How does a footballer live in Germany in the times of Covid?
Now they let us walk through three or four zones. You only have to wear a mask if you go into a closed place, you don’t have to wear it on the street. It has nothing to do with Spain. Here they closed for two weeks as a precaution so that there are no problems for Christmas, but I have come to live on the outskirts and I do not go downtown.
Let’s go with football. Did Spain’s win over Germany surprise you?
Germany had several absences. In defense they lacked men, all the centrals … but it is true that Spain passed them over. You can lose 1-0 or 2-0, but not like us with United, who scored five.
Have you talked to your teammate Dani Olmo after the game?
I spoke to him before the game. I wrote to him in the morning to wish him luck and put a little pressure on him to play well, but I didn’t see the game. I saw the highlights, but not the match. I am very happy for him. He is doing very well here and in the National Team.
Is the Selection a dream for you?
I have to continue on the same line, trying to do my best here, and then we’ll see. It’s not something that I have in mind or that is pushing me too hard. It is a bonus. I love playing soccer and, as long as I always play here, I will be happy. Here I am comfortable, happy and calm.
You have become one of the great sensations of the Bundesliga this season. What have you found in Leipzig to be able to develop your full potential?
I owe it all to the coach. Since I arrived, he bet on me. I arrived on a Friday, on Monday or Tuesday I had a Cup game and he put me in straight. The confidence he’s giving me is what helps me to be calm on the pitch. It gives me a lot of freedom and I play without the pressure of having to show the coach that I should play.
How did you feel when you saw that it was a ‘trending topic’ in Spain due to the tweets of the people who asked for your call after the removal of Gayá?
My cousin Iván told me, I had no idea. So I started reading, and I’m glad there are so many people supporting me and acknowledging my work. I hope to continue like this. The level is high in that position, but as long as everything goes well at the club I will be happy. I’m not going to worry if I am not going. What I want is for the team to go well and for me to keep playing. Many people ask me if the National Team is my dream, well, look, my dream is to play for Depor. I have more in mind to go to A Coruña to play with Depor than to play with the National Team. In a few years I hope to play for Depor. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid.
Tell me about your coach, Julian Nagelsmann. It is very demanding?
It demands a lot. One of our virtues is the pressure we do. We push a lot and it is very difficult for the other team to play. In training he always wants one hundred percent. You cannot relax at any time. He always wants us to do our best in each session. That is why later in games that intensity comes naturally to us. He does not like at all to see that in training you do not run or do not put your foot.
You have also been under Guardiola’s orders. Do they resemble each other?
In certain things they do resemble each other: in the way of preparing for the games, training or knowing what they want. In these things they are very similar. I would tell you that 95% are the same in those respects. Julian (Nagelsmann) always looks for the opponent’s weakness and always wants to play with the ball, it all depends on the ball. If we can recover the ball in three seconds, then we have to catch it now to dominate quickly with the ball. That makes the team play well. We make attractive football. We create many chances, we have possession. Some matches don’t turn out like that, but generally we have a lot of chances.
What was missing with Guardiola to reach the high level that he now has under Nagelsmann?
I believe everything returns to the issue of trust. Before my time in Holland, I was not ready to play for City, but after my time at PSV I did notice that I was ready. I also need continuity, not a game every so often. I don’t know what it was, but something I didn’t get to have it. Then I came to Leipzig and from day one Julian has given me almost everything, and I am very happy.
Do you like to play defense four or defense three?
I have always felt more comfortable with the defense of four, because I like more to surprise from behind, not to be there anymore. But I like how we play here, it gives me a lot of freedom to move. When we play with the three centrals, I don’t have to worry so much about defending. Yes I have to contribute my own, but not so much and it gives me the freedom to be up and close to the area.
This season he already has five goals. What has happened for this goalscorer?
Because of the way we play and the area the coach loves me in, which is close to the area, I usually have one chance per game. So far they have entered, I have been lucky and see how it continues …
Has the coach marked any figures for you?
I already told the coach that with five goals it was okay, now to give assists. (Laughter) The important thing is to take advantage of the opportunity I have, because it is very difficult for the team not to give me one. I think he told me that he had to score between seven and ten goals. I said nothing, but I’ve already had five. We’ll see…
He has played in Holland, England, Germany and in the Second Division of Spain. Tell me some characteristic of each one.
I’m in the Bundesliga and I like the style of the league. It is a very offensive football and any team can complicate it. The Premier League is another world, it is another roll for the sensations, for the way it is organized. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s another bummer. In Spain I played in Segunda, and it is the most complicated league in which I have been. I never had such a bad time. It was all very ugly. I don’t know how it will be now, but when I was there it was not played. I didn’t like my time in the Second Division at all. Of the Dutch league I can say that it is where I have been most comfortable. In the end you have two or three teams that compete with you, but it is not like the Bundesliga or the Premier, where there are many more teams that can complicate it.
That is, what could play a game at half gas …?
No, it’s not that either, but it’s not the same to play against a Roda or a Venlo than to play against Schalke, Hoffenheim… Germany’s level is higher.
Against Freiburg he scored a free-kick that has gone around the world. Is it the best goal of your career?
I am among the first to score Basaksehir FK and the direct free kick against Freiburg. They are the two best, but I don’t have many to choose from either (laughs).
Well, he’s already scored 16 goals and he’s only 23 years old. At this rate, he reaches 96 that his idol Roberto Carlos marked …
I won’t get close. It is impossible.
For now, that direct free against Freiburg reminded one of those scored by Roberto Carlos. How does he stay after such a great goal?
When I saw the foul, I said “the captain is there and he is going to throw it”, but he approached me and told me that on that side it was my turn, to center it at the far post. But I told him no, that by the time we were there, I was going to shoot and whatever happened. I watched her go down and the feeling was incredible. It was the first to shoot here. The game ended, I saw it repeated a couple of times, but that’s it, it’s over because after three days there is another game. There is little time to enjoy it.
I have been told that he does not like watching football on television very much. That’s true?
That was taken out of context. I am a person that I need to play any sport. I want to play it and not to get angry I don’t see it. If it’s a nice Champions League game, a Classic or a big game, I do see it. For example, I did not see the match between Spain against Germany. I do see Madrid-Barça, but not another game. If I’m not here, why am I going to see it …
Who do you get your first message from after games?
It depends. If the game is good, it is usually my brother, my mother, my cousin Iván and, obviously, my partner usually sends me a photo with my child and a messenger. If the game is bad, the first message is always from my manager, Jose Cerdido, but in a joke. He knows I’m horny and he likes to prick me (laughs).
His partner Upamecano is one of the fashionable centrals. It’s so good?
It is a beast. His physique is brutal, he takes the ball well from behind, takes risks and does it well. Melee is a beast and it is also fast. It is a very complete center. Right now there are not many who say that it is at a spectacular level, so yes. He can play well in both three and four defense. We now have all the centrals and they are beasts.
Do Leipzig have a real chance of winning the Bundesliga?
You have to dream, to dream that it does not remain. We have Bayern there, who have a great team. It is very difficult to win. We all fight to enter the Champions League and do our best. You have to be realistic, as Bayern is now, it’s very difficult. As they are, they are the strongest team in the world.
Who is the player you have faced that most impressed you?
What Neymar did in the Champions League game that we played in Portugal against them left us all blown away. That player is another level. That day I was impressed by how a player has the ability to change everything that happens in a game. In Portugal we did not know how to prevent him from receiving and not controlling the game. There was no way. It is the one that has impressed me the most. And that he did not play on the side, thank goodness (laughs).
Neymar, superior to Messi?
We are talking about another animal. Messi does not come down as much to look for the ball as Neymar, he waits for you and when he has ‘bang’, ‘bang’, the ball is already in the net. Now you can do what you want, that nothing … But Neymar went down to the center of the field; I would climb it, go to one side; he turned and went to the other; you put your leg in, but the ball was gone … I was very surprised.
And is Haaland so decisive? Do you have a level for Madrid?
I clashed with him once. He makes the team play, he’s always in the right position. With his height, he plays very well with his feet. Besides he has a goal, he is fast, he lowers the ball very well, with his back he plays very well. The truth is I really liked it. If you do the same as you do here, you can clearly play wherever you want. If you do the same, it does have a level. Lewnadowski is another tremendous forward. A striker who assures you goals like him is brutal. You know that you put a ball on it and it will be a scoring opportunity.
Will we see Angeliño playing in Spain soon?
You never know. As football is, you can’t say anything. It also depends on what Julian (Nagelsmann) does. As the team is playing, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone bigger called him, but he looks perfect here. From one day to the next things can change so much.
You have a brother at Villarreal B, how are things going?
Let’s see how this year is doing there and then we’ll see. He’s an offensive left-back too like me. I don’t know why we both ended up playing in the same position. I used to criticize him a lot and was pretty harsh with him, but I don’t think anything anymore. I ask him how he played and to be honest. I also when I finish the games, I have a message from him and he tells me that I did a bad control, for example. But now I don’t say anything to him, I’m not the one to say anything.
And finally, how do you see Depor?
I was at Riazor in the promotion play-off match against Mallorca two seasons ago. I was with Pablo Marí’s family, my partner and my son. And he had goose bumps. It was incredible. And I commented to Pablo: “I’m coming here next year.” And in the end look what happened. The descent to Second B took it fatally. Let’s see if this season things go well for them and they achieve promotion to Second.