HARDLY HAS the interview begun when Marc Crosas is called away to have his picture taken for a Celtic season ticket promotion. Since arriving in Scotland last Sunday, the 20-year-old has had as many camera lenses trained on him as Amy Winehouse in full swing. "I have had my picture taken more this week than in the rest of my career," says a head-shaking Crosas, speaking through the interpreter he sometimes bypasses to provide simple, but clear, responses in English.
If he knew the local vernacular, the boy – and that is what he is – from Girona might declare the hoopla that has surrounded his 415,000 move (a fee rising to 1.3m depending on achievements) as "mental". Tucked away in a corner of the youth cafe at the club's Lennoxtown complex, the 5ft 7in, solidly framed midfielder would hardly look out of place among Celtic's teenage wannabes… were it not for a Mediterranean skin tone that sets him apart from the peely-wally brigade munching at other tables.
Crosas is certainly unique among Celtic signings in several ways. He is the first ever to arrive from Barcelona. And no player to have only made four senior starts and seven substitute appearances in top-flight football – all of these outings except for two as substitute coming in a loan spell at Lyon last season – has ever been paraded in front of Celtic Park crowd, as he was before the club Scottish Premier League opener a week ago. Or given a roof-raising reception of the kind previously reserved for an established internationalist costing millions. It was a welcome he found overwhelming.
"It was unbelievable, very emotional, and a bit scary," he says, fiddling at a loop earring in his left lug that, along with an impressive three-quarters-length facial growth and trendy cargo trousers, sets off the hip, confident-footballer look. "There were so many people there, and I thought about what they expect. I don't want to disappoint them and want to give them everything they are looking for. But I am a very young person and the fact I am coming from Barcelona doesn't change that. I still have lots to learn and putting pressure on me isn't going to solve that, and isn't going to help me."
But Crosas' Catalan pedigree does change perceptions of him, however much that might perturb the player and his manager Gordon Strachan for the gamble to be understood in its modest context. Yet, it doesn't matter to a football populace captivated by all things Catalan that Crosas made his first-team debut as a 76th-minute replacement for Andres Iniesta in a 4-0 Copa del Rey win over CF Badalona on December 8, 2006, and his only other senior appearance came in a dead rubber Champions League group game at home to Stuttgart a year later.
What quickens pulses is that he was coached in the Catalan style from the age of 13, his best friend is Bojan Krkic – whom he played with from the age of 15 – and his talents have led to him being compared with Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and current Barca manager, Josep Guardiola.
Indeed, inability to nudge out Xavi, Iniesta or Deco doesn't mean Crosas he won't prove a hugely exciting, accomplished performer. He looked every inch that in giving a midfield masterclass during Barca's pre-season win over Dundee United at Tannadice – where fate has decreed he will today return for his first game as a member of the Celtic squad.
Crosas doesn't pretend that Barcelona wasn't his world. As a youngster in the tiny rustic town of Bescano five minutes from Girona – "where you knew every one of the 3,000 people and would play football all the time among the fields" – if his father or mother couldn't take him to the Nou Camp, his uncle would. He "idolised" his cousin Albert Jorquera, Barcelona's second-choice goalkeeper, and when Jorquera signed for the Catalan club at 15, the then seven-year-old Crosas' idolatry and desire to follow in his footsteps intensified. He realised a "dream" when making his first-team debut at 18, but reality quickly encroached on that. "Why does he ask so many questions about Barcelona?" Crosas ask the interpreter politely, but with obvious agitation midway through out conversation. "It is the past."
But it is a past that covers the 20-year-old's entire teenage years. Perhaps his professional impulses can be divined from how he describes the little upheaval he felt when his parents split up when he was three, which led to him being brought up by his mother and new partner alongside two younger brothers, "one biological". "If my parents didn't get along well, it was for the best they parted."
Crosas felt he wasn't getting along well at the Nou Camp as long ago as last summer. In June 2007, he was quoted as saying that "apart from Barca, English football is my passion" when Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez expressed an interest in taking him to Anfield. "Barca didn't give me an option then and said I was still part of the team," he says.
By January of this year he was part of the Lyon team, helping them to the French league title but remaining on the bench when they added the national cup. Yet, he found leaving the Nou Camp permanently last week an easier step than furthering his career in Lyon. "It was much more difficult to go to France on my own after seven years with the one club but that experience set me up for coming to Scotland," he says. "I am open-minded and don't expect to have problems making friends or being comfortable in the apartment I will rent in Bearsden. The football will determine how everything else settles down," he says.
Crosas still finds himself thinking in French in a foreign land, which he apologies for in good English. It explains why he took to screaming "merde" on the very odd occasions he would misplace a pass during an impressive showing during the club's Friday morning training session at Lennoxtown. There are certain crossovers between the Catalan and French tongue but "within weeks" he expects to have a working understanding of English. Assimilating on the field he hopes will follow a similar timescale.
"The rhythm and pace of training sessions is faster than Spain but not France, so I'm not finding any problems" he says. "Here it is more physical but my game is about being organised and finding passes. I come from the Barca school and those are the ways I have to show. But I have to adapt my own characteristics."
Strachan's tendency to collect midfielders as some people collect butterflies does not cause the youngster concern about the ability to flutter to colourful heights with Celtic. "It is an advantage there so many players competing for places because the level will be much higher and I want to develop as best I can," he says. "We all start from zero so we need to show what we have. But I'm only five days here so it wouldn't be smart to think I'm going to walk in to a first-team position. That doesn't mean after a few weeks I can't be making a push, though."
The nature of the deal that brought him to Celtic, which has a clause allowing Barcelona to re-sign him for a 1.65m fee at the end of his second season, has raised suspicions that Crosas is here for, effectively, an extended loan period. The player does not countenance that or, indeed, consider the door to a Nou Camp return may remain slightly ajar.
"The last thing I am thinking about is going back to Barca," he says. "I have a four-year contract and that means more than any clauses in my deal. Barca tend to put in buy-backs, it is standard. I left Barca, that's it."
How much Scottish clubs have woken up to footballers' dietary requirements is evidenced in the presence of jars of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the table in front of Crosas as he chats. Stick to those dressings and never succumb to a deep-fried pizza lashed in vinegar and brown sauce, I tell him jokingly as he leaves.
"Ah, but maybe when I score a goal, people will invite me into their home to have this pizza fritter delicacy (as it seems described by the interpreter], " he smiles when making for the door. Crosas may have more to learn in Scotland off the park than on it.