LaLiga sat down with Villarreal's in-form Cameroon striker Karl Toko Ekambi to chat about life in Spain for the 25-year-old.
Question: Let’s start by going back to when you arrived at Villarreal. It’s already been a year and three months since you arrived in LaLiga, what has changed during all this time for you?
Answer: I think I have progressed in Villarreal’s collective game and I have gotten used to the Spanish rhythm. I love this championship, I love the weather and I love this club. We’ve been through a tough, complicated season, but now we are back stronger and we’ve started well this season.
Q: Toko, how do you define yourself as a player?
A: I think I am a pretty quick and strong player that is quite skilled technically. I believe that I get used to the collective way of playing of my teams and I give my teams great depth.
Q: Now you’ve been a whole season in LaLiga and you know it better, how would you define LaLiga. What’s it like for you?
A: I think that it is a pretty technical championship in which all teams are pretty strong and it’s complicated to play them. I think that we have to be very focused during the matches and, above all, try not to concede because we know that Villarreal is a team that likes to have possession but when you have possession and you concede, it’s complicated to win, and I think we do that pretty well. We don’t concede many goals. It’s a very competitive championship and I believe that all teams are very strong and I think that this season you all will have to take us into account.
Q: Last season was very tough for the club and Calleja had to be dismissed, he left and then he came back… since them and until now, back with Calleja and with the spell of yet another coach in the club, how has Villarreal CF changed? What has changed in this team to turn the situation around?
A: Quite simply, I think that we have become aware of the fact that we did not have to just play the ball around, but we had to be strong with the ball and that’s something we lacked in some games last season. Now we are aware that without the ball we have to be just as strong as with the ball and that we cover well defensively. We are used to doing that and we have to try and avoid conceding. We must keep on insisting on wanting to score goals without conceding them.
Q: What’s Javi (Calleja) like as a coach, as a person and in the dressing room? You have seen him in many different situations: when things were bad, when he came back, nervous, you have seen him in all his facets. What’s he like?
A: I think that he is a coach that loves to play the ball, loves players that play the ball around and have the ability to go press if they lose the ball. We also have a strong group in which all players can play. Those in the starting eleven and the substitutes can play. He is a coach that cheers the team up and we’re now showing that we have the ability to be at the top of the table.
Q: You said that something that changed was your ability to score goals. This year you’ve all scored many goals and you’re one of the top-scoring teams in the league. What has changed at Villarreal in the sense that goals that just weren’t going in last season now are?
A: Last season we lacked that little bit of luck because we also had many chances but didn’t score much and the fact that we have won from the beginning, scoring so many goals, has given confidence to the team. A player like Gerard Moreno is scoring loads of goals, but there are other players such as Moi Gómez or Santi Cazorla who have scored from the start of the season and that makes us try and score in all games and makes us try to play better offensively.
Q: There was a time in which we asked every striker how may goals they set themselves as a target at the start of the season. Do you ever think: “I ever say to yourself, I wan’t to score 15, 18 or 20 goals…”?
A: No, because I am a player who’s progressing, and my sole goal is to do things better than last season. Last season I scored 10 goals in the league and I’ll try and score more than ten this season, and I think I will.
Q: Gerard Moreno is in spectacular form right now, as you said. What can you tell us about him? This year is very different to last season. Psychologically last season could have hurt him but obviously not!
A: I believe that Gerard is one of the best attackers I have ever played with, he is good in front of goal, but he also helps us play well. I don’t think that he really is at a superior level to that of last season, it’s just that he started banging in the goals early on this year and his confident just goes up and up. He’s repaying the club’s confidence in him with goals, and I think he’ll continue to do so.
Q: What’s the team’s objective this season? This is the first year in a long time in which you’re not playing in Europe…
A: Clearly the club’s goal is to achieve a European spot, in any case we need to finish in the top half of the table and by now, we have started well and we are going to try and win the maximum amount of games possible to achieve that European spot that the club want so much. I think that’s where the club deserve to be and that’s why I came here, to play in the Champions League.
Q: Do you think that getting to Europe should be an obligation for the club, given the money that’s been spent and the squad you have now?
A: Yes, I think that it’s an obligation because having so many players that can be in the starting eleven and that have such a high level… I think that we deserve to play in the Champions League. It may not be the case this season but we’re going to do everything we can to achieve that European spot.
Q: One of the first games you played as a starter this season was against Real Madrid, a game in which you ended up with a draw but had chances to win. Your home form wasn’t strong last year but you’re unbeaten so far this season at the Estado de la Ceramica. How important is it to keep your home form up?
A: I think that in order to be up there we have to win at home and win as much as we can. I think that this year will force us to be at a high level at home to add many points to be able to qualify for the Champions League.
Q: Do your teammates have a special nickname for you in the dressing room…
A: No, they just call me Toko or Tokinho… I like nicknames a lot, that’s just it.
Q: Giuseppe Rossi has been training with the squad for some weeks now. From what you’ve seen of him, what are your impressions of him and what’s it been like playing with him?
A: Well, he’s a player who is part of the history of the club and who’s scored many goals. I hope that he gets back to full fitness and, why not, signs here and plays with us. He could help us go back to the top of the table.
Q: Let’s talk about the dressing room. You are in a dressing room with Santi Cazorla, Raúl Albiol, a former captain of the Spanish national team, young talents too…There have been ten changes in players from last year to this year. What would you highlight from this dressing room?
A: We have a nice balance between young and more experienced talents, which generates a great atmosphere. The experienced guys joke around a lot. We get on very well, especially when we’re winning! Obviously things are better this season than last but we need to stay focused on working hard and winning games. I love our dressing room and I’m happy to be here.
Q: What’s a dream you still have in LaLiga. You have already played against Real Madrid, FC Barcelona… what’s your dream?
A: Qualifying for the Champions League. Why not?
Ekambi and Villarreal face Celta Vigo next in LaLiga on Sunday 24 November.
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