The Real Sociedad left-back seems to be enjoying life back in Spain. LaLiga caught up with the 33-year-old, discussing his impressions of the season so far, the young talent at Sociedad and his ambitions for the season...
Q: What’s your impression of the season so far?
Answer: Well, I think that so far the feelings are quite positive. The team is playing well and we are sitting sixth in the LaLiga table. Many people may not have imagined this but things are working out. The head coach is rotating and the players are responding. We want it to continue like this.
Q: You said in your presentation that you were coming here because you were ambitious… is it being as you thought it would be?
A: Yes, things are working out in that way and that’s the idea I had in mind. I already said the first day I came here that I was coming here to help. I was not coming here to teach the youngsters, I was coming here to play games, to accumulate minutes, to try and help the team both on and off the pitch. So far things are working out and I am feeling well, the team is going well and let’s hope it continues in that way.
Q: You knew the club, the city… What surprised you?
A: Well, I knew what I’d picked up of Real Sociedad while playing at Osasuna, they’re both very similar teams with clear ideas. It’s a very homey club, with lots of players from the academy, really kind people with great values. It’s so important that these kinds of clubs don’t lose their essence.
Q: What does it mean for the club to have a squad with so many academy and Basque players?
A: At the end of the day it’s fundamental for this kind of team. The academies work very well and if at any given time the club isn’t doing great financially and you can get them playing a good level that’s really important. You have to stay true to the club’s values, and that’s basing the team around the academy. If you then complement these guys with the right signings, then you’ve got a great mix.
Q: What makes this league so special?
A: The equality among the teams that there’s been in the last few years. When I left years ago there was a really big difference between the teams at the top and the bottom of the league, but that’s really changed. The clubs are on a far more equal playing field now, not only in terms of quality but also when it comes to signing players. The squads are similar and at the end of the day that makes the competition much more equal and competitive.
Q: What does Imanol Alguacil transmit as a coach?
A: This is Imanol’s hometown club and he knows the club inside out. He was raised here. He’s given me a great deal of confidence and it’s really helped me to integrate, his training sessions are really fun too. He’s a coach with very clear ideas and he’s very intense, he wants his players to give 100% and never surrender. In the long run, as well as in the short term, that’s going to get us results. We’re really happy playing under him.
Q: In recent games, Imanol gave the impression that he’s a coach that wants to take risks, and really goes for it in the final minutes instead of playing for a draw. All or nothing… do you agree?
A: Yes, he’s said it clearly, both with us and the press. He’s always said that he’s ambitious and that if there’s even a slight chance of us winning then why play for the draw? Obviously sometimes you need to be cautious and withdraw a bit, but we want the three points every time we step out onto the pitch. If there’s a chance we have to try and take them.
Q: What did it mean to you to return to LaLiga after seven seasons at Arsenal FC?
A: For me coming back to LaLiga was unforgettable. I really enjoyed myself in the Premier League and I have wonderful memories of playing in England, it’s now a stage that’s now over. I had the chance to come back and I’m very happy, playing at stadiums where I played years ago. But it’s funny, many have changed. Our stadium has changed a lot, it’s very different from what I remember. I’m really enjoying myself.
Q: Your debut at home, you scored against Atleti… you couldn’t ask for more, could you?
A: It was a dream debut. A game against Atlético de Madrid, who seemed unbeatable at the time. I think they’d taken nine out of nine points and were in great form. In theory, it looks like things were against us, but it was our first home game and there was such a special atmosphere in the city the whole week before. At the end of the day that gave us an extra bit of strength and I was fortunate enough to score the goal. We kept a clean sheet and it was a marvellous day.
Q: Are you playing in the most attacking role of your career?
A: It’s hard to say. It is true that the coach gives me a lot of freedom. We balance out well whenever [Joseba] Zaldua or I push forward, we always have centre backs and the defensive midfielder. We all respect our positions. As I said, we have a very ambitious coach that wants us to push forward and contribute offensively. I’m enjoying myself and long may that continue.
Q: What are your expectations on a personal level?
A: Here we’re all about the team. Obviously, on a personal level, you always want to win and contribute as much as possible to the team. We haven’t set a specific goal… we know a lot’s been said about Europe but our goal is to take three points every game. Taking things game by game and not thinking about where we’ll be in March, April, May… we have to stay grounded but we want to be up there come the end of the season.
Q: This Real Sociedad team boasts a lot of experience despite the fact that it’s a young side.
A: Yes, of course. We are a young team. We are one of the youngest team in LaLiga but that youth is compensated by a great amount of work. Players that are 20, 21, 22 or 23 years old but have already played 50 or 60 games in the top-flight, with their national teams too. We have a lot of potential. Our goal is to have a team that shows maturity in spite of its youth, to know what to do when we have the ball. I think we measure the tempo of the game well.
Q: What can you say about Mikel Oyarzabal?
A: I can only say positive things about Mikel. He is a very young player but he’s already in the Spanish national team and is really loved by our fans. He’s the club icon, the player that has his whole career in front of him and that wants to be here and that will do great things. He’s already giving us great things already both on and off the pitch. With his goals, assists and his simple presence that forces the rivals to think twice.
Q: What about Martin Ødegaard?
A: I wasn’t expecting him to be such a great player. I knew of him if Real Madrid signed him then it meant he was a top player. But he didn’t have a lot of luck and arrived at a time that wasn’t ideal. He didn’t settle, he was too young. But what’s clear is that he’s forging a very promising career. He gives us a lot and reads the game tremendously well. He’s always in the right place at the right time, and that’s how he can hurt opponents. He makes passes that find the striker on their own all the time, he controls the tempo of the game… the future is at his feet.
Q: Does your footballing experience tell you that this team could do something big this season?
A: My footballing experience tells me that we can achieve a lot this season, of course. There are still months to go and things can change very quickly in this sport, but so far we’re enjoying ourselves. We’re at the right end of the table and if we keep on working the way we have I can’t see why we can’t stay there.
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