In one of Atlético’s best seasons in recent memory, midfielder Koke has distinguished himself as the top provider of the team, notching up an impressive seven assists in La Liga.
A mainstay of the team at a mere 21 years old, the youth academy product made his 100th appearance for the club earlier this month against Real Sociedad. This week, while away with the Spanish national under-21 team, the young canterano sat down for an interview with El Mundo Deportivo’s Manuel Bruña.
“We’re doing a great job,” Koke acknowledged, but reflecting the ambition of the team he stressed that “we must continue and grow, because we cannot remain here.”
Asked about the secret of Atleti’s runaway success, the midfielder said it’s “the desire and the eagerness” with which the Rojiblancos contest their games.
“I’ve played as a defensive midfielder since I was little, but now I’m playing further up [the pitch]. I’m feeling very comfortable,” Koke said about his role in the team. This transition has allowed him to provide more assists to his colleagues up front, one of whom is the controversial but very influential Diego Costa.
“In the dressing room we know how Diego Costa is,” he said before praising his teammate.
“He’s an amazing person and a great player. We don’t need to look at anything else. He’s very funny, always joking with his colleagues, laughing. He’s a good guy.”
Atleti occupy third place in La Liga, one point behind second-place Real Madrid. Asked if Atleti would overtake their rivals and finish second, Koke said: “Hopefully. On Sunday [the 31st] we have a tough challenge against Valencia at home and we need to think about that game.”
“At the end of the season we will see where we finish.”
When Atleti played the final of the Copa del Rey in Barcelona in 2010, Koke was in the stands among fellow Rojiblanco fans, who stayed to applaud their team after a disappointing defeat. This time around, he will be among his teammates on the pitch.
Of the significance of a possible victory in the upcoming Copa final, the Madrid-born footballer said: “Winning a final is always lovely, but we know we have Real Madrid before us, the ‘eternal rivals’ as the fans of Atleti always say. Playing a final against el Madrid at the Bernabéu is much more special.”
Earlier this month, Diego Simeone renewed his contract with Atleti for four years. Since the return of the former captain as manager 15 months ago, the club have won two European trophies and returned to their rightful place among the top teams of Spain.
“Last year, we were dead mid-season because things weren’t going well for the team. He came in and changed the mentality of the team,” Koke said about boss Simeone.
“The renewal is important for the project. He has signed for four years. He wants to carry out a long-term project.”
“He’s brought what Atleti were missing the most: stability.”
About his own spectacular development, the Spanish youth international explained that Simeone had contributed “a lot, above all in terms of football and tactics…the pressing we do, everything. He has given me the confidence to take that step that I was missing before.”
As for his international aspirations—Atleti teammates Juanfran and Mario Suárez have been called up to the Spanish national team and Filipe Luís and Diego Costa to the Brazilian national team—Koke was cautious.
“Right now we’re in the under-21s and we need to enjoy being in the under-21s,” he said.
Los Colchoneros are close to securing a place in the group stage of next year’s UEFA Champions League after a three-year absence from the competition. Asked if he was looking forward to hearing the Champions League anthem at the Vicente Calderón, Koke responded: “Yes, I truly do because I have never had the good fortune of playing in it and hopefully, the coming year we will.”
Koke was brief when speaking of what the future holds.
“We need to look at the present. We’re fine, we’re third [in La Liga], we’re in the final of the Copa and we need to proceed day by day. We don’t need to dwell on the future.”