Exclusive: Poyet explains what it's like to suffer (and enjoy) Leo Messi up close

Gustavo Poyet, 49, left Real Betis this season and is now managing in China. He spoke to SPORT... 

Jordi Blanco


If you were given the chance to sign just one player, with no limit on the cost, who would you sign? 

Suarez... It's an impossible question, but I'll go for Luis.


I don't see him in China. Right now I don't see him anywhere but Barcelona. In the future I don't know, but not now. 

So, from a distance, you're sure he will renew? 

I think so. I can't imagine any other scenario. You wouldn't understand Barcelona without Messi. 

And if it was just about money...

It's Leo's decision, so unless he wants to try something new I don't think there will be any problems with his renewal. 

Would he have the same impact at another team as he has at Barça? 

Messi's the No.1, that's indisputable. But he needs, or is more comforable [with], the support of a team that wants to play in a certain way, that wants to control the play.

Then it would be tough to imagine him in the Premier League?

With the backing of the team, with team-mates, he would be capable of playing the same at any club in the world. 

Currently, Barça are more than Messi or Barça are what they are because of him? 

With all the respect in the world, now Barça are more understood at the moment through their trio of attackers than the collective... but let's not kid oursevles, without the team they wouldn't win because the idea remains. 

The idea of possession? Less direct? 

What we knew with Guardiola. Without wanting to show a lack of respect to anyone, Guardiola's Barça is the best team I've seen in my life. They were years in which Barça were way above the rest. 

Now it's different. Worse? 

No, no... I'm not entering in that. I can't, nor would it be fair. That team had an impressive collective base, with one-off players from the academy and others coming in and adapting. That was a team without and equal. And Messi was the cherry on top. 

Leo's still there...

Yes. And as I said, the idea, too. Maybe Barça have lost a little of the collective, but they're always a powerful team. Not untouchable, but superior. 

Titles are always the argument. Is that fair? 

You saying that because of Luis Enrique? His work is there for all to see, his titles, too, but also the development of his team. 

Your Betis side were well beaten...

I maintain the memory of that game, the first in La Liga this season. We made them uncomfortable at 1-1... Until someone decided that it was over.

That 'someone' was Messi? 

He took the ball on the wing, in front of me. And when he started, I understood. 

Your tone is almost reverential...

No, no... Well, I don't know how it will sound but to have had Messi one metre away, to have suffered and enjoyed him so close, it's an honour which no-one will take away from me. One thing is [to see him] on television, but this is another thing, the closeness with which I experienced him. 

Your Betis side also suffered against Madrid...

Look, I'm not going to put [Barça or Madrid] above the other, because we suffered against them both. They have different systems, but they're still superior to the rest. 

Madrid lead La Liga. Are they favourites? 

Bufffff.... There's still hald the season to go, the cup, the Champions League... A lot of things can still happen. La Liga is normally decided in the final weeks of the season and in favour of the team that slips up the least and knows how to best manager their efforts alongside the other competitions, if they remain in them.  



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