Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal: Barcelona reject (smh) Ruben Rochina relishing battle for every point
Football offers no gentler education. Cocooned in La Masia, Barcelona’s academy of excellence, Rubén Rochina spent his formative years winning, and winning big. By eight, by 10 goals, every game. “Or more,” he said, smiling. It is a world away from where he is now, embroiled in the harsh struggle for Premier League survival with Blackburn. He smiles again. “I am happier now. This is the best part of my career. This is real.”
Rochina celebrating his first goal against Fulham
This is no false sentiment from the 20 year-old, no platitude designed to ingratiate himself with the club he joined, to little fanfare, in January.
Rochina is sincere. He has been surrounded by the stars of tomorrow, aspiring to replace those who have already gone supernova, since he was 12. Strange as it sounds, he was genuinely glad to emerge from the Catalan dream.
"My career so far has been great, but when you are young it is not real", he said. "It is when you are a senior player that you realise what it is to be a footballer, not when you are winning every game with the Barcelona youth team. Now every victory is a fight, but this is how you learn. You do not learn as much when you are always the best."
After seven years at La Masia, the game’s most prolific forge of greatness, Rochina is used to being the best. He was spotted by Barcelona’s roving talent scouts at the age of 12, while playing for Valencia’s youth sides. They made the sort of offer no player – or his family – dare refuse.
"I was an only child, so my parents said they would not let me move from Valencia on my own at the age of 12,” he said. “Barcelona found us a flat in the city, so they could come with me. The club looked after everything."
Rochina may not have spent his nights in the same dormitories as Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and La Masia’s other illustrious alumni, but during the days he followed in their footsteps, becoming steeped in Barcelona’s unique philosophy, and cast in the club’s trademark
“They try and develop you as a footballer and as a person so that you can fulfil your talent,” he explained. “There is a structure right from the start, which means the coaches always do the same things with you, teaching you the fundamental principles of the first team. That is the key.
“Right from the earliest age groups, we would pressurise the ball, play in the same system, train in the same way. It is always with the ball, working on possession, playing small-sided games. Eventually you know what you have to do in any given moment, because you have been doing it for years.”
It is not just on the pitch that there is a Barcelona style. Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team are as recognisable for their spirit as their skill. “It is like a family,” said Rochina. “You eat together, go out together, spend all of your time together. Everyone tries to help you. How well it works is shown by how many players go on to have success.” Thiago Alcântara and Andreu Fontàs, now in Guardiola’s senior squad, are his contemporaries, and so too Oriol Romeu, now of Chelsea. “It was a very good team,” said Rochina. “We would have done OK in the Premier League.” (even on a cold Wednesday night in Stoke?)
The only flaw in the system is that excellence tends to endure, stifling youth’s progress. “Playing in the first team is almost impossible,” said Rochina. “I came to a point where I knew I needed to play, so I had to find an exit.”
The story will be familiar to Arsenal, the striker’s opponents on Saturday. “Cesc Fabregas was in the same situation,” said Rochina. “He had to come to Arsenal, where he could develop to the level he needed to go back to Barcelona.”
That is not to say Rochina has the same inspiration. His first love, he insists, will always be Valencia, though he does understand the lure of home on Fabregas. “You always carry it with you, in your heart,” he said. It is exacerbated by that feeling of familiarity. “It was not hard to leave because it was Barça, but because we had been team-mates for so long. They are your friends and family.”
There are no doubts about choosing Blackburn, though, not even after a “difficult” start to his first full season that has called into question manager Steve Kean’s position. Rochina, for one, will be hoping the Scot survives. “Training here is the same, more or less, as it was at Barcelona,” he says. “It surprised me, but with our manager, it is very similar.”
Much else may be alien – “the defenders are all two metres tall!” – but he is starting to settle, on and off the pitch. He requested extra English lessons over the summer, and scored his first Premier League goal in last weekend’s draw at Fulham. Now, Arsenal visit. “I never thought I would be playing games like this,” he said. He is, though. This is real.
Thoughts? All in all, a very honest interview I think. Everyone knows how amazing our youth teams and academy is, but we all know even more how difficult it is to get into the first team.
And one of his quotes struck me as very interesting. About Cesc's departure, he said “He had to come to Arsenal, where he could develop to the level he needed to go back to Barcelona.”
If so, I am delighted to see what Ruben and Uri bring back to us with the skills they learnt from the PL. #Rochinagate and #Romeugate y'all. Winter is coming.