This summer Gabi Fernández returned to Atlético Madrid after leaving the club for Real Zaragoza in 2007.
The 28-year-old came up through the ranks of Atlético’s cantera and made 58 appearances in his first stay with the club.
On Wednesday, Spanish paper El Mundo Deportivo published an exclusive interview with Gabi, who spoke about the changes at the club as well as his responsibility as one of the team’s vice-captains, before shedding some light on Atlético’s objectives this season.
The following is a full translation of the interview:
What did you find when you returned?
I felt some people were disappointed by Kun and De Gea leaving the club, but I think we made that feeling disappear by working hard and bringing in the players that have signed. In the dressing room I saw players who are heavily involved. I think we have a great dressing room!
Are there a lot of changes at the club?
Yes, there are some. I think the club is trying to create a philosophy of “Atlético people”, with former players in important positions and a lot of canteranos in the first team, with people who know what it’s like to be at Atlético. People who are capable of instilling the ‘Rojiblanco’ feeling and we need to transmit this to the outside world.
Do you remember an Atlético team with a stronger Rojiblanco identity than this one?
Definitely not. I don’t remember having this many homegrown players on the team. It is important for the club and for the fans.
How is the presence of these homegrown players felt?
There’s not a lot of difference compared to other dressing rooms. The only difference is that we have many players who know what Atlético stands for and that can show the people the importance of being here. We are all professionals, we know what’s at stake and defend the Atlético jersey.
What has changed about you since you left the club?
Above all, I matured a lot. I had to take quite some responsibility at Zaragoza quickly. That has made me a more complete player, eager to take this opportunity. I want to show that I’m capable of playing at Atlético and to be an important player.
At Zaragoza you were relied upon in the most difficult moments.
I accepted that responsibility. I was elected captain and I assumed that commitment. I want to do the same here, to be important. I want to be a major player on this team. I will work hard to make it very difficult for the manager when he decides who will play.
We have seen that in the first matches…
Good! (laughs) I came back more experienced. I learned a lot about complicated situations in Zaragoza that made me mature quickly, skipping some steps that would have slowed down the development in other circumstances.
And back at Atleti you were again picked as one of the captains…
We voted and some of my fellow players believed it was appropriate that I would be one of the captains, because I fulfilled that role in Zaragoza. For all that I’ve been through there, because of my experience and because they thought it could be useful. I’m delighted!
What does it mean to you?
Wearing the armband is very important to every youth product. Very special. It’s something you dream of when growing up at a club. I think for the fans it’s also important to see that one of the home-grown players is wearing the captain’s armband.
What requirements are needed for a good captain?
A captain has a lot of responsibility. He has to be an example in all areas of the game and beyond that. He must help his fellow players with whatever they need and needs to be available for the club 24/7 by all means. It’s a huge responsibility and honour.
What feelings do you get from this team at the start of this season?
Very good ones. I think the team is playing very well. We are enjoying it. We had a good game against Osasuna, but unfortunately we could not win. That’s the path we need to follow. We must grow and win many games.
Looks like a good project…
Yes it does. I believe that through hard work, good play and with all the signings made, we now have important players who will give us the extra quality a team requires to be on top. We overcame the initial pessimism.
Do the recent signings change the team’s objectives?
I don’t think so. The objective in La Liga is to be among the first four. We know to whom the two first places belong to because of their high level. Then we also have two other objectives. The Copa del Rey and the Europa League, in which we have to try and reach the final. It could be a great year in which we can win a title.
Are the ones responsible doing enough to break the hegemony of the big two?
I think they’re doing what they can to change it. Things are what they are. The television rights are not properly distributed and have created an impressive difference in quality of play. I think the English Premier League is the example to be followed to straighten things out. While Real Madrid and Barcelona will continue to have the best players, it can’t be that they have tons of €100 million players. You can’t compete with that.
Do you like the 4-3-3 formation?
I’m used to the system because we used it at Zaragoza under Aguirre in the last period of the season. The team is getting used to the formation, but the players will do good in any other system as well. We will have matches where we need to change and we will be able to do so.
The 4-3-3 is popular…
Yes, with players with a lot of mobility. It’s clear that you need a lot of possession to make this system work. You need to keep the lines close and use a lot of pressure when you’re off the ball. It’s physically very demanding. It’s a beautiful and attractive system, but dangerous as well and it requires quite some sacrifice.
It’s needed if Atlético want to dominate.
The coach wants us to control the game, have possession of the ball and create a lot of chances. Above all, Manzano wants us to play at a high pace, because in today’s football speed is the only way to disarm the opponent and break their defensive line. The key ingredients to our game will be fast play and intense pressure on opponents to retrieve the ball.
What about the latest reinforcements?
We haven’t seen much of them because they’ve just trained with us, but it’s clear that we paid good money for them and they are players with a lot of quality. We saw Arda the other day against Osasuna and he left a good impression. He just returned from injury and I’m sure he’ll give us a lot. A big sum of money was paid for Falcao and he’s a great goal-scorer. And Diego has that quality we need to be at the top.
Has everyone forgotten about Kun?
I think the club has made great efforts to fill the gaps that players who were important to the club left. We have to forget it. We have signed quality players. The footballers who are at Atletico now are more than able to meet the objectives.
Is this the best Atlético you have been a part of?
It’s the best Atlético I’ve experienced. It has the most quality and will be able to live up to the people’s expectations for sure. We have to prove this on the field by quickly finding a good dynamic to get us on top and to put Atlético at its rightful place, for its history and fans!
We ask you, our readers: are you glad Gabi has returned to the Vicente Calderón. Do you share his optimism?