Gerardo Bruna: From the Bernabeu to the Brandywell
"It was amazing waking up every morning and training with these amazing players. It was crazy."
Gerardo Bruna says he was living "every kid's dream" when he was on the books as a youth player at Real Madrid and Liverpool.
However, like many promising young talents, things didn't work out for the Argentine at the highest level of the sport and he now plays for Derry City in the Irish Premier Division.
"It was a gamble leaving Spain and making the move to England," said Bruna, "It took me a while to adapt to the culture, language and weather.
"I've played with a lot of good players over the years but it wouldn't be fair for me to say who was the best.
"Rafa Benitez's Liverpool side were incredible to be with. Being around players like Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres was an incredible experience.
"When I arrived they gave me a teacher so I could learn English as soon as possible and mix in with the rest of the team.
"There were a lot of other young players coming through and everyone was really helpful.
"I was living the dream and I learnt a lot. I had four happy years there and I'm thankful that I had the opportunity."
'Players aren't failures if they don't match their buzz'
Once dubbed the 'Messi of Madrid', Bruna feels that media coverage skews perspective on players who don't make it at the highest level of the game.
"Players obviously set expectations for themselves," added the 28-year-old, "But it's the media that really create the hype, so it isn't really the player's fault if things don't work out.
"Obviously if a young player puts in some stand-out performances then they are going to get a lot of attention, but then the media makes that bigger.
"But if they don't make it at the top of the game then the buzz around them makes it seem like it didn't go well.
"It doesn't make them failures. They still get to play professionally for a living and they still have successful careers in the game."
Despite playing for several clubs in the English lower leagues, Spain and in North America, Bruna says "it's never been a shock moving from place to place".
"I understand why some people think that it might be hard to adapt if you've been at such a big club then you drop down a level, but I've really enjoyed my journey," he added.
"My family and I have got to taste different cultures and countries, and we've had some experiences that we're never going to forget.
"I don't have any regrets. I've always enjoyed playing football for a living and that's what I still get to do."
Bruna has made a big impression since joining Declan Devine's side and has signed a one-year contract extension.
"I'm really enjoying life at Derry and I've settled in really well," said the former Spain and Argentina youth international.
"The quality of the league is good. I've just come back from North America and they try to play a little bit more over there, but generally the standard is strong.
"It was a bit hard at the beginning of the season because I didn't have a full pre-season and the team were doing well.
"But I think I've done well since I made it into the team, and Declan obviously agrees because he wouldn't have offered me a new deal otherwise," he joked.
"It was a family decision to come here but also a football decision. I wanted to be back playing in Europe and everything came together to make the deal happen.
"My wife is from Liverpool, so moving back to Europe made everything a bit easier with our kids and seeing family, so the move made sense.
"Everything comes into account now. My wife and kids have settled down and they like it here.
"It's not just me any more, so I'm glad that everything has worked out and I'm really enjoying my time here."
Derry can achieve European target
The Candystripes face a tricky last-16 tie with Dundalk in the FAI Cup and sit third in the league table in their bid for a return to European football.
Derry manager Devine believes Bruna "has been as good as any midfielder in the league" in recent weeks and "can become a cult hero" at the Brandywell after confirming his contract extension.
"I haven't heard anything bad said about Declan," added Bruna, who credits his relationship with Devine as a factor to stay at the club, "To be honest, everyone at the club has treated me and my family very well since we moved here.
"The whole coaching team know a lot about football and it's good fun working with them.
"It's a really nice club with plenty of ambition as well. We want to return to Europe and Declan is trying to build something special here.
"There are only eight games left and it's going to be tough knowing that everyone has something to play for.
"We just want to take it game by game, but we know there's a good chance and we're going to give everything to bring European football back to the Brandywell again."