The Spanish forward is in the form of his life, and the statistics back it up. But it’s also down to finding some consistency and confidence, which was maybe missing in previous years
Gerard Deulofeu has grown up. In Udine, the 28-year-old Spaniard has matured and come to realise what his game is capable of, helping the Bianconeri get off to a flying start, surprising many Serie A TIM followers. And the best is yet to come. We talked to the forward about Friuli, Spain, Leo Messi, Ronaldinho and Samarzdic…
Gerard, first of all, how are you? Are you ready to get back into action?
Serie A TIM isn’t far off and we’re all itching to get back to playing. Those who have stayed here, and who haven’t played in the World Cup, like me, can’t wait to get back to it!
Normally at the end of the year, there is some reflection…How has your 2022 gone??
It’s been incredible on a personal level. I’d say it’s been the best year of my career so far. I’ve reached many goals, and my stats have been very good. The most important thing though is that I understand why things are happening. The next few years ahead are going to be the best and most important for me.
How have you spent this break? Holidays and training?
I picked up an injury in the last game against Napoli, so that was hard, but on the upside, my cruciate and meniscus are fine. I used the break to recover from the sprain and now I’m working hard to get back so I don’t miss any games.
World Cup years are always full of surprises and with the league being interrupted mid-season this time around, because of the World Cup, nobody knows how this is going to affect the second half of the season. Do you put yourselves as one of these surprises in this season’s Serie A TIM?
I’d say so, yes, but that all depends on us. We know what we did early season and how we can perform. The second half of this first part of the season didn’t go as well, but we have faith in ourselves to turn it around; we’re a strong-minded, spirited group with lots of quality.
Argentina are World Champions, and Messi finally won. You shared the dressing room with him in Barcelona…were you supporting him after Spain’s exit from the tournament?
Yeah, I was happy for him. When I was in Barcelona, we were close and had a great relationship. I can’t speak highly enough of Leo and I’m so pleased he got to lift the trophy. It’s the only thing missing from his cabinet trophy, I think it’s a good thing also for football.
Speaking of Spain… do you know De, la Fuente? Would you like to be back in the international fold?
I’ve come to learn that you can’t expect anything from anyone. I was ready to be available for a call-up to the World Cup squad, even with the injury, and I’m ready now, but I understand and accept that the Head Coach made his choices. But I do want to say that I am ready and available for selection whenever needed.
Who was your idol growing up? Who did you aspire to be as a child?
As a kid, I looked up to Ronaldinho. I was at the Barcelona Academy, “La Masia”, and I saw him do some incredible things, on and off the field. He was at another level, always smiling and available; he was a genuine star.
At the start of the season, did you sense anything that made you think that this Udinese side could have a campaign at the top of the table?
I’m pleased to say that I didn’t expect such a strong start, as you should never expect anything, just go out and play to try and win! But we all know how well the Club is run, and we’re a grounded group of lads. Every year, there are a lot of new incoming players and those who are more experienced, like me, need to lead and show them the right mentality. This year it has clicked and we want to take Udinese as high as possible.
So, what’s the secret?
We had already changed our mentality last season when Cioffi arrived, we started to help each other out more by working a lot harder; I believe this has made a big difference. Football nowadays is a very physical game, and there are many teams with a lot of quality and stronger financial muscle than us, so we have to run further to get ahead of them first. This is what we’ve done well in 2022, we’ve made our opponents suffer a lot more.
Tell me about Mister Sottile, who has transmitted to you his aggressive and motivational approach. How has he given the team such fluidity and intensity?
He is ferocious. You only need to look at him during the games. He lives for the competition and is utterly determined. He was very intelligent when he first came because he didn’t revolutionise and change everything. He kept the things that were working well and added many good things, which allowed us to express ourselves to the best of our abilities.
Also, the fans are loving every minute of this season, the ground is always sold-out with a raucous atmosphere. Can you describe the feeling around the place?
Our relationship with the fans is fantastic, they’re always right behind us and they give us so much confidence. But also the Club makes us feel very appreciated and loved. I believe it’s a characteristic of the Friulano people, who want to make you feel at home. We’ve given so much joy, and created expectations in this first half of the season, the ground is practically full every week. We’re doing well and we’re happy, especially for the fans.
Your stats say that you’ve scored less this season compared to last year, but you are the second-highest provider in the league and clear of the pack for key passes in Serie A, with a staggering 47. What do these numbers mean to you, and do they say that you are the creator of this team?
For me, I must be the player who creates, and who gets the ball to be able to play forward. This year, we’re playing in a slightly different way to last year, so I’m a little deeper and further away from the goal, hence why I’ve scored a little less. But this way of playing helps the team to create more, so I’m happy with that. A leader must take their team to victory, not score goals for themselves. This is an aspect where I’ve developed a lot, and I’ve tried to give more consistent performances; in the past, I was too inconsistent.
Is this the best period of your career so far?
I think so, I’m more conscious of my game and role, and I’m working at a really good level. I remember my time at AC Milan fondly because I had a good relationship with my teammates and I was playing well. Those years there were also very good.
Close to you in the attacking forward line, the talent of Lazar Samarzdic is starting to shine. Talk us through the progress of this future German star, who is becoming ever-more important for this Udinese side.
We have a good relationship; he’s a special talent with an exceptional left foot. He’s still very young and has lots to improve on, but we’re making him aware of that, yet at the same time giving him all the belief he needs because he is a vital member of this group.
Empoli is first up after the break, how much do you want the win?
We need to start with the right mentality, first and foremost. We know what we’ve already achieved this year and it’s up to us to keep that going and look to improve on it. We’ll need to attack, play football and create chances to give us a chance of winning.
You haven’t been able to bring home three points since 3 October. In your opinion, why is that? A drop-off physically?
Yeah, we faced some sides above us in the table, like Lazio, Atalanta and Napoli, and some below us, such as Cremonese, Lecce and Spezia, all in the space of five weeks, and without two important players in Beto and Udogie. Serie A TIM is an extremely strong league and there are times in football when things don’t quite go the way you want and you suffer a little. But we’re ready to get back on track; we have the right enthusiasm and energy to return and do well!
We started with your review of 2022, so what are your new year’s resolutions, hopes and dreams for 2023?
I’m not quite sure, I don’t want to think of the future too much. I’m only thinking of the present and getting back fit for the game against Empoli on 4 January. I can determine the present and prepare for the best possible future, but now I’m only focused on what’s happening today!