The Brighton & Hove Albion matchday magazine sat down with Martin Montoya to talk about his first season in the Premier League, and life as a Barcelona player and fan.
Well, Martin, you’re at the end of your first season in the Premier League, so has it been harder or easier than you thought?
It’s definitely harder, but I was expecting it to be that way. Every game is so difficult to play and it’s as difficult to get one point as much as it is to get three, because there is so much competition from every team. If you go to play against Liverpool, for instance, you maybe can get a draw or a win, but that kind of thing doesn’t happen in Spain. When the good teams play the smaller teams, they always win but here, it is far more unpredictable. You don’t know what’s going to happen from week to week and we see that when the results come in.
Who was your favourite player growing up?
My hero was Carles Puyol because he was a leader and he was also someone who had come through the ranks since a small boy. He would always fight for the team, he always worked hard and he has a lot of medals, cups and titles to show for all his effort. He wasn’t the most technical of players but he led by example with his competitiveness, and he got to the top with his desire and his will to win.
Barca have had many great sides in recent times, but which for you has been the best?
I would go for Pep’s first team which won the Champions League [in 2008/09]. They played very, very well, beating Manchester United in the final and became the first Spanish team to win the ‘treble’ as a result. United were the holders but Barca fully deserved the win, and had great players in that team, the likes of Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto’o, Henry, Toure, Messi.
You went on to make almost 70 appearances for the club, so how proud does that make you feel?
It’s a dream for every young boy who comes through the Barcelona academy to make the first team, so to have achieved that aim is a reason for me to be very, very proud. I arrived at the club when I was nine and stayed until I was 23, so Barca became a big part of my life. My time there is something I look back on with a lot of pride.
You played with some great players at the Camp Nou, but who has been your most difficult opponent in La Liga and the Premier League?
Funnily enough, it was a Barcelona player – Neymar – when I played for Valencia a couple of years ago. He was so difficult to mark because he was always on the move and lightning quick in a team that, of course, is very effective going forward. Since I came here, I would say Eden Hazard; he has been excellent again this season, very skilful and with excellent movement. A very good player.
Did you follow any English teams when you were growing up?
There were two teams I liked watching: Arsenal and Liverpool. I liked Arsenal because they had a similar identity as Barcelona under Arsene Wenger and I liked Liverpool because of their heritage and also for the way they came back to win the Champions League against AC Milan in 2005. I also liked watching Steven Gerrard and Thierry Henry – two great players of the past in both the Premier League and Champions League.
What's your first taste of The FA Cup been like?
It’s a competition that’s known the world over and again, when I compare it to the Copa del Rey back home, it’s a competition where anybody can win the one-off games. In the Copa del Rey, it’s always the best teams that get to the final – you don’t see teams from the second or third divisions causing upsets like you get here. For us, it’s been a great achievement to get to the semi-finals this year: the players, the fans, the staff and it has meant more to me getting there with Brighton than it would reaching a Copa del Rey semi-final.
Finally, how are you settling in to life in Sussex?
At first it was difficult for my wife and I because the language was a barrier for us. Now our English is getting better, we understand more, so life is getting easier. We have two young boys, aged four and ten months, and every week we are on the pier. My oldest boy loves going there, but for my wife and I, we really like the city. It is on the coast, which is nice, and I’m really looking forward to the weather warming up again – that’s when the city comes alive.