CHENNAI: It’s one of those heartwarming stories that the Indian Super League occasionally throws at you. Spanish forward Jesus Tato’s best friend at FC Pune City is fellow Spaniard Josep Maria Crous.
When the two met, they were boys, trainees at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, coached by a young Pep Guardiola. The two, roommates at La Masia, went their separate ways after failing to make the grade at Barca. But more than a decade later, at the fag end of their careers, the two find themselves together again, albeit in unfamiliar climes.
“Pitu is like my wife,” Tato laughs while the former hastily changes it to ‘brother’. “We were together since 13. We played in the same academy, stayed together, played in same team, during the La Masia days.
We got flats and Pitu was my flatmate too.”
While Pune has its share of well-travelled stars, Tato and Pitu have the most interesting stories to tell, courtesy their association with some of the biggest names in world football during their time at Barcelona. Naturally, Messi dominates the questions directed at them. “I was with Messi only for one week during my training,” says Tato. “His skills were extraordinary from Day 1. After one week, he was shifted to the next level, because he was ready to play there.”
Pitu too could only get a fleeting glimpse. “Messi was always a standout player. His smart playing techniques stood him out from rest of the players. We didn’t train together much as he was shifted to the next level in no time,” he says.
But both had enough time with a young Guardiola, who was then minding the Barcelona reserves. “I want to be a coach in future, so when I was with Pep I tried to learn as much as I could,” says Tato. “His outlook to coaching is so different and the way he trains his players is just fantastic.” Pitu too gushes when asked of the current Manchester City manager. “His coaching techniques were impressive. quality of analysing games was beyond good.”
Both believe that the La Masia phenomenon is something that can’t be easily replicated. “La Masia took years to develop legends. It didn’t happen instantly,” says Pitu.