n Tuesday, Tottenham Hotspur take on Real Madrid in the Champions League at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, and Fernando Llorente has noted that though Los Blancos can win the game at any point, they also give visiting teams options throughout the game.
After breaking his arm this summer, the striker hasn’t had the best of starts to life in north London, but is hoping that will change soon.
Speaking to MARCA, Llorente is confident of being able to damage Real, and wants to return to the Spanish national team.
Though you’re at Tottenham, you were about to for Chelsea, right?
“Yes, it was a difficult decision that I had to take at the last moment. Conte, whom I admired since I was with him at Juventus, showed a great interest in me since last January. But Chelsea did not finish the deal with Swansea.
“With Tottenham everything was easier and faster. Pochettino called me on August 30 and I fell in love. I was filled with enthusiasm by his words and his sports project … I thought I was going to Chelsea but Tottenham were more firm in their intention to sign me.
“They reached an agreement very quickly with Swansea and despite all of those difficult circumstances [with Chelsea], I decided to come to Tottenham.”
How did Pochettino convince you to sign for him?
“I know him, I know how he worked at Espanyol, Southampton, and how he has changed Tottenham in three years. This club has a lot of stability, they are a family and the project is spectacular, it does not stop growing. I’m very happy to be here.”
Do you feel more valued in England?
“I’ve felt valued everywhere I’ve been. From England it strikes me that it is a country where the player is highly respected. No one here tells you anything. In Swansea we were a team almost relegated but there was never a whistle or a bad word, everything was encouragement. Coming to the Premier League, to live this atmosphere, with the stadiums always full… it’s wonderful.”
What do you contribute that has seen you play successfully in several countries?
“In Spain I come from a team that plays football similar to the English teams. Athletic Club usually plays very directly and having trained there, it makes me feel comfortable in England. It’s the type of game that suits me, it’s very physical, and that’s one of my strengths.”
But some forwards find English football difficult.
“At Swansea I had almost no chances, but the ones I did get, I had to score. I had success in terms of goals.”
In Italy how did you improve?
“In Italy I grew up as a player, I went to the best team, where the competition I had was brutal. We had six strikers vying for two positions and although I struggled to adapt, I finished the season scoring 18 goals. In addition I learned to develop myself in situations where I faced teams that parked the bus, leaving very few spaces.”
With all of your characteristics, can you be the type of striker that Spain needs?
“Having been in different leagues, it gives me more experience and I think if I am able to reach last year’s level, I could be in the national team. I am a different striker from what already exists and surely could help in certain matches. But for this I have to have continuity and score many goals, because the level in Spain is very high. If David Villa has returned though, why not me?”
Is the 2018 World Cup within your grasp?
“Of course, we all aspire to that and always think about it. Being selected for the national team is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me. I spent five years with them regularly, I won a World Cup, a European Championship … It was incredible.
“I would love to return and I visualise it, but it’s something that is distant right now because I have to show my level here. I broke my arm this summer and have been out of action for almost two months. I need to be involved again and I know that here they will help me to achieve my goals as soon as possible.”
How can you beat this Madrid?
“It’s very complicated. They have achieved stability and are an impressive team. Years ago they always had impressive individuals, but in the last four seasons they have won three Champions Leagues and are now a great squad. They are a very difficult team to beat but with Juventus we did so in the ‘semis’ a few years ago.
“Against them you have to have control, it is not worth stealing the ball. Madrid kills you because it has more quality and effectiveness than you, but always gives you options.
“We should play our very best game, especially defensively and not neglect the spaces in behind, because Real have lethal players and that’s why you have to play with great precision: against Madrid you can not miss those silly balls in the middle, for example.”
Is Real Madrid far superior to Tottenham?
“Among the great teams in Europe, where Tottenham are included, there are not that many differences. They are very even.”
What are Tottenham’s strengths?
“We have very good players, capable of playing very good football. With Harry Kane, everything he touches turns to gold. And he is very well protected.”
Will Madrid win a lot with Benzema’s return?
“Yes, Karim gives Madrid a lot. When he’s not around, they lose. But Madrid also have many great players in the squad.”
Was Morata hampered at Madrid for being Spanish?
“Probably, because last year without being a starter he scored a lot of goals and helped a lot to win titles. If he were Brazilian he would be considered differently. In Spain we are very much like that. There may have been other ‘Asensios’ too, but they have not given opportunities.”
What did you think of the Real Madrid-Juve final?
“I was very surprised because in the first half I thought Juve were better. I think it was a mental issue as I was with the Juve players after that final and they refused to explain what happened.”
Have you mentally become stronger?
“Yes, of course. The experience of having been in various clubs and having gone through situations that are not always easy helps you to grow mentally and see things differently. The last year in Athletic was hard, and probably the experience that made me.”
Why wouldn’t Athletic play you?
“I guess they wanted to make an example of me to the other players, so that they would see what happens to anyone who wanted to leave, but I don’t think that is the way to treat an Athletic player.”
Tell me about Valverde
“With Valverde I was only there for six months, but my memory is fantastic. He talks a lot with the players and he gave me great confidence. I was sorry that I did not spend more time with him.”
Tell me about your next challenges
“Get back to last year’s level as soon as possible and improve on my number of goals. It is time for Tottenham to win a title, and since I have arrived I am convinced that this year we can do it.”
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