Cristian Romero

Cristian Romero interview: The Tottenham defender who nearly quit football after becoming world champion ahead of the North London derby

For Tottenham and Cristian Romero, it’s all about the return.

Going into the North London derby this Sunday with Arsenal, live on Sky Sports Premier League, this is not the situation Spurs were considering at the start of the season. Last season, the two teams were separated by two points. Now they are a little chalk and cheese.

Arsenal lead the Premier League with almost perfect consistency throughout the campaign. On the other side of the divide, it’s unclear which version of Antonio Conte’s Spurs squad you’ll get each week.

Sunday, January 15, 4:00 p.m.

Kick off 4:30 p.m.

Spurs face the backdrop of being 14 points behind their rivals ahead of the Super Sunday showdown – but that means little for Romero.

“I think we can come back from this far,” said the centre-back sky sports in an exclusive interview. “But there’s a lot of work we need to do, using everything we have.

“If you’re top of the league, you deserve to be there and that’s where they are. But we want to be there ourselves. We know we have to improve a lot of things, but we’re working hard in thinking of us, not them.”

Romero knows how to come back from despair despite all the signs pointing against you. The 17-year-old centre-back nearly walked away from the game altogether after being frozen out at boyhood club Belgrano as they battled relegation from Argentina’s top flight.

Cristian Romero prepares for North London derby with Arsenal
Cristian Romero prepares for North London derby with Arsenal

“I didn’t play well for a few games and then the hierarchy said terrible things about me,” Romero recalled.

“It was such a difficult time. I was so young, it was my first year as a professional. Then I spent about 18 months on the bench, always alone, always in reserve.

Romero tried to leave, with European clubs interested in the young defender – but Belgrano refused to let him go. It was almost the final straw of a flourishing career.

“I said [to the hierarchy]: ‘I don’t want to train anymore. I will give up football. I will do another job with my dad or move on,” he recalled. “All because they were getting in the way of my career.

“I didn’t train for two or three days because I didn’t feel up to it. Then the sporting director came up to me and said, ‘Okay, you can go.'”

Romero (left) nearly quit football aged 17 while playing for Belgrano
Romero (left) nearly quit football aged 17 while playing for Belgrano

Watch Romero now. Not just an established Premier League player with Tottenham, but a serial winner with Argentina. Copa America, Finalissima, World Cup: it’s all in the bag. You wonder what the Belgrano hierarchy currently thinks of Romero’s success.

“At the end of the day, those things are valuable in making everything up there in your head stronger,” he said when asked if he had thought about that moment when he lifted the World Cup this winter. .

“If I hadn’t been through that, I would have been worse off. That period was such a positive time for me growing up. It’s now a good memory for me.

“Playing here in the Premier League, being in the Argentina team, winning things with the Argentina team. These are all things from the past.”

Romero (left) stands next to the World Cup trophy
Romero (left) stands next to the World Cup trophy

And yet there are still criticisms – more about his temperament than his abilities. For example, Argentina’s antics en route to World Cup victory have been questioned – notably their wild celebrations against the Netherlands and France.

Two iconic images stand out: Romero joins his international team-mates in urging their Dutch counterparts in the seconds after their quarter-final victory on penalties, and Romero screaming in the face of hat-trick hero Kylian Mbappe after Lionel Messi put Argentina 3-2 in the final.

When asked if people have talked too much about Argentina’s antics, Romero responds quickly. “Yes. Only because people only see the pictures.

The Argentinian players celebrate their victory on penalties in front of the Dutch players
The Argentinian players celebrate their victory on penalties in front of the Dutch players

“People don’t think about what was said before to get us to this point. Against the Netherlands they talked too much before entering the pitch and that annoyed us.

“They said we were disrespectful but that’s not true. You can understand what would happen next.”

Asked about this incident with Mbappe, Romero replied: “Against France it was the same. Messi scored [Argentina’s third goal] and everything just came out. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world but it all came out.”

Cristian Romero celebrates ahead of Kylian Mbappe in the World Cup final
Cristian Romero celebrates ahead of Kylian Mbappe in the World Cup final

Now Romero faces the prospect of another big game on Sunday, arguably the biggest on Tottenham’s calendar. Do not be surprised if the emotion emerges once again from the Argentine defender.

“It’s always been there. It’s like that,” Romero said when asked where his aggressive style of play came from. “The most important thing there is is inside of me.

“I think some people think I’m doing something wrong. The aggression – in my opinion – is a bit over the top. The way I play has gotten me to where I am, it’s one of those things. “

Romero, speaking Italian in this interview, doesn’t mention Arsenal’s name once. He frequently mentions the club names of Tottenham, Belgrano as well as former clubs Atalanta and Genoa.

But while describing Mikel Arteta’s side, it’s ‘their’ (their).

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Ahead of this weekend’s North London derby, relive some of Cristian Romero’s biggest tackles during his time at Tottenham.

“If I have to say anything about them, they have a strong squad,” Romero says. “The players and the manager have been together for a long time.

“They are at an important moment of what they have been building for years and we can see that at the moment they are doing well. For us, we are in a position where we still have to grow.

“This match is important. We have to win it. We need the result. It’s going to be tough, but I believe in our team. Between us, we’re always motivated. It’s not just with the derby, even if it’s is a very important game.

“The Premier League is tough, there are a lot of strong teams that you have to be 100% for. Otherwise you can’t play in this climate.

“We know this season has been a bit up and down, it has to be said, but we hope to win. We will do everything to win this game at home.”

Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League on Super Sunday this weekend, kick-off at 4.30pm

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