“It was quite a big thing,” he tells i, days before completing a surprise loan move to Dutch second division side Telstar last week. “Back home it was on the six o’clock news. I got so many messages. So many. My Whatsapp, my Instagram, you can imagine. It was crazy.”
McGuane, 20, made his Barça debut in the Catalan Super Cup in March 2018. Just 36 days had passed since he had signed from Arsenal, who he made two appearances for in the Europa League. Things weren’t supposed to move so quickly. The idea was that he would spend six months adapting to his new surroundings and learning the language. That blueprint was ripped up when Gerard Lopez handed him his B team bow three days after he arrived.
Ernesto Valverde then called him up to train with the first team, before including him in the squad for the Super Cup game against Espanyol, bringing him on as a second-half substitute as Barca won on penalties.
‘I felt the impact straight away’
“Everything was going smoothly,” McGuane adds, before turning his mind back to the moment when things started to deteriorate. “I still hadn’t gone anywhere near my peak but I felt good. I was playing in my natural position and I felt I was getting better. Then Lopez got sacked and [Garcia Pimienta] replaced him.
“I felt the impact straight away. It happened on a Thursday before a game. We were travelling on the Saturday and I wasn’t even in the squad. It was a bit of a shock. After that it was tough. I never had the same feeling that I had during those first few months.”
McGuane was gutted by the departure of Lopez, a coach that he had struck up a rapport with. The change in management was just one of a succession of incidents which would knock the England youth international’s confidence and eventually see him turn down a number of attractive this offers this summer in favour of relative wilderness in Holland.
Under Pimienta, Barca B were relegated. They went from playing in front of crowds of 20,000 at Osasuna to being lucky to hit 1,000 at Cornella in the regionalised third division. There was then an untimely trip back to England for personal reasons after an impressive pre-season in which he had trained alongside Lionel Messi, who was absent from the first team’s tour of the United States. When he returned, after starring in a central midfield position in two friendlies, he found himself out of the team. He wouldn’t play his favoured role again.
‘Once in a lifetime opportunities’
When he finally broke back into the team it was a right winger. Then he was ruled out with an injury in October. His season might as well have ended there. When it did end, he’d made just 16 appearances.
McGuane admits there’s frustration at being played out of position — “maybe as a kid I played there, when I was nine or 10, but I am not a right winger” — but he’s not seeking excuses. He’s not bitter about how things turned out as he looks to get his career back on track with Telstar.
“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, but the training and the level of the boys was good and I had opportunities with the first team,” he reflected. “There have been some once in a lifetime opportunities.
“It’s been good to get away from the distractions you have in London, too. In London everything is so accessible, it’s so easy. For a footballer, it’s so easy to get caught up in the London bubble. Being away from that has been good for me. I’ve matured as a person. You find out the things you like, the things you don’t like. It’s helped me grow in so many ways and come closer to family members. It makes you realise the most important things in life when you don’t always have them around you.
“There have been times when it’s been really hard, but I am strong. I don’t give up easily. I wouldn’t have been in Barcelona for any reason other than football. It didn’t work out with the game time that I wanted, but there are no regrets.”
Familiar face in the Netherlands
Hadjuk Split, Besiktas and Sassuolo all put together attractive packages this summer but they couldn’t offer what Telstar could: Andries Jonker, Louis van Gaal’s former No 2 and McGuane’s one-time youth coach at Arsenal. The Dutchman had been texting McGuane all summer and convinced him he could offer him what he wants: the chance to enjoy his football again, feel valued and play minutes in his best position.
“The most important thing for me now is feeling comfortable,” McGuane explained. “Being happy where I am, in a good environment with family and friends and the people that I love around me.
“Choosing a club this summer has felt like such a big decision. I’m still young, but it feels like a big point in my career. I have just got to get some experience playing. Coming to Barcelona was an easy decision. It felt like the right time. I felt like I was going to have the opportunity to show what I can do.”
His food now finished, McGuane admitted any long-term goals he had of returning to the Premier League or representing England have had to be put on the back-burner.
“With the way football is going, everything is more short-term,” he said. “My mind is just on this season. I just want to play and enjoy football again. Play. I want to get back to the level that I can perform at.”