Former France international Jeremy Mathieu has revealed he didn’t want to join Barcelona in 2014 because he was worried his role would just be to “polish the bench”.
Mathieu, 37, completed a £16m move to the Camp Nou club in 2014, moving from Valencia, whom he represented nearly 200 times across a five-year spell.
His stint in Catalonia proved exceptionally fruitful and trophy-laden in terms of silverware, where he collected two La Liga medals, completed a Copa del Rey three-peat and secured Champions League glory in 2015.
However, Mathieu never firmly cemented a consistent starting berth in Luis Enrique’s star-studded side, instead taking up a peripheral role, which culminated in the former defender starting just 41 per cent of the league games available to him (47 out of a possible 114) during his three years at the club.
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It’s a scenario Mathieu dreaded upon breaking bread with the Blaugrana, but one he now claims was decided upon after negotiations over a new contract at the Mestalla broke down.
“I didn’t want to go to Barca. When the club asked me, I was captain in Valencia, I was enjoying my life there and I was wondering: am I going to polish the bench in Barcelona?” Mathieu told L’Equipe.
“When I received the contract that Barcelona offered me, I drew up a new contract, on which there was a salary of a level between the one I was receiving at that time and the one Barca offered me.
“I showed this fake contract to Valencia’s sporting director [Francisco] Rufete, telling him: ‘If you give me that, I’ll stay.’ He replied, ‘That shouldn’t be a problem.’
“We called together the president who refused. Rufete couldn’t believe it. I tore up the paper and said to them: ‘So I’m going.’ I understood that they weren’t counting on me.”
“I was surprised”
This is not the first time Mathieu has vented his frustrations during his time at the Camp Nou. In 2014 he was forced to deny a rift with then manager Enrique, whom he appeared to criticise in the wake of Barca’s 3-1 El Clasico defeat to Real Madrid in October that year.
The Frenchman admitted his shock at being deployed at left-back in Spain’s most-anticipated fixture, to which Enrique took exception, who responded by saying “we should all pack up and go home” if the defender was surprised by his selection process.
Mathieu went on to clear the air and smooth the edges on his relationship with Enrique. “It was a comment I did not say with any controversy,” he said at the time.
“When I signed, we talked about who could play both central and at full-back. I just said that I was surprised to be playing in that position.”