Liverpool and Spain midfielder Thiago Alcántara speaks to AS
Ahead of Spain's 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Greece, Georgia and Kosovo, Thiago spoke to AS about La Roja and life at Liverpool, who face Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Thiago Alcántara is a nailed-on pick for the Spain squad under head coach Luis Enrique and was chosen to model La Roja's new Adidas away shirt, which goes on sale on Tuesday. After trying it on for size and taking part in a photo session, the Liverpool midfielder spoke to AS.
The 29-year-old not only looked ahead to his country’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Greece, Georgia and Kosovo, but also discussed life in the Premier League, as his new club prepares to take on Real Madrid in Europe.
What do you think of the new Spain shirt?
Nothing ever beats pulling on the red shirt, but when we play against teams who also wear red, we’ve got this white one and it’s really cool. It’s gorgeous!
You're an important part of Luis Enrique's Spain squad. How do you think the team's looking? Are you excited?
Of course! I’d be just as excited if these three games coming up now were friendlies rather than World Cup qualifiers. When you’re called up by your country it tells you you’re doing well for your club, doing well individually; it’s your reward for that. We’re in an unusual period where we’ve got World Cup qualifiers but also have the Euros just ahead of us. But the coach and his backroom team are keeping us focused on these three World Cup games, first and foremost the Greece one, which we start off with. We have a fantastic group of players; a lot of young lads and plenty with experience, too. We’ve got a good blend.
After the disappointments of recent tournaments, is this Spain squad capable of challenging for silverware again?
On the evidence of recent results, the outlook on where this team is headed and the work we’re doing with the coach on the training ground can only be really positive. I think it’s clear that we’re good enough to have aspirations of winning silverware, but in football you just have to focus on the day to day, on training hard every day, on giving your all in every game and not losing that hunger, that desire that has allowed us to win the games we have in recent months.
Sergio Ramos is six games from becoming the leading appearance maker in men's international football. What's it like playing alongside him?
It’s great playing with Sergio. The years go by and you continue to learn from him; he keeps on evolving, keeps on wanting to compete. That ambition, that determination is key to what he's all about. That’s something that rubs off on the rest of us in the Spain team. We can all learn from a guy who has won so much in the game, yet keeps on wanting more.
Better to have him as a team-mate than an opponent - which will be the case when Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals.
I love playing alongside Sergio in the Spain team and when I have to come up against him as an opponent, then he’s my opponent.
How have you adapted to Liverpool's style of play under Jürgen Klopp? It's a game more heavily based on transitions than the patient build-up play you learned in the Barcelona academy.
At the end of the day, what we all want is to play winning football. I’ve been lucky enough to play for two clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who have played winning football throughout their histories, and now I’m at a club in Liverpool that also has that winning DNA. [The Premier League] is a different league and that obviously leads to a difference in the way we want to play as a team; the way we approach games is different to Bayern, just as they way we approached games at Bayern was different to Barcelona. It’s a period of evolution, of learning. It’s about developing into a better player year on year, if possible.
In terms of what you do when you have the ball and when you don't have it, how is Liverpool's style of play different for you? Luis Enrique, Klopp, Pep Guardiola… how does playing under them compare?
The comparison isn’t just down to the coaches; it’s also about the players you have alongside you. Right now we have really quick guys up top who are really useful when you play balls in behind the opposition defence, but who also give you a lot when you play it to them into feet. You have the option of playing two different types of pass. In the Premier League, the time the ball is in play is greater than in other competitions. And the individual battles are different; in the Premier League, you’re constantly in an individual battle and that’s a difference between England and other leagues.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant you haven’t been able to play in front of your home fans at Anfield…
It’s a different league, a different club and a different stadium, and when you make that kind of move you’re obviously eager to learn day in, day out in this new setting - and, of course, to play in front of the fans at your new home ground. It’ll be really special to see Anfield full to bursting again. Without fans in the stands, football loses a large part of what it’s all about. We’re playing in empty stadiums and it’s been a process of re-adaptation, because at a young age you get used to playing at grounds without fans, with just the parents shouting you on. But now we’re all used to playing with fans in the stands; we miss it so much. You yearn for it every single day.
You've won the Champions League with Barcelona and Bayern; now your goal will be to complete the set and do likewise at Liverpool.
It’s such a difficult tournament to win that you just have to be happy to have managed it with any team. The Champions League [final] is the highlight of the year. I’m lucky enough to have won it twice; that’s really tough to do, because it’s such a difficult competition to win. All players, all the best players in Europe, want to win it come the end of the season. All the big clubs in Europe are battling hard to do that.
Could you have returned to LaLiga instead of going to the Premier League last summer?
It was a possibility, but at the end of the day I felt that if I left Bayern it had to be to experience the Premier League, a really competitive league. When I got the call from the coach and the club, it was a really easy decision to make. It was a tough decision to leave Bayern, though. In the end it happened and I’m really happy.
Could you have signed for Real Madrid in 2013 for 25 million euros?
We’re talking about a long time ago. I don’t remember the situation. I’m at a different club now to the one I joined in 2013. And what if Roberto Baggio had scored that penalty in the ’94 World Cup final? Maybe Taffarel would have saved the next one.
And could you have signed for Madrid last summer?
I’m not going to speculate about last summer. I don’t like speculating about that. I like talking about football.
What was the reaction at Liverpool to drawing Madrid in the Champions League?
Our reaction was that we have complete respect for Real Madrid, the respect that Champions League quarter-final opponents are obviously due. And we can’t wait for the games to come. It’s a wonderful competition and a tie against a fantastic side. We’ll go into it with the respect for Madrid that they deserve.