Interview Spoke about this year’s campaign and his move to China
Having experienced the anguish of Atletico Madrid‘s Champions League final defeat in Milan in 2016, Yannick Carrasco knows better than anyone how much winning the tournament would mean to the club.
Following his move to China, the player feels like he has come back a more rounded person and player and is now seen as one of the key parts of this Atletico Madrid team as they look to win their long-awaited first Champions League title
The Belgian, who is now back with Los Rojiblancos on loan from Chinese club Dalian Professional, has spoken to MARCA ahead of his side’s quarter-final tie against RB Leipzig.
First of all, tell us your secret as to how you’ve come back from the break and rekindled your best form for Atletico Madrid.
“It’s following Profe Ortega’s programmes, working and knowing what your objectives are to be able to return in the best shape possible. There isn’t much else to it. When I signed for Atletico, I realised that everyone in the team had been competing at the top level for a while and I, even though I’d worked for two months in the gym in Belgium and felt good, knew it wasn’t the same as being out there on the pitch.”
Could you write a book about everything that’s happened over the last two years?
“It’s true that I’ve had both good and bad moments. I’ve experienced everything, but I’ve grown a lot and that’s the most important thing. I don’t know about writing a book just yet. I’ve got a few years ahead of me to do that.”
People still can’t understand why the goalscorer in Atletico’s last Champions League final would go to China at the age of only 24, especially considering the performances he’s giving now.
“Everyone has moments in their life where they have to make decisions and they have reasons for doing so. It was just a decision I made in my career.”
A lot was said about the decision, but what convinced you to make it in the end?
“It was a personal thing. I don’t want to get in to the details.”
One thing there’s no doubt about is the fact that you wanted to get back to Europe and you didn’t hide it either. Did you feel you’d made a mistake by accepting Dalian’s offer?
“I never regret anything I’ve done. I left Atletico on good terms and it was a good life experience. I experienced the Chinese league in another part of the world and I’ve grown as both a person and a player. I had to be the main player there and I carried the responsibility of the whole team on my shoulders. It’s really different when you’re at a club with big players. Going there has helped me grow and I’ve returned to Atletico more mature, with a different outlook on life which has really helped me.”
What was the most difficult moment from everything that happened? The Chinese government confiscated your passport after an incident with a teammate and, on another occasion, you were fined by the club.
“I don’t know what the most difficult moment was. They were periods in life that make you grow, that’s it.”
How did you go about trying to return to Atletico? Who was the first person you called? Was it Diego Simeone or Miguel Angel Gil Marin?
“We were in contact the whole time I was in China. I left on good terms and there weren’t any bad feelings. Atletico is like my home, so when the offer came in I was really happy that they were interested in having me back.”
You’re now going to have to convince Dalian to extend your loan spell, and it’s strange that this might all be discussed with you being a champion of Europe.
“I’m here until the Champions League final. I don’t know, it’s not me you have to talk to about that [laughing]. They’re not questions for me, they’re for Miguel Angel or the Dalian owner. I’m really happy here and it would be great to be able to stay for longer at Atletico, but you know that in negotiations I don’t have the final say.”
There aren’t many dribblers like you out there in the market. Do you think players like you are a dying breed in modern football?
“I don’t know, I think there are a lot of good dribblers out there. For me there are a lot. I just concentrate on helping the team as best I can and we’ll see what happens in the future.”
You say that you’ve come back far more mature. One of the most surprising aspects of your game since your return is your defensive contribution to the team. You’re now one of the first players to track back.
“I don’t know, I’ve always been a player who doesn’t mind doing the running in the team. I’d started lots of games for Atletico before going to China, which means that I tracked back because if I hadn’t then I wouldn’t have played. Everyone knows that the defensive side of the game is huge for Simeone, so the fact that I played so many games showed that I did contribute defensively. With the Belgian national team, I’ve also played as a wing-back, which shows I know how to track back because otherwise I couldn’t play in that position. If we talk about my first three months at Atletico, it’s true that I wasn’t at my best. I had to not only learn to track back, but also had to get to grips with the tactical side of the game. But I picked it all up quickly.”
Every footballer dreams of scoring in a Champions League final. But is that the most bitter goal of your career?
“Yes, in the end the most important thing is to lift the trophy.”
How many times have you thought about that penalty shootout in Milan in 2016?
“You value having been able to play in a final, but there’s always a winner and a loser and, unfortunately, we missed out. You always try to forget moments like those, so I haven’t thought about it too much. That’s just football. I was happy with how the team had played and penalties are always a lottery.”
Atletico seem to be cursed throughout their history when it comes to penalties. Would you dare take one if it came down to a shootout to decide this year’s Champions League?
“I don’t know, we’ll see. I don’t have a crystal ball that can tell me what will happen if there are penalties again or if we’re going to win or not. First, we have to focus on the games we have before the final. We only work game by game and we’ll see what happens.”
Are Atletico due a bit of European success?
“It’s true that Atletico deserve a Champions League after having lost two finals in such difficult circumstances. After being ahead and conceding in the last minute in the first and then losing on penalties in the second. I think Atletico deserve to win this trophy.”
What’s the atmosphere like in the dressing room? Do the players feel like this is the year that they finally win that long-awaited Champions League?
“You already know what the Atletico dressing room is like. We always want to compete at the highest level every year, working hard, taking it game by game. Every season is going to be the same. It’s not just about how we’re doing this year. Atletico always compete, work and look forward to the next game. That never changes.”
Atletico have always performed better when they’ve been the underdogs. Does being favourites against an inexperienced RB Leipzig side make you uncomfortable?
“We respect RB Leipzig, they’re a good, competitive team. They finished third in Germany, which means they’re a good side. It’ll be a difficult match, and we’ll need to know how to hurt them to win the match.”