van Bommel will meet his former teammate, Xavi, this Tuesday. The former game master will take his place on the opposite bench. When the Dutchman arrived at Camp Nou, the Spaniard was injured. Which, in the end, perhaps allowed van Bommel to get more playing time in Frank Rijkaard’s eleven. “Xavi and I had a great relationship. In fact we had a very good group made up of Catalans like Iniesta, Xavi, Valdez, Oleguer, etc. and then the foreigners. This cohesion undoubtedly played a role in our success. Have I sent any message to Xavi since the draw? No, he must have changed his number 8 times and I 3 (laughs). But when I see him again it’s as if we had seen each other yesterday. Otherwise, I still have contact with the team manager at that time.”

Van Bommel, here against Fábregas, was substituted on the hour mark during the C1 final in Paris.

The Champions League final

“They substitute me and… we knock down Arsenal”

Naturally, Van Bommel never knew how to shake off this tough player label. But he knew how to find his place in a very refined team. “To play tiki-taka you need many qualities. I know people always equate me with these strong tackles or duels (smile). But he also knew how to play. Naturally, I was inspired by the style of play, but you are inspired by all the clubs and coaches he has known.”

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Barça, however, did not beat their rival to reach the Champions League final. “I remind my team of this: a game is decided in details. That season we also won games and created very few chances. I remember the semi-final against AC Milan. There we won 0-1, with a goal from Giuly. On the return trip, at the Camp Nou, with ten minutes remaining, Shevchenko equalized but his goal was disallowed for offside… Details. In the eighth, at Chelsea, we won there narrowly 1-2 (in a match that had revealed Messi to the world, at the age of 18, La Pulga had humiliated and excluded Del Horno).”

Champions League: reunion and a game to play for Antwerp

In the final, at the Stade de France in Paris, the Blaugranas face Arsenal. At half-time Rijkaard’s men were losing. “When we played 11 against 10 after Lehmann was excluded. Campbell opened the scoring just before halftime. I came out a minute into the game and then we managed to reverse the trend, especially thanks to two assists from Larsson, who came on in my place (laughs). When I return to Barcelona today, I am still considered a hero of Paris.”

Eto’o and Beletti scored the goals that allowed Puyol to lift the Orejas Cup. He had escaped from the Catalan club since 1992. “To celebrate we divided into two groups. Mine calmly went to eat something. Ronaldinho’s? I don’t know what he was going to do (laughs).”


“What Puyol did as captain at Barça, I tried to do in Munich.”

His departure to Bayern

“We lose 3-0 and three days later I go to Munich”

In one year at Barça, van Bommel won a title, a Champions League and two Super Cups (2005 and 2006). He decided to raise his sails after the 2006 World Cup. “The coach told me that they were going to rotate more in the midfield. I took the risk of finding myself in the stands, on the bench and then playing three games… I didn’t like the setup. I didn’t want to be part of that rotation. So I told Frank (Rijkaard) that if an offer came… The club understood me and would collaborate. We lost the European Super Cup 3-0 against Sevilla. “Then I left.”

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This is how Bayern Munich arrives, where he became the first foreign captain. “Bayern was comparable. I remember my first day at Barça. Puyol approached me and asked me what he needed: ‘A mobile phone? A car ? Is his family well settled? I was inspired by that and tried to do the same as him when I took the armband at Bayern. Although in Germany it was a little more structured.”

Fc Barcelona Soccer Players Van Bommel (L) And Puyol (R) Celebrate The Uefa Champions League Victory On A Street In Barcelona, ​​May 18, 2006. Fc Barcelona Won The Final Of Uefa Champions League Football Barcelona Vs.  Arsenal, On May 17, 2006 At The Stade De France In Saint-Denis, North Of Paris.  Barcelona Won 2 To 1. Afp Photo/Lluis Gene (Photo By Lluis Gene/Afp)
Puyol received the Dutchman very warmly upon his arrival at the Camp Nou.

“He remains imperturbable whether on the C field in Antwerp or Barcelona”

If this were indeed the first Champions League match in Antwerp’s history, Mark van Bommel has already been on the bench nine times in the Champions League: six times with PSV and three times when he was coach of Wolsfburg. But as a coach, the Dutchman has never won in this competition. “I won four preliminary matches, right?” he jokes. It all comes down to the details. With PSV we were in a group with Inter, Tottenham and… Barça. In Wolfsburg, with Lille, Salzburg and Seville. We beat the Spanish 1-0 until the end. Lamela hits from the spot, one of my players touches his foot at that moment… Penalty and Rakitic converts. They fired me shortly after…” Van Bommel, in any case, is not nervous about this Tuesday. “I always have positive stress but why should I be nervous? We must remain calm, unperturbed whether in Camp C, in Antwerp or in Barcelona (…) No, we will not put up a wall, we do not want to nor do we know how to do it.”

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