We’re all in the midst of a truly unprecedented situation, experiencing something that certainly no one saw coming, and that nobody could have predicted. When talk of it first emerged around the world, the initial feeling was one of disbelief; surely there was some kind of mistake? An error in the reporting of the facts. But there was no error. This was really happening. Martin Braithwaite, former Middlesbrough man, was joining Barcelona.

But if there was one person in the world who did see this coming, it was Braithwaite himself; a man who, when speaking one-on-one, displays an unerring sense of belief in his journey. He never doubted that he would one day end up at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Then another shock came along that he could not have seen coming. Now, Martin Braithwaite is officially a Barcelona player, but, like all footballers, he’s unable to play the game he loves.

And so it is that in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke to the Dane about his dream move to the Catalan club, as well as how he’s coping with currently not actually being able to play for them.

You spend so much of your life playing football, how much are you craving being on the pitch? It must be strange to have that taken from you?

Yeah, it's really strange. It's difficult when you can't do what you love to do. I love to wake up in the mornings, go into training and now it's difficult. But, you know, I'm a positive guy and I've always tried to find some way to get an advantage out of every situation. So now I'm pushing myself really hard to get in even better condition, physically and especially mentally. Like reading and studying football. These are the kind of things we can get really detailed on because we have so much time now. It's just unusual to have so much time.

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I actually had to order a treadmill to my house. I had to assemble it too. That was a bit more difficult than I thought. I spent like five hours, six hours building it!"

How much exercise have you been able to do? How are you finding it living in a relatively confined space?

It has been confining but I've been able to do plenty of workouts. I actually had to order a treadmill to my house. I didn’t have one at home so I ordered one then had to assemble it. That was a bit more difficult than I thought. I spent like five hours, six hours building it! If there’s one thing we have now it’s time, so yeah, it was another unexpected challenge that I actually enjoyed. You’re kind of building something so that’s satisfying as well as a challenge.

On to your story. Tell us about your journey – Football obviously comes with a lot of ups and downs but how would you describe the ride from where you started to where you are now?

It's been a fantastic adventure and been a lot of learning along the way. I'm now at a place where I've been writing down for many years. I remember writing my journey down years ago, it was just about finding a path to get there. I didn’t expect this route or destination but I had my ambitions to get to this level. Ultimately it's just about putting what you want to do down and then seeing what the universe and the world will bring you day by day. You just need to work hard every day.

There’s always a combination of graft and luck along the way as well as making the right decisions. Would you say you’ve very much planned your move to the very top of the football world?

Always. Always. I’m always planning and pushing so for me, it’s not actually as big a surprise as it was for the rest of the world. Same I think for the people around me – it’s not as big as a surprise because we're always talking about this. Barcelona was not something I've always been talking about specifically but I've always been writing the top level down as a goal. This is what I’ve been working for. That's why I'm waking up every day. That's why I'm working a bit extra because I saw it as something bigger that I'm aiming for. So at first when I was a kid, it was a dream. But then I turned it into a goal and I worked towards it. And here I am. 

Going back to those days as a kid. When did football first come into your life and how early on did you dream of turning the game into your life?

Football has always been a part of my life as far back as my mind can go. I always remember thinking about football, and to be honest, I was always sure I'll go and play football. I didn't have anything else in mind. I didn't have a plan B to it.

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No one can argue with the end result as to where you are now. What players did you grow up watching and idolising and what was it that stood out about them? 

To me, it was always the original Ronaldo. He was the special one I was always watching personally. When I looked at him, I would imagine playing like him. He was my idol. When I was younger, I really, really looked up to him. 

Do you remember watching him in World Cups and that sort of thing? Do you remember getting excited about his style of play? 

I have all those memories, all those memories just blessed to see. And I really liked what the Brazilian football represented because it was more than you could see. There was happiness. You could see there was a real joy to their play. I really enjoyed how much they love to play football, you know. Players like Ronaldinho. He was really expressing all those things, skill, happiness, joy, just having a good time while playing football. You know, I really enjoyed him playing as well. 

So that's obviously something that rubbed off on you in terms of making sure you enjoy the process. Is that when you find you play your best football – when you know you can enjoy and express yourself?

Yeah, of course. Like, if you wake up and you go into training and you don't feel happy about that, something is wrong. And if you're not happy when you are on the pitch, it will show. You cannot play as your best player at the best. I think this is key for you to be able to perform at your best level to go out and be happy. 

You've experienced various leagues and clubs of all different shapes and sizes along the way as well as different countries. Where do you hold your strongest memories?

I feel everywhere. I have many good memories. I want to keep good memories. I can only say a good thing about all the different places I've been. A special place for me is France. When I played in Toulouse, this will always be special for me because that was the first time I went abroad to play. It was also a big goal of mine – just getting to play abroad, out of Denmark. I’ve always wanted to be an international player. I went to France. I met my wife. I've made my family so that place has a lot of good, loving memories. I met a lot of great people down there. It will always have a special place in my heart.

I have always had this hunger to be a winner. I’ve never been satisfied with losing a game"
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What have you taken and learnt from each of those leagues? What about the cultural experiences that have come with each of those countries? Do you enjoy that time to learn?

Yeah, each one is different. The culture is different. It's nice. I like meeting different cultures. This is how you actually learn most in life – when you meet different cultures than your own, because you get to take some of the best things that you write from each culture and bring it into your own life. Make your own little culture from the people and places you meet and have been. I like that. It really excites me. I really, really like meeting new people. I can’t imagine any other way of living life.

You touched on when going to Toulouse - moving to a different country and out of your comfort zone, meeting new people. Do you think that sort of helped you grow and develop as a person?

For me, of course. But for some people, it's difficult, like moving away from the family and friends. You know, I had a big plan since I was really young and I always knew this was part of that plan. So for me, it was never really that tough to leave Denmark. For a lot of people it’s tough to go abroad but I had a bigger plan and it’s one I’ve known for many years. I felt like I knew this, where I am now, was going to happen so for me, it’s all very natural.

On the journey through clubs and leagues, what did you make of England as an experience? From Middlesbrough to Barcelona, it’s a huge step.

I enjoyed it. I have a lot of good memories and I feel like it’s an amazing club. Living there was actually a bit similar to Denmark. It's not that different. The way of life is similar but naturally there's a difference in style of play. The people’s passion for the club was amazing. I appreciated that a lot. It’s a deep passion and the fans were really good to me. I enjoyed the experience of seeing how they supported the club. I feel lucky to have seen that. 

You were excited to get back to Spain when your time in England came to an end; what was it about Spain that works for you? Is that a place you feel at home?

The Spanish way of playing is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid. I’ve always watched La Liga and it’s always felt like the right place for me. Of course it’s about making the right choices that ultimately help me reach my goals but this life is special for me and a big part of it for me. It’s an amazing place and I feel like I’m moving in the direction I had planned.

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You’ve talked a lot about setting goals. When do you set those goals? When did you plot the milestones or the moves you’ve made?

I think it first started when I was 18 or 19. I started to write down my goals a lot. The funny thing is now talking about it and thinking back. Some of the things I wrote down 10 years ago have happened as planned. I wouldn’t say it’s scary but it’s amazing to see how detailed I wrote these goals down and so much came to be true, just as I thought and predicted. The only difference is when they happened or how they happened. When you start believing in a goal, you can start to create the outcome. We can all be victims to circumstance but we can also create our own luck.

You talk with a wise perspective on the world, how would you describe your personality away from the pitch? 

I’d say I’m a really really chilled guy in a way. I just like being with my family, enjoying life and always trying to develop. I’m always looking to be a better husband, being a better person, being a better athlete. That’s just me.

How about things like music and your tastes there, what are you into?

Music is a huge part of my life. With the heritage of my family I have a lot of love for Caribbean music. I love reggae, dancehall – that touches me the most when I'm listening to it. I feel like you can be down one day, you listen to a good song and it's just like a vibration of that song – it just lifts you to another level. I feel with music, everyone has this kind of feeling with their own style; that it can take you to another place in a split second. I love that.

Your parents have got to be hugely proud of where your career has gone and where you are now?

I think it's different for them because they've seen everything up close but also far away. They experience all the hype around it, all the media. So they feel a different way to me. I think they feel all the noise and talk about my career more than I do whereas I'm really relaxed about it. At the same time, they know I have always been talking about this kind of journey and it's always been a goal of mine to play somewhere like Barcelona. So they're not super surprised, but of course, they're your parents. I think if I was them and I saw my son achieving his dreams, his goals, then, of course, I'd be overwhelmed by joy as well. 

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Did you ever visualise yourself being unveiled at the Camp Nou as a Barcelona signing ten years ago?

I didn’t think really specifically about being a Barcelona player. I just saw myself at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Like anyone, I dreamt of playing for those teams I watched as I was growing up. The likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga and then all those teams in the Premier League – all those teams are where you want to be. I always believed I could make it to one of the top teams.

When did you first hear the club were interested in acquiring you? Can you remember where you were and what went through your head? 

I remember my agent called me a couple of weeks before I signed to tell me that they were interested. I had just picked my son up from training. He was playing football and I was driving in the car talking to my agent. It was a crazy and strange feeling. I was obviously happy hearing him talk to me about it. 

Your head must go back to being a kid at that point? Is it like Christmas with the excitement or is it something you take in your stride?

Of course, I remember feeling pretty amazed, you know, I was really happy about it. At that time, it was more interest over a deal actually happening so it wasn’t one hundred percent. Just having that interest there made me start thinking about the whole scenario. 

Can you remember who you told first about the interest?

You know, to be honest, I told no one really. I kept it for myself until I knew more. My wife was pregnant. I didn't want her to have to start thinking too much about it because nothing was sure. So she only knew about it three days before I signed. She was the first person I told when the time was right. Rumours also started coming and it was tough because I was out at training and she was home. It felt like I had to wait for the world to move before I could tell her. I know that her phone must have been going crazy because mine was the same. Messages from all over, from friends and family. She was so good about it all and understood. I didn’t want to tell her about something that may not happen. She knows all the sacrifices I have had to make to reach my goals and she knows what I’m striving for. She has had to sacrifice so much too, to help me get to where we have. For me the dream is not just for me but for the whole family. They are all part of the whole story.

You need those strong characters to help you succeed. Is she a real rock for you? 

She is. She is. I remember when I was younger, I used to read this about every successful man has a great woman behind them. I would be like “what the hell is that? I can do this myself” but I have to say, now older, she has played such an enormous part in all this. I’m not sure I would have achieved half as much as I have without her. We’ve been able to grow through the process together.

I’m not sure I would have achieved half as much as I have without her. We’ve been able to grow through the process together"
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That must have been really weird. Having to sort of just keep it under wraps from someone that you're so close to…

Yeah, exactly and especially as we needed to talk to my kids about it. I had to ask my kids not to say anything about the move to Barca at school because it hadn't been announced yet. I remember saying “OK, tomorrow at school, maybe people like your classmates are going to be asking you lots of questions about me so I just want to tell you how it is”.

While there was all these different elements and factors to consider. Joining Barcelona must be a real easy decision to make. Did it ever feel a bit like a dream? 

Of course, but to be honest, every day is a dream for me. To be able to get up every day doing what I love. Whether it’s here in Barcelona or for a professional team in Denmark, it was a dream for me. We have to also remember to be grateful for what we have and keep it in perspective. I’m so lucky to be able to do this every day. It’s so important to love what you do. The way I see it, you don't need anything more. If you're doing what you love every day, that's enough for you to be happy for the rest of your life. 

Bring it forward and you’re then training with the likes of Messi, Suarez, Griezmann and all these global names … do you see that as your chance to enter the spotlight?

Of course, but I'm not really thinking of the spotlight and all those kind of things. It’s more important to make an impact and help the team. I want to help the team to win trophies and my mind is more centred on wanting to achieve things. It’s my only ambition. I just want to be a part of it. I'm not thinking about being in the spotlight, I’m really not. I just want to win, always.

Now you're at the top end of the table. You must just be so hungry to win. Is that a new feeling – to be able to look at the silverware and know they could be yours?

Honestly, I have always had this hunger to be a winner. I’ve never been satisfied with losing a game. I never said it feels normal to lose a game. Even when playing for a smaller team. When I lose a game, it ruins my weekend. It ruins my day to lose a game in training. I don't like to lose, so suddenly being at a place where everyone has this kind of winning mentality and with the pressure that we need to win, I dig it. This is where I wake up every day and I love to go in and be around all these like-minded people. We play every single moment and every single game to win. One thing that's really noticeable then when you go to a club like Barcelona is just everyone is so desperate to win. It puts you on your toes and it makes you sharp. It's perfect with my mentality.

I want to show everyone in the world that no matter where you're from or what you're doing, you can do whatever you put your mind to"
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I had to ask my kids not to say anything about the move to Barca at school because it hadn't been announced yet."

Those first days when you touched down, did players help you settle in or did anyone sort of take you under their wing?

Going through the presentation and everything that comes with it, it was big because there’s so much attention. It’s great but it’s not really who I am. I just want to play football. So showing up for the first training was pretty easy because all the players were really nice. Honestly, they're so welcoming and made me feel comfortable from the start. It was all very easy. When you step into the dressing room, that's like another amazing feeling for you to own. Other players may handle that situation differently but for me and my mindset, it felt natural. It wasn’t the first time I’ve stepped into a new dressing room.

Do you have to kind of like prove yourself on day one? What's that first training session like? 

Yeah you do but that’s normal. Through all my career I have had to prove myself no matter where I go. So of course when you show up, you just have to be yourself. It's not like you suddenly have to invent a new way of playing. You just have to show them who you are. If there's one thing I'm good at it’s just being myself. So I know myself the best and I just have to be myself. So that's quite easy. 

You see why people have called your journey a movie? It is incredible to be plucked from any club to then go to Barcelona…

I can understand why it seems like a movie and how it was supposed to go for me … What I believe in though, is that you create your own reality. There's no better proof of that than with what I have done by getting to Barcelona. All the things that have happened is something I believed in. I worked for it all. I’ve been speaking to friends and family about this kind of move for so long that I feel like I’ve walked it into existence and now I’m here. If I didn’t see myself doing it, there’s no way it could have happened. I’ve not been that player that people look back and say “yes, amazing talent, he’s going to be a superstar”. I don’t want that either. Instead,  I want to show everyone in the world that no matter where you're from or what you're doing, you can do whatever you put your mind to. Everything is possible with determination. This is what I want to show. 

What happens when you see the Barcelona shirt with your name on it? Is that the proof you need to know you’re not dreaming anymore?

It’s so natural but at the same time it's so crazy.  Things like that are things you’ve imagined in your mind for years. To put on a football shirt and I go out to play – I know this feeling well but when you see the Barcelona badge, that when you know it’s a whole new, different experience.

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Do you feel the enormity of the club? When does it hit home, what you’re doing?

It’s actually mostly the simple stuff. Yeah the attention of everything like the first couple of days when you show up to training is all crazy but it’s more when I'm brushing my teeth and looking at myself in the mirror I’m in a Barcelona training kit. Those things show the reality of the situation in a way. It shows that it’s not an illusion

While everything's been put on hold because of COVID-19, the ambition still remains the same with silverware and winning we’re sure … But how would you most like to leave your mark at Barcelona?

I just want to be a key player. I want to help the team to win a lot of trophies and at the same time, add a lot of trophies to this fantastic club, ultimately making a mark in history. You know, when I go to the stadium and I see all the medals, all the pictures of incredible players who have gone before me, it gives you a wild hunger. What all those players have done is something you have to respect and I want to add to that and keep up the standard that has been set. I want to help create history and be part of it all. I have so much hunger to add history to the club. I want to bring artistic memories to the club. This is my passion.

Photography by Julia Carbonell

Styling by Judit Melis