Atletico Madrid Spoke exclusively to MARCA
Saul believes Atletico Madrid have to aim high this season.
The midfielder has called on his side to challenge the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga Santander and other competitions.
In an exclusive interview with MARCA, Saul spoke about his ambitions for the coming campaign, the flattering interest from Manchester United and his place in the national team.
You were still playing in August. Have you been able to reset after such a tough season?
I really think so. Our holidays have been longer than expected with LaLiga starting so soon. But it’s a good thing that a few teams are starting on Matchday 3 because we’ll be able to rest for what’s going to be a very long and very tough season, but an exciting one too. That being said, it will be different. For example, we’re now in a [training] camp after getting our tests back negative, we wear masks in the corridors and you don’t come across anyone when you leave the hotel or the bus. It’s totally different, but we always say that we have to adapt, accept it and face it in the best way.
What’s the feeling coming back after such a strange season, during which you competed better against Real Madrid and Barcelona than, for example, Cultural Leonesa and RB Leipzig?
Well, lots of things have happened. We’ll try to make sure they don’t happen again, but it’s something that happens with lots of teams. I can’t say why. We all know what’s going to happen… and it happens. You try to change and improve. When you concentrate on the game to game and nothing else and you play a friendly like you would an official match, it’s what makes you give that extra 10 percent that you often need. After a difficult season, we’re excited about this one and we hope to start well despite having very little time to prepare. When the season starts, we’ll still be in pre-season and the transfer window will still be open. Everything will be odd and strange, or new, for the want of a better word.
Do you think we’ll start to see the Atletico we were expecting this season after the transition year or is it still too soon?
Everything depends on us, how the fans see it and the ambition that we have. Last season, we had a very good pre-season, then we had a drop-off which wasn’t really a drop-off because the competition isn’t the same in the end and everything is more difficult. There were lots of ups and downs. I really think that we’ve learned from our mistakes now, that we’ll be a more consistent team this season and that we’ll try to achieve great things despite it being a strange campaign.
There are people that are starting to expect more from Atletico than just a top four finish. Now you’ve got a settled squad, can you aspire to much more and fight with Real Madrid and Barcelona for titles?
We at least have to try and our ambition has to be that, to be honest. With the squad that we have, we have a team to compete with the big guns in LaLiga and all the other trophies. But we have to show that, not just say it. It’s not about saying “we want to do this, we want to do that…”, it’s about demonstrating it on the pitch, in training, when we speak to the press… Demonstrate that in every sense and I really think the years to come will be very good ones for Atletico Madrid.
So you’re still looking towards Real Madrid and Barcelona, rather than looking back at teams like Sevilla and Villarreal, who have made big signings this summer?
I’m looking at top spot, not the teams. Any team can be there, especially seeing how those two have strengthened, but I’m looking above everything. We have a very good, very young squad, with lots of things to improve on, but working together I think we have to be ambitious and fight to get to top spot.
What do you think when you hear that Atletico should be playing a different style of play with the players you have?
We have to play to win. We’ll be able to play “prettier” in lots of games, but you can have other times when it’s not your day and you have to win all the same. In the end, what you have to do is win. We do have top quality players and it’s normal that people ask for other things – it’s well within their rights. But we have to concentrate on winning. In the end, when you win, people don’t complain.
With not many new arrivals this summer, does Joao Felix have to be the big signing that he wasn’t able to be last season?
Well, all you have to do is enjoy him because he’s a boy with immense talent. He has a very, very, very big future ahead of him. There were lots of new players [last season]. It’s not always easy in the first season, but they did very well, including Joao. He did very well for his first year but, as you say, people had very high expectations. This season, I think we’ll find that these players will be more settled, more comfortable within the team and more aware of what the boss is asking of them.
On a personal level, how do you react to the interest that always comes from Manchester United or people like Rio Ferdinand endorsing your signing?
Well, to be honest, I take it very well. It’s really flattering for me that a club like Manchester United and other teams that ask about me are thinking about me. For me, it’s very positive. The fact that people strongly linked to those clubs speak highly of you means that I’m doing well at Atletico Madrid.
Each time there’s flattering interest, Atletico grow worried, though.
I don’t think so. The club have never been like that towards me.
You start the season having missed out on a spot in the Spanish national team this month.
Yeah, but the national team comes as a result of what I do with Atletico Madrid. If I’m at my best, I have a good chance of going. I think a coach like Luis Enrique knows what I can do. He also demands a lot from me because he knows I can give him a lot, but I have to be [doing] well at my club. In the end, if you’re not at your best and other players are at their clubs, it’s completely normal that other players get called up. At no moment do I blame the coach or people above me. I’ve only got myself to blame for not getting a call-up. But I think I’m doing well at Atletico. I’m sure I’ll be able to get back in the national team.
Do you think you had a bad season then?
No, it wasn’t bad, but I know I can do a lot more. Looking at what I’ve done before, I can do a lot more. I’m demanding of myself, so I think I have to keep working to improve in lots of aspects to be able to help my club and the national team.