Interview with FC Barcelona manager Pau Vilanova on the game against Mamelodi Sundowns.  Vilanova is also the head of member and supporters’ clubs relations for FC Barcelona. Here he talks about the game against Sundowns and his impressions of SA.

 

Pau Vilanova: “It’s been a pleasure for Barcelona to take part in this clash of champions pitting LaLiga against the South African Premier Soccer League in South Africa, in honour of Nelson Mandela”

How has the experience of the match against Mamelodi Sundowns in Johannesburg been for FC Barcelona and for you?

It’s been fantastic, from when we arrived at O.R. Tambo Airport, where so many fans were waiting for us, to the hotel and meeting the Mamelodi Sundowns president and officials from the club, the SAFA and the Mandela Foundation.

They’ve made us feel loved and it’s been an unforgettable experience for all of us. The fact that the match is part of the activities marking the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth makes it even more special, given that he’s a person whom our club truly admires, so it’s been an honour to be involved in the game.

How has the reception from the South African fans been?

It’s been incredible for the club directors, staff, players and coaching staff alike. We’ve felt the love from all our fans here, despite being so far from home, which has made the experience even more special. It’s been an honour to be welcomed to the country with so much love and enthusiasm. We already experienced that back in 2007 and it’s very satisfying to see that over ten years later, that passion for Barcelona and LaLiga hasn’t waned; rather, it’s increased further.

Many people dubbed the game the ‘clash of champions’, with the LaLiga Santander winners facing their South African counterparts. How was it?

It was very exciting and although we won, the home side made it very tough for us. We enjoyed a wonderful match filled with chances and watched by magnificent fans. As for it being a ‘clash of champions’, it was a pleasure for us to face Mamelodi. We’re thrilled to be able to finally say once again that we’ve won LaLiga, after what was a long and hard season. The level in LaLiga is increasing every year, but that’s something that benefits every club and is why it’s the best league in the world.

How was the atmosphere inside the stadium, one that all Spaniards know well?

It was fantastic. The fans didn’t stop getting behind the teams and chanting throughout the 90 minutes. It’s wonderful to be around supporters with so much positive energy. It certainly is a very special stadium for us. Nobody will forget that goal by Andres Iniesta [in the 2010 World Cup final].

On top of that, FNB Stadium is a top-quality ground with first-rate facilities. We’re almost ready to begin the complete remodelling of our own stadium, the Camp Nou, within the Espai Barça project, which will involve the transformation of all of Barcelona’s facilities, including a new indoor arena for other professional sports and a new Miniestadi at the training ground. Espai Barça will be the best sporting complex in the world at the heart of a wonderful city. Work on the new Camp Nou, which will begin this summer, is a big challenge and a very important project for the club which our fans and members will be able to enjoy in the future.

LaLiga outfits such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia CF are gaining greater prominence outside Spain as international clubs with fans all over the world.

It’s all about the fans and I’m not just saying so. That goes for our supporters and members in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain, as well as those based all around the world. We also want to show our desire to be close to them through fixtures such as this one. We’re very proud of each and every one of our fans.

We have over 1,200 Barcelona supporters’ clubs all over the globe, comprising around 153,000 members. That makes us proud as a club because they are our ambassadors in other countries.

You mentioned the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s involvement in this charity match. Do Barcelona also have a foundation and run specific CSR programmes?

The FC Barcelona Foundation is a key part of the club. All of us at the club are committed to the projects that it runs. The Foundation is mostly financed by sponsors, but a small yet important percentage in symbolic terms comes from contributions by the club’s players. Something that many people don’t know is that when a player signs for Barcelona, the Foundation’s projects are explained to him in detail and he is told that a chunk of his salary will go towards it. Absolutely everyone has happily given consent because they strongly believe in it and the causes which it targets. Players also make a small salary contribution to the Barça Players Group [ABJ].

Your motto is ‘mes que un club’. What does that mean?

It means that we really are more than a club. What we’re all involved with here is more than football and more than sport in general. Our club has values, history and its own idiosyncrasies, which is what we try to transmit and can be felt from the youngest player at La Masia up to the biggest international superstar in the first team. Barça is about teamwork, ambition, humility, effort and, of course, respect. Those are our values and we want everyone to champion them, from the players to club employees. When I say it’s not just football, it’s because we have other professional teams and that’s another factor that distinguishes us from other clubs.

What teams are they?

Besides football, we have futsal, basketball, handball, roller skating and a women’s football section as well. In total there are six professional teams and eight amateur sports. Maybe the other divisions aren’t so well known in other countries, but they are very important to us, just as our youth academy La Masia is. We’ve achieved things that we’re very proud of in each and every one of them.

People also say that Barcelona belong to the members. Is that really the case and why do people say that?

It’s literally true. Our club doesn’t belong to an investor or a holding company, which is a very special characteristic that differentiates us from many other clubs all over the world. Our club belongs to the fans, 145,000 of them to be precise. They’re the ones who decide who our next president will be every six years, among other matters. The club can’t be bought or sold; it belongs to our members.