Juliano Belletti rarely stole the headlines during his time at Stamford Bridge, but the Brazilian attained cult status during his three seasons in the Premier League due to his diligent, hard-working performances and occasional penchant for sublime goals. The fact that he arrived in south-west London a season after scoring a goal that denied Arsenal a Champions League win did him no damage either.
The right-back—and occasional utility man—won domestic football’s biggest prize during a highly successful stint with Barcelona. However, during an conversation with Bleacher Report at a Champions League viewing event on the pristine field of the Maracana, a jovial and highly accommodating Belletti revealed that his favourite years were not spent in Spain…
Bleacher Report: Did you enjoy your time at Chelsea?
Juliano Belletti: It was the best period of my career, for sure. Those three years were very special. When [Luiz Felipe] Scolari came in, he changed my position on the field, and we won the Premier League, two FA Cups and reached the Champions League final. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was always fantastic. Everything was perfect.
B/R: Chelsea are criticised for having a bad atmosphere these days, though…
JB: I don’t know about now, but in my time it was great.
B/R: A colleague sent me this picture of you training at Chelsea [Belletti is shown the picture above]. Apparently that was the first time you had seen snow?
JB: [Laughs] Yes it was! That was great!
B/R: Was it tough getting used to conditions like that when you arrived in England?
JB: It was very different, yes, but I was prepared for it. Chelsea are very good at receiving players from other countries, so the process of adapting is smooth. The reception from the players and fans is very special too, so that makes it easier to adapt.
B/R: At Chelsea you scored a few really good goals from long range. Do you have a favourite?
JB: I think my best was the one against Middlesbrough [In October 2008]. The one against Tottenham [In January 2008; voted Goal of the Season by Chelsea fans] was good because of the rivalry between the two clubs, but the Middlesbrough one was a bit more difficult to pull off.
B/R: How did you rate John Terry as a skipper?
JB: Terry is one of the very best because he’s not just a captain on the pitch. In the dressing room and at the training ground, he is the perfect captain too—he always kept us focused and led by example when training. Carles Puyol very similar to him, as he always had a lot of energy and knew how to get through the difficult moments.
B/R: You scored the winner in the 2006 Champions League final for Barcelona against Arsenal. How did that moment feel?
JB: I never imagined I would do something like that in my career. It was a wonderful moment as my father was at the stadium in Paris that day. He saw the best moment in my career, making history with a big team like Barcelona.
B/R: You also scored in the 2008 final from the penalty spot against Manchester United. Can you describe the emotions of that shoot-out?
JB: The time walking from the middle of the pitch to the penalty spot felt like half an hour—there was so much going through my head. But just before I touched the ball, the confidence suddenly came to me and I scored.
After Terry’s penalty, though, we just didn’t feel we could win the shootout. We still had a chance with Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka, but after Terry’s miss our confidence went down and Manchester United’s increased. That loss was one of the most difficult times in my life.
B/R: Chelsea and the other English clubs have struggled in the Champions League this season, why do you think that is?
JB: The difference between English teams and others is that they have one or two players who can decide a match—like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Arjen Robben. The English teams don’t seem to have a standout player like that to decide a difficult game.
B/R: How does playing in the Champions League for teams like Barcelona and Chelsea compare to representing your country?
JB: Well Barcelona is like a country! It’s very different, but the pressure is the same: You always need to win. When I played with Chelsea, the atmosphere was different, as the stadium is much smaller than the Camp Nou and the fans are much nearer the pitch.
B/R: Is Luis Enrique right man for Barcelona?
JB: [Laughs] He is the right man if he wins!
B/R: Who do you think will win this year’s Champions League?
JB: Juventus. [Andrea] Pirlo and [Carlos] Tevez are playing so well this season; plus they have a great defence. Having a brilliant defence is key to winning the Champions League, and of course, a player like Tevez can decide a game.
B/R: Do Juve have best defence in Europe right now?
JB: No. I think PSG has the best defence, especially with regards to Thiago Silva and Marquinhos. But of course, when you play against [Luis] Suarez, Neymar and Messi, it’s very difficult indeed.
B/R: Neymar is having a lot of impact with Barca, but some have criticized his style of play, suggesting he has too much fun…
JB: It’s because he’s young. He’s a child, and that’s normal. The best Brazilian players all the same: They are happy when they play football, and opposition don’t like it.
B/R: Do you think he might change his style as he matures?
JB: Possibly. In Brazil, footballers play with smile on their faces. It’s not the same in Spain.
B/R spoke with Juliano Belletti at Heineken’s UEFA Champions League #ChampionTheMatch event. Follow #ChampionTheMatch with @Heineken on Twitter and Facebook during every UEFA Champions League match week. Join Heineken for Barcelona vs PSG and #ChampionTheMatch with Geremi Njitap.