Mariano spoke to AS in Lyon, where he has taken to Ligue 1 with ease. With little over a week to go until Real Madrid face PSG in the Champions League, Mariano sees his former club as the favourites. He also expressed his dream of going to the World Cup in Russia.
'Lyon a good place for me to show what I can do'
How are things going for you at Lyon?
Good. I’m really happy. I grateful to this club for everything, for how they’re taking me in here in France, and I hope things keep going as they have been.
You’ve already scored 14 goals. It’s not a bad return…
It’s true, things have been going well for me personally. The team is also up there in the league. I hope I can stay in good goalscoring form, it would be a good sign.
The club’s objective is to return to the Champions League and we’re going to fight for it to the end.
Has your form surprised you?
It has a bit, to be honest. It’s not normal for everything to go so well in the first season.
Why did you decide to join Lyon?
I decided to leave Madrid after talking with Zidane and the president. The coach told me that with [Alexandre] Lacazette leaving, it would be a good place for me to show what I can do and score goals.
We all decided that the best thing for me was to gain minutes and confidence; the chance to show what I can do. I came to Lyon to play and demonstrate to everyone that I could do it, and that’s how it’s turning out.
Had you lost confidence through a lack of playing time at Madrid?
It’s all more complicated when you’re not playing. But it’s also the case that when you’re at a club as big as Madrid, you learn from the best every day. I’ve got that now.
Were you frustrated at Madrid?
I wouldn’t call it frustration. I knew that I wasn’t going to have many opportunities at Madrid. I dedicated myself to fighting for it and learning in every training session, in order to be able to leave later to a good team.
'I'm grateful to Real Madrid and Zidane'
Was Zidane key to your decision to move to France?
He said to me that I’d be able to play at Lyon and demonstrate who I am. He wished me luck as well. He spoke highly of this club, of the French league, and how I could improve as a player.
Do you feel bitterness for not having been given more chances?
Not at all. I’m really grateful to Madrid and to Zidane for the opportunities they gave me.
What do you say to your ex-team-mates at Madrid about the current predicament?
They’re going through a bad patch. But Madrid are a great team, and they’re still alive in the Champions league, they’re the reigning champions.
Do you watch the Madrid games?
Yes, I really like following them.
Some people say that the Madrid squad has been weakened by certain departures, including yours…
James, Morata, Pepe, and me have all left… and a few more. But Madrid have reinforced with good players. They’re just going through a bad run of form.
In your case specifically, people say that you’re scoring the goals Madrid are missing.
I appreciate that they’re talking about me. That makes me really happy and it’s a good sign.
For the avoidance of doubt, do Madrid have a buy-back clause for you?
No, there isn’t a clause. I know that Madrid have a percentage of the rights, but I’m absolutely Lyon’s player.
What’s happening with Benzema at the moment?
I think he’s doing the same things as always, but what is happening is that the team is going through a bad patch. He’s playing and linking up well, I always say that. Benzema is a magnificent striker.
What about Cristiano? People are criticising him too.
Cristiano is Cristiano. Right now people are talking about him a lot, about how he’s not at his best, but if he scores two goals against PSG he’ll be Cristiano again. You can’t say much more about that footballer.
'Neymar is the PSG danger man'
There’s not long to go until Madrid vs PSG in the Champions League. Will you be watching?
Of course. I’ll be watching at home in Lyon.
How do you see the game going?
I think Madrid are the favourites because they’re the current champions. Also, they’ll be really up for it given everything that’s happening at the moment.
Will Neymar be the danger man?
He’s a brilliant player. It’s true that they’re paying him a lot of money, but he’s showing that’s he’s a big star.
There’s talk of Madrid being interested in him. Would he complete the Madrid team?
He could do. I’ve already said that he’s a brilliant player, and he’d fit in really well there.
What about Mbappé?
Another excellent player, and he’s demonstrating that. He’s doing magnificent things in his first year at PSG. He’s still very young and he’s got a lot of ambition.
And then we have Edinson Cavani. Is he a No.9 you look up to?
I watch what he does, and all the great goalscorers. There’s no doubt that he’s a magnificent ‘killer’.
Who are the strikers that you’ve looked up to?
Ronaldo back in his day, also Eto’o, Ronaldinho… I’ve paid attention to quite a few.
People are talking about you being called up for the national team...
I hope so. I’d love to wear that shirt. It’s a dream to play for La Roja.
Julen Lopetegui and his staff have been watching you live…
I’d heard that, yeah. I’m grateful that they’re following me.
You’ve had slightly bad luck, in the sense that there are a lot of good Spanish strikers.
That’s right. Morata, Diego Costa, Iago Aspos, they’re all superb strikers who’ve been scoring a lot of goals for years. I’m just starting now.
The World Cup in Russia is a few months away. Can you see yourself there?
Well, I’m thinking about doing my best for my club, and by doing that, having the chance to go to the World Cup. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was young.
All the best, Mariano.