Miralem Pjanic was on the exit ramp at Barcelona for the entirety of the summer, before eventually sealing a move to join Besiktas this week.
Now that he is no longer working under Ronald Koeman’s orders, the Bosnian has wasted no time in speaking out about the Dutch coach’s treatment of him, opening up in an exclusive interview with MARCA while on international duty.
How are you?
I’m very happy and motivated. I arrived in Sarajevo after being presented at Besiktas and everything went well. I couldn’t accept a situation like what I had last year. It was clear that I couldn’t do that. I’m a footballer who likes to play, and that’s what makes me happy.
Where should we start… maybe it’s best to start from the beginning. Were you always a Barcelona fan as a child?
I always liked the way Barcelona played and watching their games. Their philosophy was clear and suited to my football. When I was there, I saw all of the players that I had dreamt about playing with. It was always my goal to play for a club like Barcelona, but I didn’t expect such a complicated situation.
It was close a number of times, and there was a video showing you crying. What did signing for Barcelona mean to you?
That [the emotion] was more for my parents, I was happy for them, but it was also a dream for me. I was happy at Juventus, but Barcelona spent two years trying to sign me but couldn’t. Then came another opportunity and they took it. I was very happy, which was normal as I was going to play for the club I dreamt of playing for as a child.
I had a lot of expectations because I had always started, done well and progressed wherever I was previously – at Roma or Juventus. I was ready to take this step after nine years in Italy, I wanted a challenge and it was the right moment. But then I found a coach that, I don’t know…
[Pjanic then anticipates a question and continues]
Right now, today, I don’t know what he wanted exactly. He didn’t try to explain things to me or find a solution. I would go to ask him what he wanted from me, positionally or what I was doing well or badly. I wanted to adapt as quickly as possible to the team and be useful. You need 17 or 18 players from a squad to win titles. He didn’t have problems with my play and didn’t give me answers. Time went on and the situation went from bad to worse, without any reason.
Like I said, I was being professional, so this is difficult to understand. Many people on the inside didn’t understand it either. Then there was this opportunity to leave and I wanted to listen to that because I need to play. I know what I can bring to a team, but you need confidence and dialogue and things to be said to your face. I’d have preferred things to be said to me directly, but it was what it was. It was a very odd way of communicating and it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced this. I’ve had a very good relationship with all of my coaches. I don’t know what happened, I honestly don’t know. He didn’t want responsibility or confrontation, because I guess that couldn’t be handled.
Let’s take it step by step. The 8-2, the change of coach, Luis Suarez’s exit, Lionel Messi’s burofax… Did you know what you were getting into?
I knew it was a difficult period, that was clear. It was a tough situation for the club and their members. Barcelona always want to win, but when I arrived there was a very strong group and players with quality who could win LaLiga Santander. But it wasn’t to be, I cannot say the exact reasons why. It was complicated, and I was also two weeks late because of COVID-19 and with a new coach. But my situation was complicated from the beginning. I got there after two weeks away, started to train little by little, alone, to prepare myself to start with my teammates.
Three, four, seven, 10 days went by and the coach never came to talk about the season, about me, to speak about anything. It was strange but fine. Time passed, I was feeling good and playing, but of course, I wanted more. Then there’s a point when I was playing less and things were complicated. It was tough physically and mentally and it killed my confidence because I had no communication with him. It was very strange. The coach is the one who says who plays and who doesn’t, but there are ways of doing things. I’m a player, who can take anything, but I’d like to be told to my face and not as if I’m a 15-year-old. I fought until the end; I was always professional with the lads, always working hard, for them too. I knew that if the coach stayed I’d have to find a solution.
You started the season by playing in the Champions League, but not in La Liga Santander. You had no continuity. Why did it take so much for you to play?
Everyone asks me that, they want to know. But so do I, I want to know. He never told me or asked if I wanted to play as a two or in front of the defence. I reached a Champions League final playing as a double pivot with [Sami] Khedira. I’ve played everywhere, but he never saw me in any of them. I didn’t have a position, I got five or 10 minutes, or would warm-up for 45 minutes but not play. I’ve never had a situation like it and it wasn’t easy. You have to be tough because sometimes I could have reacted badly to him, but I was always respectful with him and my teammates.
He had a cross against me from the beginning. It was hard to accept. I waited until the end for things to change. I played all of the Champions League games and we won 2-0 in Turin. Then LaLiga Santander comes along and I’m out. I was going to ask him if I was doing something wrong. Maybe he wanted something different than [Massimiliano] Allegri, [Maurizio] Sarri, Luis Enrique or [Luciano] Spalletti. They all have different things, but they communicate. It’s good for the team. ‘No, no, it’s only rotation, I have no problem, your attitude is good…’. Okay, fine, but then I was out for longer. I didn’t understand. He’s a very, very strange coach. It’s the first time I’ve seen someone like this.
Were you always the one to go to speak to him? Did he never look for you?
Never, except one day at the start of this season when he came to speak with me and only asked about my situation. I told him I wanted to play… I came from Serie A with four titles, a Champions League final, and 100 Champions League games. I had experience and I know what I can do. I don’t know what to tell you. It wasn’t easy. I really like playing football.
What do you think the reason is? What can explain it? Maybe he didn’t like you asking for playing time in the press…
I’ve honestly asked myself a lot of times, wondering what I did wrong. Maybe he didn’t like that I said I wanted to play more public. But any coach would say ‘okay, this is a competition and I like to hear that’. That might be it, but I’d have liked him to tell me to my face that I wasn’t for him. It didn’t exist though and I don’t understand him. It’s complicated because it’s the first time it’s happened to me and I’ve never seen behaviour like that before.
Did you look for someone in the club to find a solution?
I spoke to people, yeah. At the beginning a little, and then again close to the end. They told me that they understood my disappointment and that they saw me train well, but that they couldn’t do anything. Nobody understood.
They thanked me for my attitude, but what does that matter to me?
I know I’m a good professional. I know the club knew what I was like before they signed me. I’m a competitor, I’m always good with the group and I was there. It was a pleasure to play with and work with those guys. I would have liked to help the team more, but I didn’t have the chance.
The second half of the season was the worst. Eleven straight games without playing, even with five substitutes available. How was that?
I wasn’t alone. You can look closely and see there were others. I don’t want to talk about them, they can talk if they want to. How do you think it was? From February until May I hardly played. I was very disappointed. I could have said ‘I have a three-year contract so I don’t care,’ but I’m not like that. It was a very difficult situation to accept, but I wasn’t going to fight. There was a person who was never going to change. He’s the coach.
There was a lack of respect for the club, for those who didn’t play after training well. The coach was never there to see the attitude of the players who didn’t play. It’s the first time I’ve seen that. How can a player be motivated to show he’s there when the coach isn’t there to see the attitude or how he trains? It was one of the worst things I’ve seen, a huge lack of respect and it wasn’t easy for those of us not playing. Now I’ve found a solution to play and I’m happy.
Did you think that Barcelona would have offered you the chance to rescind your contract?
That’s a question for them, not for me. I’ve always understood that everyone has problems, but there are ways of finding solutions together. I’m not stupid. I understand everything. But it has to be done with respect. I’ve helped the club a lot, I was aware of the salaries and made an effort when I signed to earn less there than before.
But I’m not a person who likes to talk about that, and I haven’t spoken much through this entire situation. I hope that Barcelona do well in the future, economically and sportingly. I want those teammates to win a lot because they deserve it.
It has been reported that your salary has been reduced. Why did you do that?
I like football. The economic side is important, but what I love the most in life, after my son, is playing football. I like to be happy, to be with my teammates, everything about football. I’d do these things without any problems because being happy is the most important thing.
Has the door to Barcelona been closed?
I have a contract and I’ve always spoken highly of the club. I just had bad luck with the coach. But Barcelona are Barcelona. I cannot spend another year without playing, I have to play. I’m focused, happy and I can’t wait to start the season with Besiktas.
Do you regret signing for Barcelona?
No, never. Things happen in life, and I’ve always fought through my career. I’m ambitious, competitive; I’ve reached the level of Barcelona and Juventus. I know I can play for those teams, I just wasn’t given a chance.
Have you been disrespected?
By the coach, yes. Yes.
How did you experience the transfer window? There was talk of you returning to Juventus and Serie A.
It’s true. There were a lot of things. Not a lot of clubs had a great window, only Paris Saint-Germain, I don’t know how they’ve done it. The English clubs too. It was stressful, I thought about my situation, but until I got a call I was focused on training. But, it was difficult.”
[Pjanic says his farewells and explains the reasons that led him to open up, again without any need for a question to be asked]
I’ve never really spoken about these things, but I think it’s important for people to know what I’ve really been through. Everyone can have their opinion. I accept everything and its okay. I’ve gone through a tough time and I’ll fight until the end because I know what I can give.