The jeers hurt but I am not leaving: Umtiti opens up on Barcelona struggles
Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti was left hurt by the mocks from Barcelona fans but the out-of-favor defender is more determined than ever to be a success at Catalonia despite the persistent injuries he has endured.
The French center-half arrived from Ligue 1 side Lyon ahead of the 2016-17 season and played in 50 LaLiga matches over his first two campaigns becoming an integral part for Barcelona and France. In this period he went on to win the FIFA World Cup with France in 2018.
However, a series of knee injuries limited his playing time over the next three seasons and the defender was reportedly one of several high earners Barca attempted to get rid of during the last transfer window as the financially stricken La Liga giants try to salvage their spiralling debts.
The situation came to a head during the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season game against Juventus in which Umtiti was booed by spectators when warming up and again a target whenever he touched the ball after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Umtiti has since not played a minute of competitive action this season and his treatment by the fans left him feeling isolated. The defender has opened up and said he is ready to fight for his place in Ronald Koeman’s side.
“Yes the whistles hurt, a lot, honestly,” he said in an exclusive interview with a Spanish media.
“I never thought this could happen to me in this club because I love it, I love this club.
“I do everything, everything, to be okay. I have had hard times due to injuries but in the end, I do my job and this is the most important thing for me. Work and train hard, and people don’t know it.
“I would tell those who whistle that I’m fine. That the most important thing is the club, helping the players, you have to help everyone. Whistling is useless. I will give everything for the club, as I have tried to do from day one.”
The 27-year-old has been the subject of reported interest from former club Lyon and Manchester United but he has said that he remains adamant his future remains at Camp Nou with a January exit ruled out.
“I don’t see myself playing at another club, no, impossible. Right now I have it very clear in my mind,” he added.
“I want to show that I have the level to play here. The most important thing is to get back and show everyone that Samu is okay.
“It is clear to me, the most important thing now is to play here because it is my club, I love this club. I want to succeed here, play, win with my teammates, with the team.
“I see myself here, I’m waiting for that moment to play. I have to continue training, working, and showing that I have a place.”
Despite his omission from the first-team picture, Umtiti insists he has no issue with head coach Ronald Koeman – whose own position has been under threat amid an indifferent start to a season that began with the exit of Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi primarily due to the club’s financial difficulties.
Umtiti, though, says he has not specifically asked the Dutchman for more playing time as he feels he has to prove his worth on the training pitch.
“I can’t ask for anything, because the coach makes the decisions and I have to accept them. I must train and show that I am okay,” he said.
“Ask for something? I will not do it and I think it should not be done. I must prove it on the field.
“We have six center-backs and I knew it was going to be difficult to play but I am like that, if I have something in mind and I am sure I have the level, I intend to prove it.”
In terms of his injury issues, Umtiti is unwaved he is fitter and stronger than ever and is fighting for a chance to prove so while saying the work he has done behind the scenes to recover has not been fully appreciated.
“Nobody knows what I have done and what I do. The workouts I do, the double sessions. I’m a worker,” he said.
“Football is my life, Barcelona is my life. Since I do not speak, people think that I do nothing, that I am on the couch all day doing nothing but at home, I work, I train every day.
“We can train every day but I lack the rhythm of matches. Rhythm, rhythm, that I hope it reaches me.”