Dani Parejo is happy and it shows. When AS caught up with the Valencia captain this week, he enthused about the team's return to form under Marcelino and with the satisfaction of seeing all of that hard work finally come together. Parejo was quick to play down the team's position in LaLiga, they sit second behind Barcelona and along with the Catalans are one of only three teams who remain unbeaten in the division: “Do we feel dizzy? we only felt dizzy when we were near the bottom of the table last season, not now we are up at the top”.
Are you back enjoying your football again?
I certainly am. Much more now.
...like being a kid once again?
I'd say so, yes. Obviously, we've gone through a rough time here during the past two years, footballers' careers are short and you have to enjoy it. But I think it's obvious that now there is a real sense of joy at Valencia, we're enjoying attacking, we enjoy defending... I think all of us are having fun with our football.
"We've won nothing yet" warns Parejo
I get the impression that Marcelino is keen to keep the euphoria down, but is it difficult for those who went through last season's rollercoaster ride to keep your feet on the ground?
After all we went through... they should let us enjoy ourselves (laughs). The sensations we have, the way we're playing, what we are transmitting.... it's just incredible. I don't think anyone expected such a drastic change. It's fine that we are enjoying every game we play, but I don't think it's a good idea to think any further ahead than that. It's not good to get carried away.
What do you mean?
We get asked if the objective is to qualify for next season's Champions League, and some even suggest that we are candidates to win the league... I take it upon myself to remind the lads in the dressing room that we haven't won anything. When there are six games left, we'll see where we are. Thinking about those things now is a mistake.
No fun being at the bottom of the table
Only a year ago, the team was praying to reach 42 points; now you are second in the table. Is going from extreme to another dizzying?
Being at the bottom of the table is when you feel dizzy. Last season, we got everyone together in the dressing room and looked at where the team was in the table - it was a real shock. That was a tough situation to be in. Now we are fighting for a more pleasant cause, but we'll still know how to manage it and keep a cool head.
Do you feel unbeatable?
If we play with the intensity we've been showing, play as a team, with drive and ambition, with no one thinking they can do it all on the own... invincible, no - that's just impossible. But by doing what we are doing we will be a difficult team to beat and one with the capability of beating any side.
Upbeat mood and new enthusiasm in Paterna
What's changed in the team's day to day routine?
Well, I was speaking to Santi (Mina), and Gayà, those who were here last season, they told me: “Dani, this season, I get up in the morning wanting to get to the training ground to start work”. And I mention Santi because he is one of the members of the squad who's playing every game - and he's happy and enjoying it all.
Were things really that bad within the dressing room?
Well, things weren't easy last season. We didn't have a bad atmosphere within the dressing room but nothing was turning out for us and there was too much instability at the club... all of that has an effect on the players - I have to stress that it was nothing to do with personalities or people. And it's not that we now have the right people - many of us who went through a rough time last season are still here and we don't want to go through that again; we have young players coming through who have hunger and ambition and the desire to improve. All of that has made Valencia the team it is now.
Teaching the younger players the ropes
Is it easier to captain this Valencia side?
It's just different. Now we have more younger players, people who you have to teach what it means to play for a club like Valencia. You have to get across to them how demanding it is to play at Mestalla, that when things are going well it's amazing, the best, incredible.
I was chatting to Marcelino in France and he said he wasn't going to elect the captain but he saw the other players always coming to you...
It's true that he didn't say anything to us. It was decided within the dressing room. I've been here for seven years and I feel an important part of the squad and being able to help my team mates gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Parejo now at fighting weight
How much weight have you lost since Marcelino came on board?
Five kilos - five and a half to be precise.
Five kilos! That's quite an achievement!
I was quite shocked myself to be honest. I didn't know whether I would feel more tired, or be able to feel ok for the full 90 minutes...
And how do you feel?
Good. It was tough at the start, you don't feel too great and you feel hungry... But that's understandable. Your body gets used to certain foods, certain quantities every day and then it has to adapt to new habits. Now I feel faster and more agile.
Marcelino's football philosophy
But apart from the diet, what else has Marcelino done to make Valencia play the way it's playing?
He's given us his idea of playing, how he understands football and the team has absorbed it all quickly. Among the many virtues he's taught us, one sticks in my mind and that is to prepare thoroughly for every game.
I haven't spent much time under him, but my two references as coaches are Ernesto Valverde and Marcelino. I am crazy about football, I'm always watching matches and I've worked under a lot of coaches. But occasionally you notice something different, in the way you train, in what they are getting across to you... and you really notice those things when the team plays.
The boss has a very defined system - he's very clear about what he wants. He wants us to be the boss on the pitch - to have control of the ball. He likes us to be tactically well positioned, so that the team is a block, a unit… and that's what we're seeing. The players are committed to his ideas. When we lose the ball, we're right in there pressing to win it back; if we cannot get the ball back right way, we have 10 players dropping back at breakneck speed to defend. The boss has instilled those ideas in us and it's bearing fruits. He wants us to express ourselves and play a happy brand of football and when we attack, to have several players in the final third we reach the opponents' area.
Have you been surprised by Carlos Soler?
Yes, quite a bit. He came up into the team during a very difficult moment, when Valencia appeared lost and without a rudder. He had the personality to adapt, grow and become an important player for the team. He's still important even when he plays out wide. He's brilliant at reading the game. Carlos gives us a lot and he's going to bring us even more.