Man City's Laporte talks to AS ahead of Real Madrid UCL clash
Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte spoke to AS as the Premier League club prepare to host Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 on Friday.
Before Friday's Champions clash against Real Madrid, Manchester City's former Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte sat down with AS for an exclusive interview.
As well as looking ahead to the last-16 second leg against Madrid, the Frenchman talked about life at City, working with Pep Guardiola, his eagerness to make his international debut - and much more.
You were a kid when France won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. What are your memories of that?
I remember a lot of things. The atmosphere was incredible; everyone came together to watch the games. I think it was a bit like what you experienced in Spain a few years ago.
Which player was your idol as a kid?
Pauleta, without a doubt. Although there were others. [Sylvain] Wiltord, for example, and [Christophe] Dugarry. Above all the players who were at Bordeaux at that time, as they were the club I supported.
Did you always want to be a central defender?
I started out as a forward, but then I dropped back to central midfield and at 14 I ended up as a central defender. I did it because my team needed it - we didn’t have enough defenders, nobody wanted to play there and so I stepped in to cover the position. Things went well and I liked it, although I like scoring goals more.
You’re still only 26, but you made your first-team debut at a very young age. Do you feel like a veteran already?
I feel like I’m pretty experienced at the top level, yeah. Time flies; I already feel like one of the old guard.
What do you miss about Bilbao?
My team-mates were brilliant. We were a really tight-knit group. Everyone was from the same area, from the same culture. That helped a lot. I also miss the fans, who are incredible in Bilbao, and the people who run the club, who are really passionate about it and are former players. That passion really comes through.
Former Athletic head coach Marcelo Bielsa had a major impact on you, and you’ve even been to visit him in Leeds.
He gave me my debut! My first game in Primera División was under him. He showed real confidence in me and I have a lot of affection for him.
What has he said to you about City boss Pep Guardiola?
When I spoke to Marcelo, he told me that what's most impressive about Pep is the sheer level of success he’s achieved. He said it doesn’t matter how much ability you have as a coach if you don’t get results - that’s what goes down in the history books and what people remember. That’s why Pep’s one of the best in the business.
You’re a left-footed centre-back with the ability to bring the ball out from the back and excellent long-range passing… What is your role in Guardiola’s team?
I do what I’m asked to do; sometimes I do it well, sometimes less so. Sometimes we take risks and we lose the ball, but we try to do it to the best of our ability. My role is what it should be in a team like ours. I have unbelievable team-mates, most of whom play in their national teams, and it’s great to be a part of it.
Guardiola has a habit of springing selection surprises in Champions League knockout ties, but you’re always a starter. Do you feel like you’re one of the first names on the team sheet?
You’ve always got to earn your place in the team, and I fight tooth and nail to do so day in, day out. I don’t feel like I’m a certain starter, but it’s true that I’ve played quite a lot of games, many important ones, and I’m really grateful for that.
What do you think City’s success comes down to?
There’s no denying the Pep Guardiola effect. He's changed the modern game, both at this club and at his previous clubs. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success and that is in large part thanks to him.
Is he intense in training?
He’s very passionate and he works really hard; he’s a real perfectionist.
You’ll be without Sergio Agüero against Madrid. Will you miss him?
Everyone knows what Sergio is all about. Missing a player like him is always going to be a big blow. Just think about all the goals he’s scored and the track record he’s had since he was young… He’s one of the best strikers I’ve ever seen, but we have complete confidence in our other attacking options.
Real Madrid will be without Sergio Ramos. Is his absence going to be key?
We also have a key player missing. Sergio Ramos is important to Real Madrid, but we’re just focusing on what we have to do to outplay them.
City have only conceded one goal at home in the last seven games, and Real Madrid need at least two. Does that give you cause for confidence?
We’ve been very good [at the back] of late and we need to keep that up. It won’t be easy against Real Madrid.
City have unfinished business in the Champions League...
Yes, we do. We’ve been talking about it for a long time and it’s the trophy we’re missing. Last season, we won four trophies in the same season and were only missing the Champions League. If we can win it this year, that would be perfect.
What have City lacked in the Champions League in previous years?
I don't know. We were a similar team to now. Away goals have been key: last year, we scored as many goals as Tottenham but they knocked us out. We have all the tools to achieve big things. The team is really firing on all cylinders and there’s not much that needs to change. We just need a little more luck. We’ve lacked that little something and I’m sure we’ll find it.
Without Ramos, Real Madrid’s central defensive pairing is set to be Éder Militão and your compatriot Raphaël Varane, who is a year older than you.
We didn’t coincide [in the France set-up] at age-group level, but we have in the senior squad. He’s playing really well, I’ve been told, so hopefully he can lose his way against us and help us out [laughs]. Off the field, he’s a really good lad; he’s an example to others and he’s really nice to talk to.
Give me your thoughts on the season Karim Benzema has had…
He’s in great nick. He’s scored a lot of goals this season and has also set up a fair few… We’ll really have to be on our mettle. But that goes for the rest of the Real Madrid side - they’re all internationals.
And what about Eden Hazard? You came up against him in the Premier League.
I haven’t seen too many Real Madrid games, to be honest, so I can’t give much of an opinion.
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane went down in French footballing history as a player. What’s your take on the job he’s done as a coach?
He’s done an exceptional job. It’s crazy how many trophies he’s won in such a short space of time. He’s a very important figure in France. I can only say good things about him.
You got injured at the start of the season, shortly before joining up with France, who you haven’t yet made your debut for. Are you champing at the bit to get your first senior appearance?
Yes, I was playing really well. That’s life. I can’t dwell on it; I have to focus on the positives. I’m in good shape now and I still have a lot of time ahead of me. I’d love to play for my country; making my debut would be a dream come true. If it happens, it happens… and hopefully soon.
What goals do you have for the future?
I’ve still got a good few years left as a player, and I want to achieve more. I want to win the Champions League and make my debut for France.