LaLiga saw down with the Spain and Atleti star Saul Ñiguez to see how life in the capital is going for the 24-year-old.
Q: What are your thoughts on the club’s new signings? Such as Hector Herrera and Joao Felix.
A: Well, to be honest, I’m not going to single out individuals, I’m going to talk about all of them. You mentioned Herrera to me. Well, I think he’s amazing. People are surprised that he hasn’t been getting game time, but at the end of the day you have to earn it. We saw the other day when he played in a different position. We have always set an example for him, because he keeps training very well and as I said, he wants to listen and to learn, and despite the fact he’s an experienced player he’s open-minded. In the dressing room he's a very good guy.
As for the two full-backs Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier, they’re great at getting up and down the wing, they’re top players and they pose a real threat because they’re excellent at crossing. They’re also adept at coming in from the flanks, so I think they’re real all-rounders.
As for Felipe and Mario Hermoso, both of them are very experienced and top class centre-backs, but their most salient and important feature – as with the rest of the signings – is that they have a willingness to learn and to listen, regardless of how experienced they may be. I think it’s very positive that they’ve settled into the squad very well, as from the very first moment they’ve tried to adapt to things here.
Last but not least, there’s Saponjic and Joao Felix. Joao Felix is getting more playing time than Saponjic, but the same goes for him as the other lads – he’s always working hard in training, he’s a very strong guy when it comes to holding off defenders and creating space, and he has great movement in the box.
I think we've signed players across the whole pitch, who aside from being talented footballers are great people who bring a lot to the dressing room. This is especially important given that over the summer a lot of veterans who were important to the squad moved on.
Q: You said that everyone underestimates you. Why do you reckon so?
A: Well, I think we've been working very hard for a long time and competing with the best and people aren’t giving us the credit for this. Sometimes they’ll complain if we only win 1-0, because we [only] win 1-0, but the important thing is that we win. Sometimes we win 1-0, play well and create many goalscoring opportunities, while other times we win 1-0 having made only one chance and put it in, and in doing so showing how decisive we are. Yet the important thing for us is to keep a clean sheet, which we’ve found hard so far this season. It’s true that doing this is always trickier at the start of the season, but if we manage to keep a clean sheet and then with the quality players that we have up front then we’ll be in with a greater chance of getting good results. This is because the top teams are always those that concede the fewest amount of goals and having Jan Oblak in goal normally makes this task easier.
Q: What objectives have you set for this season?
A: We haven’t set any. We take things game-by-game. It sounds silly, but whenever we stray from this philosophy and say that we’re aiming to win the Champions League, LaLiga, or the Copa del Rey then we end up screwing everything up in every competition and ending the season empty-handed, so we're going to take every game as it comes. I think it's important not to forget this philosophy and approach every game as if it were a cup final.
Q: What are your individual objectives for this season?
A: Well, I always set individual goals in addition to the team’s goals. Yet I never set long-term goals, because if you do this you stop thinking about the present, which I think is a big mistake. Many times, I’ve considered – and I’ve talked about this with the coaching staff too - about setting goals even in training as well. This is because there are times when you think “I’ll go to training, and set myself some goals”, even if they’re not specific to that training session and they might be focusing on my attacking or defending skills. What’s important for me is to focus on the finer details. At the end of the day I think if the coaching staff set up a drill with a little goal and we're passing it around trying to score, I have to focus on not messing up my passing, even if it might seem easy.
Q: Forgive me for probing further into what you just said, but you said that you have to take the season game-by-game. Yet it’s clear that you’re on of the favourites to win the league, this can’t be disputed.
A: Well, if we’re one of the favourites, then we’d maybe be so among other teams. I'm not going to argue with you because in recent years we’ve finished in the top three. In the last two seasons, we’ve finished second and we’re getting closer and closer to winning it. FC Barcelona are playing at a very high level and in the last two seasons there was even one occasion where they won the league having only lost once, and even then it was in the penultimate game of the season. When you’re fighting for the title against opponents such as these it makes things harder, but we’re competing and we’re getting closer. If we keep taking things every game as they come then in the final five matches of the season I’ll be able to tell you what our objectives are.
Q: Last question. Saul, do you have any dreams left to fulfil?
A: Yes, of course I do, I have many dreams left. I think if aged 24 I didn't have any dreams I wouldn't have this desire to keep playing, developing and getting better. Many of my dreams involve winning trophies, but at the end of the day what I want most is to keep enjoying every single match that I play for Atleti.
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