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Jordi Alba talks Messi, Balde, Ansu Fati, Luis Enrique, World Cup

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Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

As Spain gear up for their opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Costa Rica in two days, veteran defender Jordi Alba sat down for a detailed interview with Diario AS, during which he spoke candidly about his situation at the club and his partnership with Lionel Messi, along with several other topics.

One of the most experienced players in a relatively young Spain squad, Alba will be participating in his third World Cup after taking part in the competition in 2014 and 2018. And looking forward to the tournament, the 33-year-old admitted it could be his last, saying:

“I am going to take this World Cup with a lot of enthusiasm, because it may be the last one for me. Spain have a young and exciting team and, although the opponents are difficult and the World Cup is a tough tournament, we have high hopes.”

Alba was part of the Spain team which won silverware for the last time in 2012 when they won the European Championships. A decade after that, the Barcelona ace will now look to help La Roja win the World Cup.

Talking about how he has changed since that triumph, Alba said: “I think I have matured as a player and as a person. I understand the game better and now that I’m a veteran I try to help the younger players, as they did to me in the past.”

Heading into the tournament, Spain suffered a setback, as Alba’s fellow left-back Jose Gaya picked up an injury and had to be replaced from the squad, with Barcelona youngster Alejandro Balde getting the call-up in place of the Valencia ace.

Balde has replaced Alba as the first-choice left-back at the club level and will now compete with him for a starting berth for La Roja. Talking about the 19-year-old, the veteran star said:

“Balde is a great player who hasn’t been in the elite for a long time, but he’s playing a lot of games for Barcelona and is learning very quickly. We have received him as one more, and from the first day, I try to advise him the best, here and at our club. Balde has an incredible future and also a great present. He is a player to be reckoned with.”

The 33-year-old defender also hailed manager Luis Enrique as the best in the world, saying: “He is a close, but demanding coach. For me, Luis Enrique is the best in the world. It is a pleasure to have him in the national team. We have improved our game under him and he takes us in the right direction.”

The chat then moved to a certain Lionel Messi, who has confirmed he is playing his final World Cup. Enrique recently claimed that he would like Messi and Argentina to win the tournament if Spain do not. When asked if Alba also desired the same, the Barcelona defender said:

“Everyone knows that Leo and I share a great friendship, but I am going to focus on what interests me, which is that Spain win the World Cup.”

The Spaniard then spoke about the partnership he had struck with Messi during their time together at Barcelona, insisting that it was very difficult to replicate the same with someone else.

“There are many players at Barça and in the National Team with whom I get along very well. I do it with Ansu Fati, Ferrán, Pedri, Gavi…, but what I had with Messi was something special. 

“Almost all the goals I’ve scored with Barça have been playing with him, with his passes. And I have also given him many assists. It is very difficult for me to achieve that with another player, practically impossible. With Messi it was enough to look at each other,” he added.

Alba and Messi formed a wonderful partnership at Barcelona (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

There have been a lot of speculations surrounding Messi’s future with his contract at PSG expiring in the summer. There have been links to Barcelona while a move to the MLS has also been spoken about quite a lot. Giving his two cents on the topic, Alba said:

“I haven’t talked to Messi about that issue, but he can play as long as he wants because he always makes a difference. Messi is the best in the world, he is a unique player.”

Moving from a former Barcelona No. 10 to the current one, Alba spoke about Ansu Fati and said that the 20-year-old has all the qualities to be the breakout star at the World Cup.

“We will see, but he has the qualities. He’s a player who has a goal, who scores when he gets a chance. And not all players have that,” Alba said.

The veteran defender also touched on Barcelona’s elimination from the UEFA Champions League, even though the team continues to perform admirably in La Liga and sit atop the standings.

“Well, Barça has a good team but in Europe we have lacked a little more and the reality is that we have not been able to reach the knockout stage. It’s a shame for the whole team,” he said.

“But we have to focus on the titles that are still at stake for us and I think we are doing well in the league. We’ll think about all this after the World Cup…

Talking about his own game and whether fans will get to see an attack-minded Alba at the World Cup, he said: “In the national team there are rules of the game that must be followed, but from that point on my style of play is offensive.”

On what would be his reaction if he scored a goal in the final of the World Cup to win it for Spain like Andres Iniesta in 2010, Alba said:

“Well, I can’t even imagine the joy. But we’re going to take it step by step. For the moment we have a difficult group to overcome and then, in the knockout phase, every game will be a battle.”

Rounding off the interview, Alba also spoke about the exclusion of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique from the Spain squad after the pair were named in the provisional roster for the World Cup, saying:

“The coach is the one who decides. Making the list is not easy, because there are many who can enter. But a group has been formed and what is important is that we all go in the same direction: the players, the coach, the fans… everyone.”

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