Federico Valverde (Montevideo, Uruguay, 1998) appears at the Celeste Complex, headquarters of the Uruguayan National Team, with a smile on his face. Relaxed, smiling and, above all, with that humble profile that never leaves him. We start the interview with that talk we had with him in 2016, right here in Montevideo…
Ask. Before he signed for Madrid, I did an interview with him when he just made his debut with Pearl. He was 17 years old. What remains of that Fede?
Response. [Risas] I am a totally different Fede because of the things that I have had to live.
Q. Did you imagine one day that you were going to win the Champions League?
R. One always dreams and wants to succeed in football, but at that time everything I have achieved this year was far away.
Q. Your mother said that when you were little, you dreamed that you played in a big stadium abroad. Tell us that anecdote.
R. Yes, and it was not once but twice. In the first dream he knew that he was outside of Uruguay but not where: and in the second, a little later, he already knew that he was dreaming in a foreign stadium because he heard a strange accent.
Q. Let’s talk, first, about the Uruguayan National Team. Does it weigh a lot to be a Real Madrid star at La Celeste?
A. It does not weigh. Moreover, it can be taken as an example for many children and young players from my country who can see me as a reference. Personally, it’s a huge responsibility to be able to demonstrate everything I’m doing at Real Madrid here. Also, now I feel very strong to do it.
P. For the first time a Uruguayan coach talks about being world champion. Do you think it is possible with this Selection?
R. With work, everything is possible, and we face each match with the humility typical of this country. We are very close as a group and each player, from the first to the last, shoots for the same side. If we all have trust, faith and unity, we can achieve great things. Then, what happens or not depends on football. We will try to make history with La Celeste.
Q. There was an essential talk for you this season. Diego Alonso went to see him at his house, and from then on many things changed. What did he tell you?
R. Until then I had my head closed a bit, and he made me open my mind. He has a lot of experience in football and he told me nice things, but also true, and I have to learn a lot from him. My wife (Mina Bonino) was also in that talk and we both clicked because she also helps me a lot. One click to be able to demonstrate more things than the trainer knew he had. She gave me the confidence that she needed then and that helped me a lot to earn a place in Madrid. It was very helpful.
P. Now that you have named her, your wife is a journalist, and she knows a lot about football. Is that good or bad?
R. [risas]. She knows me very well and she always demanded a little more from me. She knows everything that I can give, and that helped me to want to improve, learn and keep striving. But we have already talked about how to manage my work and manage every moment so that I am always calm. She is my support so that I only think about football and it is very important to me.
P. Your son, Benicio, is only two years old and will come to the World Cup with a doubt: Argentina, for her, or Uruguay, for you?
R. For Uruguay clearly. The father throws more in what is related to football.
P. In a recent interview, your coach told me: ‘the game must go through Valverde’. What do you think of this, taking into account that in Madrid you often play in a band?
R. In Madrid I have an important role but sometimes the game does not only revolve around me. I feel important with Ancelotti but the game also revolves around other teammates. I can help in many facets and technically I feel qualified to do so. On the other hand, in Uruguay I have a different position, I have more freedom when it comes to playing, I am more relaxed and that carries a responsibility that perhaps at Madrid I still do not face as much.
P. Those who know him well have always told him: ‘Fede, shoot more’. ‘Fede, you have to score more goals’. Are we going to see an even more complete Fede next season?
R. That is the idea. At home they told me that I had to hit the goal more, at least three times a game, but sometimes I didn’t feel as confident as I do now. My head is much more settled now and I am calm. I have that confidence that a few months ago I did not have one hundred percent. I feel qualified to contribute more goals, more assists and more arrivals to the team. I’ve gotten quite a bit better at that.
P. Confess it: I was already worth a Champions League, but… was it a shot or a pass to Vinicius for the Pars goal?
R. [risas]. Attendance was because the statistics told me as such. Thanks to that pass-shot on goal, the goal came and we won the Champions League. Some may say shot, others pass, but the important thing is that the Cup is in Madrid. That action was the most important of my career.
Q. Did Vini tell you something after the final?
R. We joked about it a lot and Vini told me it was a great pass. The important thing is that with that action I already left a mark on the history of Madrid and I have to value it because it’s something very beautiful.
P. Did you sleep after the comebacks?
R. I tell him how I did it: I came home, enjoyed with my family and we talked about the game. I went to bed with great relief and pleasure knowing that something unique had happened. That rarely happens in a race. I enjoyed it with my people at home, quiet and chatting about life and football. But, this is Madrid and the next day everything was forgotten. You had to keep winning.
P. Now everything is nice but you had a very bad time in a stretch of the season, when you were not a starter.
R. Yes, now everything is happiness: career, family… When the season started, I played everything. However, I got an injury and that was a big blow. I was not strong enough and it took me a long time to recover. When you’re up, you think nothing is going to bring you down. It was hard to get over it in my head. I was going to train and I knew I had at least a month left to play again and earn a place on the team.
Q. At that point I received help that I did not have before. Tell us.
R. When I had the injury and everything felt negative, I had several talks at home with my wife, who is the one who supports me and puts up with me in everything, whether things go well or badly, and that’s when we started looking for solutions. She more than me, because I was very closed. And she looked for solutions with a personal physical trainer, a physio who would help me, a nutritionist who would control my diet, a coach who would calm my head… That’s when I clicked and all this change came in very handy. Everything that accompanies me now made me grow more and more.
P. Real Madrid loves him for two things, his quality and his courage. Does it feel like that?
R. The affection I feel from the fans is spectacular. Even when things went wrong, the madridistas were there supporting me and making me smile to continue fighting to be a starter. I will always be grateful to Madridismo. If I went to look for Benicio at school, there was always someone who encouraged me: Come on Fede, you can do it, Real Madrid loves you!
P. And, apart from that, the club has shown him support: he is the player with the longest contract (2027).
R. The club always gave me tremendous confidence and I value that and it motivates me to take advantage of my opportunity here. When he went to look for me, I didn’t believe it. Juni Calafat [jefe de scouting del club y artfice de su fichaje] It changed my life and not only in terms of football, but also in the help that my family and my family have always given me since I arrived in Spain. I came alone and Juni was always there. Today I am not a star but I am something more important than when I arrived, and when I was nobody, Juni was the first to listen to me. I will always be grateful to him.
Q. Would you give the Ballon d’Or to Benzema?
A. I would give it to all eleven players on my team, but I think Karim has earned it and proved to be the best throughout this season. He is a benchmark in Madrid, in France and around the world. I don’t know what else he has to do for Karim to win the Ballon d’Or.
P. Share friendship with Luka Modric. Is he a better footballer or a better person?
A. The two go hand in hand. Her quality with the ball is seen by everyone, but the human part of her is known by few, only the teammates. He is a great captain, he is always available to everyone and he conveys his ambition to win and that gives us a plus to keep moving forward.
P. What do you think about the signing of Tchouamni?
A. Spectacular. I didn’t see him play much, because now, since Benicio was born, I watch less football on TV. I already play more with the child than watch football (laughs). I try to take advantage of the time with my son. But he is a great player and he shows it with France in every game. You have to make good use of it.
Q. What did Florentino say to you after winning in Paris?
A. He told me: Uruguayan! It’s nice that I identify with my country and highlights the importance of Uruguay in football.
P. Your mother was the one who sacrificed herself for you to reach the elite. How did she experience the final?
R. I saw her a little because the UEFA people did not let her go on the pitch, but when she saw me, she gave me a huge hug with tears in her eyes. It was a hug that lasted a few seconds but a thousand things went through our heads from everything we fought together, along with my father, to get there. When I was nobody, the three of us went everywhere together, with cold, with rain, with heat. They were always there with a smile and with the desire to take me to train. I am the one who plays but my support is my wife, the happiness of my son and the encouragement of my parents.
P. After the Champions League, we will have to banish the ‘Little Bird’ thing and go for the ‘Halcn’, right?
R. S, I think it’s time to leave ‘El Pajarito’ [laughs[risas.