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Saúl: "If Atlético offered me a contract for life I'd sign it now"

The Atlético Madrid youngster talks to AS about his past, present and future as he enjoys his best spell at the club. Even this early in his career influences have been strong.

Saúl Niguez

How do you see your season so far?

Everything’s going well. Against Eibar I made a silly mistake, but I knew that these things happen and it wasn’t decisive. Later I scored to make it 2-1 which was important.

At 21, you're already part of the first team squad.

I fulfilled my childhood dream by getting to the B Team. Putting in the effort each day is the best way to thank the club for what they have given me. Atlético took a chance on me, looked after me, and put the values of the club into my veins. All I can do is continue to work hard in order to grow.

Torres dedicated his 100th goal to his mentor, Manuel Briñas. Who opened the doors of the Calderon to Saul?

The same coach who I had at Real Madrid, Pepe Fernández. I had a bad time of it there. In December I was asked to leave and as soon as the season was over I returned to Elche. My coach called me and told me about the Atlético option. I knew he was a good person, he trusted me and was going to take good care of me. I will be forever grateful to him.

What happened in Madrid?

Non-sporting issues. Things that impact more on a child of 11 or 12; being away from family and not having any friends. But it did help me to grow and mature.

The injury to Tiago, how has this changed your role within the team?

The only thing that has changed is that now I’m getting more time on the pitch. I’m working as much or more than before. I’ve not changed. The worst thing is that a great player and an excellent person like Tiago is injured. In the dressing room we’re all praying that he’ll be back soon to help the team.

Against Eibar you were played centrally. Do you like it there?

I don’t think about where I play but how I can help the group. If I’m played in defense, I work and learn the requirements as quickly as possible.

Have you been an all-rounder since you were a child, playing striker to goalkeeper?

Yes! Goalie due to my age. I am the youngest of three footballing brothers and they’d always put me there. When on the beach and the ball went into the water, it was me who got wet. When I started in Intangco at Elche, I was played as a forward because I was small and fast. When I went to Madrid, I grew ten or fifteen centimeters in a year, outrageous! That cost me as I had to adapt to my new body. Pepe Fernandez was the first person to put me in midfield because out of the attackers, he said that I was the hardest worker. It was similar to now, due to injuries. I've always played where I can be of use. The best thing is for a player to be able to play in various positions, although it doesn’t mean that you’ll be most comfortable there.

Are you more comfortable on the wing or in the middle?

In the centre, no doubt. I'm not the classic super quick winger. Atlético's wide players come inside. I play best at eight or six, but I like to get forward. Wherever you are, you are. What you must do is work hard.

Now it’s the same, in the squad, there are seven youth players.

Atlético uses the youth team very well. Gabi is 32 and players like Lucas, Óliver have been here more than a decade. That means that something’s been being done for a while now, it’s not just at the moment when it’s working well.

What role has Simeone played in your career to date?

When I was 17 years old I got to play against Besiktas. He said then to my face that I was not going to be part of the plans. That honesty is what I value most. It was a detail that stays with me. He has always trusted me and he gave me the opportunity. I’ll be eternally grateful.

He says there is a problem in losing possession.

All players lose the ball. I have to learn where and when to take risks. I aim to make passes further away from my own goal and take risks when it’s appropriate. It happens to the best.

Who has surprised you most in the team?

Correa. I have played with great players but they’ve all come with a strong track record. Correa came from heart surgery, and had gone six months without playing. He began to train with such nerve. He’s going to be a star.

Del Bosque has been watching you. What would his call mean to you?

I can’t say until it happens. Until then I won’t believe it. My team is the Under-21s and I want to help them to get to the European Championships.

If you enjoyed this, come back soon to read the second part of the interview...


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