Marc Overmars has not had much to smile about this season. FC Barcelona's Dutch international winger had to wait until November to regain fitness following knee surgery last summer. And when he did, he found himself out of a team setting records in the UEFA Champions League yet struggling in Spain's Primera División.
Then, when Barcelona slumped to 12th place, three points off the relegation zone, in January, Overmars' mentor Louis van Gaal was sacked and the Barcelona president Joan Gaspart resigned. "
These last few months have been very difficult for everyone," Overmars told uefa.com. "At a club like this there is so much pressure from the fans to win games and they are very unforgiving if we lose. No one could understand how we could be so good in Europe but then fall apart in the league.
Van Gaal guilt
"All the players felt responsible when Van Gaal told us that he was going. We know we let him down because it is the players on the pitch that win or lose games." Van Gaal's departure prompted talk of a clear-out of Barça's Dutch contingent. Patrick Kluivert, Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu might have won honours during Van Gaal's successful first stay between 1997 and 2000. Yet along with Overmars, who joined the club three years ago, they were part of a team who had under-performed for too long.
However, Overmars started the first four matches under new coach Radomir Antic before missing the Champions League draw at Internazionale FC through injury. He then returned as a substitute against Club Atlético Osasuna on Sunday, and said: "If a player is playing well he will be picked. Just look at the team against Real Betis [Balompié] last weekend - there were five Dutch players on the pitch."
The future looks bright for Barcelona as well. The 2-2 draw at Osasuna left them ninth in the table, while they remain unbeaten in Europe, having won eleven from 12 games. "The situation is totally different from how it was a month ago," Overmars said.
Cup final feeling
The players are more relaxed and when you are relaxed you play better," he continued. "We have given ourselves a bit of breathing space but we still have to treat every game like a cup final from now until the end of the season. However, with our record in the Champions League we are confident we can go all the way in that competition. After all we have been through, it would be an amazing way to end the campaign."
Never say never
Neverthless, speculation persists in the Spanish and English media that Overmars could leave Barcelona for the Premiership when the summer transfer market opens. The former Arsenal FC player, still only 29, has been quick to deny the rumours but did not rule out a return to England. "I have many fond memories of playing in England having won the double at Arsenal, so I cannot say I would never go back," he said.
Room at the top
"But I have no regrets about moving to Barcelona. I am the kind of player who needs new challenges. I have not won anything yet with Barcelona and this is my only focus right now. I am very happy in Spain. My family are settled here and I have a great lifestyle. I don't mind the stories, though. If I am being linked with top clubs all the time it must mean I'm still a top player!"
Marc Overmars' personal website is at www.icons.com
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