The Chelsea official website’s “10 Questions” feature is normally pretty light and fluffy affair, with questions about habits and likes and fun little asides. But while the one with Saúl Ñíguez published earlier this week is still quite fluffy, it’s also a lot more heavy in terms of its content, with the Atlético loanee essentially given a chance to not only reflect on his difficult season thus far at the club, but also to annunciate some strong intentions for the second half of the season.
“The beginning wasn’t easy for me. I have changed my whole life, moving from Madrid [with] my family.”
“Everything has changed — the stadium, team-mates, my whole life. The truth is it hasn’t been easy but I’m very grateful to my team-mates and the club for making it easier for me to adapt.”
“Personally, I would like to have played more but I also understand that [...] it is difficult to get into the team. I feel good and every day I’m feeling better and prepared for when the head coach needs me.”
Saúl hasn’t shied away from admitting his own struggles, particularly in his first few appearances, but as the injuries mounted up and winter arrived, he has taken advantage of the increased opportunities to start showing just why he had been such a highly rated all-around midfielder not all that long ago.
And any player who puts in a Man of the Match performance against Spurs will increase his standing in Chelsea circles!
“The beginnings are always difficult but things do get better bit by bit. For me, I’m focused on playing football and understanding the ideas of the head coach above all. In my first match, I was a bit disorientated because I was used to doing things differently and it was a bit strange for me.”
Considering that Saúl spent practically his entire life and career at Atlético Madrid, stepping out from that comfort zone can be just as daunting as it should be commendable. In a way, it’s a similar story to Ross Barkley’s and the former Everton wonderboy often struggled just as much (if not more), and he didn’t have a language barrier or major culture shock to contend with, even!
“I needed to get my head out of the Atlético Madrid world for a while because I have been there since I was 12 so everything affects you much more. [...] Leaving was complicated, but I took it as a challenge to compete with the best players in my position and I don’t have any fear in doing that. I feel good and if I’m as I should be, I know I can do a lot to help Chelsea.”
That excuse or explanation alone won’t generate more minutes for Saúl of course, but it sounds like he’s made a big bet on this chance and he remains hopeful that it will work out for him just like it did for Mateo Kovačić (who joined from Real Madrid on loan initially, and turned his career around).
“I have to keep working so that [the head coach] trusts in me. The only way I can change anything is by continuing to work and, when I have the opportunity, to take it because in the first months I didn’t take that opportunity. I’m focused on the work, I don’t give up and when I have the opportunity next and deliver, then I can ask a bit more of the head coach.”
“[It’s] obviously a big challenge. You can only put two out of Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté, Mateo Kovačić and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a midfield four, and two of them were nominated for the Ballon d’Or!
“I knew what I was coming into and despite not playing all of the minutes, my intention is not just to play but to learn and to grow. In the end, playing with such good players makes you grow and it makes you a better player. Learning English will help me for the rest of my life so this experience is not only about football. I’m adapting and growing as a person and a player.”
We have played a whopping 37 matches already this season. Saúl has featured in only 14 of them — and only 8 of those were starts, and in 2 of those he was hooked at half-time. But we have anywhere from 20 to 29 matches still left to play, with four trophies on the line.
If Saúl can keep building on his recent performances, he might yet play an important role in those quests.
“[It] was a difficult start but I want to say thank you to the Chelsea staff, who have always transmitted a sense of calm during this period of adaptation. I really want to show the player I am and repay their confidence in me.”
-Saúl Ñíguez; source: Chelsea FC
Time to shine!