Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atletico Madrid Lokomotiv midfielder spoke to MARCA before facing Atletico
Only three years ago, Inter spent 40 million euros to sign Joao Mario from Sporting CP, and now he is at Lokomotiv Moscow trying to reach his potential.
The 26-year-old will look to make a statement when he takes to the field against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League this week, up against a side who tried to sign him back in 2015.
Speaking exclusively to MARCA, Joao Mario revealed all about his thoughts ahead of the clash.
After three seasons without much success in Italy, you’ve gone on loan to Russia. Why Russia?
I came to a point in my career where the most important thing is to play regularly. Lokomotiv was the club that wanted me the most and that was decisive because I needed to come to a project where I felt important. And, of course, playing in the Champions League matters a lot. I’m happy here, I’ve found a very well organised club.
Your start has been very good, you played the full 90 minutes in the last four games which have all ended in victory. Did you expect such a good start?
The truth is that everything is going very well, the group is built up of experienced players who know each other well, and having Eder [the striker who scored Portugal’s winner in the Euro 2016 final] here helps too. After a few not-so-good times, a club like Lokomotiv was just what I needed: a good team, with positive dynamic, and where I feel important…
Lokomotiv began the Champions League campaign beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 with an assist from you, what do you expect for your team in this competition?
In football you have to dream, and we have dreamt of getting to the last 16. We know that the group is very difficult, Atletico and Juventus are great teams, but in football anything can happen. In any case, with the win on matchday one, I think that we can at least be on track for third place.
Now you’re preparing to welcome Atletico, how do you think the game will be?
Atletico, being a Spanish team, has the best of the Italian school and I know those kinds of teams well. I know the difficulty [that style] creates. I expect a game in which, with them being away from home, they’ll take a pragmatic approach. We have to be intelligent, I don’t know if carrying the game will be the best strategy. Maybe we should try to make them have the ball and try to surprise them on the counter or at set pieces.
Atletico made many changes this summer, do you think Lokomotiv can take advantage of an Atletico still under construction?
Atletico are a great team and that’s a major challenge. Joao Felix, Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Saul [Niguez] or Koke are very good players who can change a game at any time. Only a perfect Lokomotiv can hope for a positive result.
You’ll come up against your compatriot Joao Felix. Can he be a success at Atletico?
Of course he will triumph, he’s a very special player, with a lot of quality, but people have to have patience with him. He’s a young guy and you have to understand that Atletico made a long-term investment, we can’t think that Joao will explode in the first months, he needs time. He has what matters most: quality in his football and his desire to win.
Do you think the pressure of the transfer fee is weighing down on him?
Joao Felix should forget what they paid for him, he should know that he showed a good enough level for Atletico to invest in him. The amount the clubs agreed for the transfer is something between the clubs, not him. He’s only 19 years old and with time and patience, he’ll prove his talent. He’s in the right league and with a coach bound to succeed.
You joined Inter in 2016, but there was also a chance to sign for Atletico. Were you close to wearing the red and white shirt?
Yes, in 2014/15 Atletico made an offer for me, but Sporting rejected it and the next season I went to Inter. That 2014/15 was my first full season with the first team at Sporting and Atletico were interested, but the club rejected it, it wasn’t my choice.
You weren’t selected in the Portugal squad for the Final Four of the UEFA Nationals League or for the last international break, is getting back into the Portuguese national team your individual goal this season?
Yes, without any doubt. It hurt me a lot to be away from the national team because I know I have the quality to be there. My main objective is to be at Euro 2020 and that’s why I came to Lokomotiv, because to be called up, you have to play regularly.
What do you think of Portugal ahead of the European Championship, can they defend their title?
Portugal are candidates, they come from winning the Nations League and it’s a very competitive team who are hard to beat in a match. It’s a different side to 2016, they have the ball more, attack more and score more. They’re more complete.
Does Sporting CP’s current situation hurt you?
It’s a club which I will always care about, given that it made me a footballer. Unfortunately, Sporting can’t find the stability they need to be a competitive club. I hope that Sporting can find that stability to win the league again, as the fans wish. Stability is the essential requisite which Sporting are missing.