Fede Valverde: “You take a corner and there is an animal next to you” | real Madrid

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” Aand they play in black and blue, ”says Fede Valverde,“Everton blue. The Real Madrid midfielder is laughing now. It turns out that last week wasn’t his first time playing against Liverpool; it wasn’t even the first time he had beaten them. It was five years ago: March 30, 2016, Uruguayan closing, Peñarol v Liverpool Fútbol Club at the Estadio Campeón del Siglo. “There is a difference, however. They are not pronounced the same: Uruguay is Liverpool“He said, insisting on the final syllable, before revealing the colors and the score:” A draw, Carlos Valdez’s goal.

Valverde was 17; in four months, after playing 13 games for Peñarol, he had signed for Madrid, heading to another world. League champion in Spain, he watched on TV 6166 miles from Liverpool, the name inspired by ships docking in Montevideo, finished top of the 2020 closing, the first title in their 106-year history. “They played very well, they deserved it. It’s a good club that brings the youth through. Their soil is very beautiful, the grass is good.

It’s not always the case but Valverde wouldn’t change it for nothing. That’s what it did after all, starting at the age of three in a town with a football pitch on every corner.

“In Uruguay, not all fields are grass, even in first so imagine baby foot. These are clay courts, gravel. You will take a corner and there is an animal next to you. It makes you grow, fight, harder. It’s nice to come back from a game with your face covered in dirt, your hair full of mud, your boots full of stones. The most beautiful thing a child can experience is to get on the bus every weekend in their kit, to share it with their friends and family.

“Football is essential for Uruguay, people die for their teams, they are crazy for their team. And when you’re a kid, the first thing they throw at you is a ball. We have such a small population [3.5 million], so producing so many players fills you with pride. “

That’s why Valverde even became a bit of a Liverpool fan in 2013. English Liverpool. “Most Uruguayans support teams with Uruguayans in and when Luis [Suárez] was there, I supported Luis. It happens with [Edinson] Cavani at Manchester United too. That year the whole country backed Liverpool. This year, they will be supporting Madrid, then? Valverde smiles. “I guess so, yes. “

The key is in the culture, he says. After the classic, one article described it as “an uncontrollable whirlwind,” ultra-competitive, a blur of energy and advantage. “This is how they raise us,” he says. “Everyone comes to beat you, everyone wants the prize. And that’s where you say, ‘No, I want it.’ ”

He’s there too when he talks about his days spent with Atlético Madrid’s Suárez and José María Giménez – now friends off the pitch, still enemies. When asked if they are talking about football, Valverde retorts: “First, we kill each other. Sometimes we leave football aside because it’s nice to enjoy the family, the kids. But even if we play with the children, laughing, football is always in the background. There are always comments that curl up. “

It’s easy to imagine them in the garden elbows out, the terrifying tackles. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Valverde said with a smile. “If you don’t win, you get angry. My son [Benicio, 1] is too small, the ball is too big. But when I play my wife, I don’t hold back: I fly towards her. Either it passes or the ball passes, never both!

Valverde’s wife, Mina Bonino, is Argentinian and a huge fan of River Plate, the debates about football at home are constant, without hindsight. This conversation begins with Valverde breaking down and refusing to name Nacional, Peñarol’s great rivals – “I can’t, I can’t, they’ll kill me!” »He protests – continues with him insisting:« My son will be a fan of Peñarol and I will always defend Uruguay at home », and throughout there is a deep fondness for football and the place that it ‘formed.

“I started at the age of three at Estudiantes de la Unión in my neighborhood, a humble and working-class place,” he says. His father, a security guard, also played – although Fede likes to remind him that he wasn’t particularly good. His mother had a stall selling toys and clothes where one day a scout from Peñarol approached, asking, “Are you the mother of that skinny kid who steals?” But he never looked at any of them, insisting, “Only the bullet made my eyes shine. He said, “They fought for me, all this sweat and work and tears, and having them here now, seeing them so well, enjoying my son, gives me a strength that I cannot describe.”

Barcelona's Fede Valverde and Clement Lenglet challenge for a high ball in last weekend's clásico, which Real Madrid won 2-1
Fede Valverde and Barcelona’s Clément Lenglet vie for a high ball in last weekend’s clásico, which Real Madrid won 2-1. Photograph: Javier Soriano / AFP / Getty Images

“There was a moment of change in my life – one that I also regret because I would have liked to have stayed in school – where I had to decide whether to continue studying or play football because I was missing a lot. school. To get there, I had to leave. I was 14 or 15, playing for the national team at the youth level. There were a lot of trips, I missed classes, I fell behind, it was hard. My parents didn’t want me to quit school but the two things didn’t match. I decided: “The football of my dreams, what I’m good at is football, I’m going to devote myself to football. Fortunately, it happened.

His parents were not his only guide; soon his childhood hero was too. “I had the great fortune, a magic wand, that when I made my debut at Peñarol, the club I love, Diego Forlán signed. It was… ”Valverde puffs his cheeks. “I didn’t know what to think, what to say. But he was amazing and not just with football; he helped me to understand, not to lose my mind. When big clubs emerged he said, “Keep calm you are young, enjoy every day. If they came for you, it’s because you have something. Let that motivate you.

“I don’t know if the fear [is the word]. When you are chasing your dream, nothing can stand in your way. But there are obstacles. Maybe for some who leave home at 18 it’s not [a problem] but for me it was not easy. In Madrid they give you everything, you have thousands of people helping you, but the love of your mother and father is different. Yet when you have a goal, there is no barrier. “

Madrid weren’t the only club struck by Valverde’s qualities, a style he described as common until his legs burst. It’s like he’s got four lungs and he’s heard there is something from Steven Gerrard about him, although he’s wary of the comparison. “Gerrard is an idol, a star who won wonderful things, an incredible player with those diagonal passes, shooting, hitting the ball. Beautiful. I could spend 24 hours watching it, a pleasure. But he did what he did; I have to fight for my [own] Last name. “

Speaking of stars, the three men by her side aren’t mean. And as for his manager – Valverde laughs. “Yeah,” he replies, “I can’t complain. “

With Zinedine Zidane, he says it is “about the person as much as the player”. Of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, he says: “They won everything in Spain and internationally, the Champions Leagues coming out of their ears. Putting them together, they would make the perfect player: Case is always on top of everything: strong, fast, he sees spaces opening up, sees players coming to press. Luka is dynamic, the pass between the lines. And Toni has the patience and the ability to play without pressure, like he’s in his backyard.

“What could be better for me than to share a dressing room with them?” You only have to watch them to learn, and if they advise you, listen. Case was particularly helpful, making it easier to adapt, on top of me all the time. When there is a healthy rivalry you become a better team and I like having this competition, three players that make it almost impossible to get in. I like the challenge, to fight to play. And when you play with them, you enjoy them even more. “

Against Liverpool they taught this seemingly timeless trio another lesson, although Zidane suggested that Madrid be “on the edge physically” which Valverde said, coming back from injury, could make his own contribution more meaningful in the games. last few weeks. Despite a slight knock, he is set to start on Wednesday night in a game in which he doesn’t expect Liverpool to be trained to attack wildly, risking being exposed at the break.

“When a team loses, people usually say they played badly, but it’s a two-team game, and often it’s a question of virtues on the other side. Liverpool will have made mistakes, as on the [second] goal, but Madrid played well: well defended, well pressed, well attacked. It’s more than what we did was positive. Just because they lost 3-1 and didn’t have a good first half doesn’t mean everything will be rosy for us there either. They have to win, but we won’t stand with open arms waiting to see what Liverpool do. We have our own weapons and our goal is not to draw or lose by one goal.

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“I would love to play in a crowded Anfield: all this pressure, their fans are ready for it… phewis the magic of football. It’s not the same without the extra energy from the fans, but you adapt. I’ve played on pitches with no grass and no stands, it’s not the best, but you still go there to enjoy the game and win. We will try to beat Liverpool.

For Fede Valverde, it wouldn’t be the first time, or even the second.

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