Considered one of Switzerland’s finest talents, Tranquillo Barnetta is one of the latest players to embark in Major League Soccer as Designated Player. In the past seasons, he was a key player in Philadelphia Union, with whom he managed to clinch a playoff spot as well. MLSSoccerItalia.com sat down with Barnetta to discuss his thoughts about soccer in the States.
After many years in Europe, you decided to embark in Major League Soccer. Your motivation?
Well, after 12 years in the Bundesliga, it was time for me to go somewhere else. Philadelphia Union proved to be professional with me and during the first talk, I had already cleared my mind about the decision. I was promised to be part of something that was growing up and that promise was kept as other players followed over, both in Philadelphia and in the league.
Did you had any presumption that the league was inferior?
To be honest no, because before going there, I used to catch up with some matches on Eurosport and I could see that there is some potential in it, just looking at the stadiums and so on. I just wanted to go there and see how it goes. I was surprised how professional they were in what they did. Meanwhile, they also told me about not having their own stadium and facilities until few years ago and I can see that there was a lot of improvement throughout the years. On the field, I had to take some time to settle because the game was so fast and different from Europe and I was not used to it.
In the United States, on which aspect do they focus, in your opinion?
I think it depends, because there are players who have some quality and others do not, so they focus on improving their strength. Players from South America were quite technical with their feet for example.
Your opinion on three youth players; Andre Blake, Keegan Roosenbery and Fabian Herbers?
Andre Blake was amazing for us. We had a good goalkeeper him and he won a lot of points for us. As for the other two, I was quite surprised because they came from college and it was their first season with the team, and they played like veterans. They are hard workers, they tried everything on the field and they always wanted to learn new things, even when you correct them.
Toughest opponent in Major League Soccer?
I think rather than opponents, there were some new things for me which were difficult. For example, the heat in Houston was something terrible for me. Then, travelling frequently to the West Coast was something new for me and it did exhaust me a bit. We played against some big teams, like New York City and New York Red Bulls, with whom we have a rivalry as well. Then, we also played against Toronto FC for example, who have a huge crowd and great fan base, it is like playing in Europe to be honest. Something remarkable in the States is that the people are very fond of their legacy with their native states rather than particular club from a particular sport only. Something strange? Playing home in Philadelphia with a ship behind us!
How is the level in general in Major League Soccer?
I think the level definitely helps players to play in Europe. It is a good thing that they do not transform their game into a European one, but it is always helpful to bring some European imports to improve the quality on individual basis.
Playing in the post-season playoffs, was it strange for you?
It was quite a different experience for me, and I think it definitely helps smaller countries because if there is only one good team in the league, it would finish after 20 games. Having this kind of system, permits the fans to enjoy a combative league until the end.
How do you see Philadelphia Union this year?
I think the big goal for them this season is to get to playoffs once again. After all the national team commitments, they will reunite before the league and hopefully, maybe adding one or two players, they can really challenge again this season.
How do you see Major League Soccer in the next five years?
I think there is a good chance of getting this league into the next level. If they keep doing what are they already doing, with every club competing on the transfer market, they will improve a lot. One thing that I do not like a lot but probably it won’t change, is that rookies who are drafted play have their first taste of senior football at the age of 22 and 23, which is very late compared to youth players. If they start to play football alongside adults at a younger age, there will be a higher chance of exportation into European countries.
After two seasons in Philadelphia, Tranquillo Barnetta is returned home in Switzerland, where he’ll play for FC St. Gallen in Swiss Super League.
How does it feel having returned home?
It is a great feeling to be back home. I’ve left at the age of 19 and I was a long time away from home. I had great experiences in Germany and else, but it’s a great feeling to be back. The whole city is happy just as I am.
Having played lot of years in Germany, how do you describe that experience?
I think football has really improved there, especially after the 2006 FIFA World Cup. That tournament was big and I think the new stadiums really gave a boost, because afterwards every stadium was crowded on Saturdays and it gave a huge buzz for the league. Eventually, the league improved and many stars like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben came to the league and it was also a good time for me to embark there.
You were part of Switzerland National Team in some major tournaments. How do those experiences help you as a player?
It helps you a lot, both as a player and as a person. During the 2004 UEFA European Championships, I may did not play but it was a formative experience as it helped to go through lot of stuff, such as media duties and that prepared me for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Who are the best players you’ve played alongside with Switzerland National Team?
I played with great players such as Hakan Yakin and Alex Frei. Currently, I think some of the big players we have are Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez as well.