"He speaks like a veteran yet he still looks like a child, and now that he’s entering the stage of his career in which the end seems nearer than the beginning, he reflects and looks back with a quiet experience, the one that has beaten the continuous, relentless criticism. In his own words, it’s “unmeasured”, but he’s gotten used to it and has learned to live with it." - La Vanguardia (Spanish newspaper).
You’ve said before that you didn’t speak to Del Bosque whenever you didn’t get called up. How did you deal with your exclusion?
"As naturally as I could. In the last few years I’ve learned that in these types of situations, I can’t ask for explanations to anyone but myself. If I wasn’t called up it was because at the time, Del Bosque thought there were people who were better than me. I could only work my hardest to try to turn my situation around, to get back in shape and feel good about myself again. If I hadn’t, someone else would be here doing this interview. I didn’t have much time to react, to try to fix it, but I finished the season in a great way and it was enough for me to make it here. I hope next year it won’t be as rushed, I hope that I can do well from the beginning and maintain that shape and that mind set until the end."
History is repeating itself. You’ve been getting more and more minutes as the tournament has gone by and you’ve become one of Spain’s main men yet again. You’re Spain’s all time top scorer in European tournaments and you’re one goal away from being so in the history of the Confederations Cup…
"Time makes you adapt, it makes you appreciate getting playing time and supporting your teammates from the bench just as much. When you play in a team like the Spanish National Team you get these types of opportunities, to make it to the final stage of a competition and to be able to achieve certain individual accomplishments. Only work can get you there, team-wise. I hope I am lucky enough to score in the final and to equal the top-scoring record, yes, but only if it’s necessary for Spain to become champions."
Have you got used to the idea of your name being written in history?
"As long as Spain continues to be successful, I could get used to anything. I’ve played for many years here, and I hope I still have many more to look forward to, so when the time comes and I retire, I can look back and realize, serenely and peacefully, that I did the best I could, with the satisfaction of knowing that that it all turned out well in the end."
Do you feel like you have to fight more than the rest to be recognized and respected?
"It’s a bit tricky to give my point of view on the matter. I’ve always had a bigger mediatic transcendence than most of my peers, regarding the good and the bad. Because I come from where I come from, because I fought for what I wanted the most for longer than usual, because I stayed at Atleti and stuck to my beliefs, and because I rejected offers from certain teams… I’ve had to carry that with me wherever I’ve gone to. Practicing what you preach is necessary in order to be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and the way you’ve accomplished it. I’ve tried my best to chase a dream by sticking to certain principles till the very end, regardless of everyone else’s opinion. And to this day, I can say that I can hold my head up high and be proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I think there’s still plenty to come. Twice I’ve seen the ending coming closer and closer, before the Euros and the Confederations Cup, and twice I’ve decided that it wasn’t time yet, that the end was still very far away, and now I want to be here next year for the World Cup, and then again for the next Euros. I don’t think the end is near now, not at all."
It’s so interesting to see the clash of your shy personality with your fierceness on the pitch…
"In many ways, I do think that the way you behave on the pitch reflects who you are as a person, the way you were brought up, the principles you deem as important and the ones you were taught at the club you come from. I belong to Atlético, and we’ve always been in the shadow of Real Madrid, so I’ve always had to fight against people who in almost every way, were better than me and had more possibilities to triumph than I did. I’ve always competed in disadvantage, and I’ve made the best of it, and that’s something I apply to every aspect of my life, every day."
We get it, we get it… you’re from Atlético. You won’t stop mentioning them.
"(Smiles) I’ve been there for so many years… from the age of 10 until 24. I was part of the working class, and no matter how much things might’ve changed and how much different it all might seem now, that’s what I cherish the most, that’s what’s stayed with me, what they taught me, and that’s what I try to convey to other people. It works the same way on the pitch. I’m not like Xavi or Iniesta, you know. They have the serenity of knowing that if nothing goes wrong, they’ll be able to play under those very same extraordinary conditions until they’re forty, if that’s what they want."
Do you feel like you play more maturely now?
"I think it’s something that’s come with age. It makes you much more careful, thoughtful, meticulous… it makes you realize that there are things you can do and things you cannot do. When you’re younger you feel like doing everything. You feel like scoring, defending, passing, playing in the wings… you look for the ball anywhere you are. You have all the energy in the world but not much experience to brag about. But then you realize. And that attitude is commonly seen on senior players, but there are people like Xavi or Andrés that have had it since they were about twenty. I’ve acquired it progressively."
You’ve grown a lot because of the criticism, and it must’ve been very hard…
"It’s true. But too much compliments also make the soul weaker and either way you’re forced to get up and start over again. In my case, criticism, good or bad, has always been unmeasured, and I’ve always thought of it as being linked to where I come from.”
Can you really develop the ability to not care about the criticism?
"It happens in stages. There were times, when I was younger, when I genuinely didn’t understand what was happening around me… I felt angry, willing to fight everyone… I was frustrated, thinking it was all very personal. And there are other times, like the one I’m going through at the moment, where I truly couldn’t care any less, and I think that’s because now I can clearly see how it all works, how much of it is "staged". Look, I can’t say what I really think… those words could cause a mountain of trouble, they would create plenty of conflict and would involve many people. In this world I’m living in, I can’t say what I think, not now. But I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to say it in the future."
José Mourinho just became Chelsea manager and the first thing we hear is that he doesn’t want you and Mata in his team…
"Considering the way he left Spain, and how unhappy the Spanish media is with him, I’m not surprised. But in their attempt to harm him, they’ve harmed me and Juan as well, with rumors they fabricate from nothing."
Don’t you think the rumor might have come from England?
"I don’t think so. If it had, I would be the only one involved in it, not Juan and I (smiles)."
Which version of Mourinho do you prefer, Casillas’ or Arbeloa’s?
"Like you just said, they each have their own personal experience, and I’ll wait to get my own, and then I’ll have an opinion and something to say. I’ve had managers with whom I’ve had a great personal relationship but not a professional one, and the other way around. Iker has his own opinion on the matter, and so do the rest of the Madridistas I know. I’ll speak to Mourinho and he’ll tell me what he thinks; I hope they’re mostly good things, but if they aren’t, I’ll do my best to try to change his perspective, through hard work, good training sessions and matches. I am very clear on where I want to be next season and I’ll continue fighting for it. It’s what I’ve done all my life. I refuse to leave Chelsea in this manner, when it looks as if I’ve have finally turned the corner." (x)