As Atlético Madrid prepare to take on Barcelona in a rematch of the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League quarter-final – which Diego Simeone’s side won – right-back Juanfran and captain Gabi spoke to UEFA.com about the club’s indomitable spirit and the big trophy missing from their cabinet.
UEFA.com: How do you feel about playing Barcelona in the quarter-finals?
Juanfran: To make it to the final, you have to beat the best. Their three front men they have – and especially [Lionel] Messi, who is simply the best – would not be as successful without the rest of the team. Barcelona have great players in every position. But we need to be optimistic, and we know that if we play our best we have a chance.
Gabi: We are on course for one of our biggest objectives – another Champions League semi-final. We’ve made it to the quarter-finals for the third season in a row, which is very important for us, but now we need the best performance from every single player to make it into the next round.
UEFA.com: In the second half of the quarter-final decider against PSV Eindhoven, the Atlético fans unfurled a banner reading ‘never stop believing’; does that sum up the spirit of this team?
Gabi: Yes. We know there are bigger teams than us, but in terms of team spirit I think we are among the best.
Juanfran: We’ll continue to have fantastic nights at the Calderón because our supporters believe in us, and we believe that things will go well and we’ll make it from round to round. There’s a fantastic sense of unity at the Calderón which is great and important for us.
UEFA.com: Antoine Griezmann is in incredible form; what are the qualities he brings to this team?
Juanfran: Antoine is a great footballer, and he has developed into a fantastic player here – one of the best in the world. It took him a bit of time to adapt, but starting from December and January last year he took some big steps forward to become the player he is now – a real Atlético player; a player who really makes a difference. He came here as a young lad, and for me, Antoine is a man now.
UEFA.com: Gabi, what does it mean to you to captain this side?
Gabi: Every player wants to play for the club they grew up at; and then to become captain and have that responsibility is a great feeling too.
Juanfran: Gabi is our captain in bold letters. You can see his joy, ambition, and the strength of feeling he has for Atlético Madrid – the heart he puts into everything he does on and off the pitch. I’ve had a lot of captains, and I can say that Gabi is the best. It’s an honour to be at his side.
UEFA.com: How strong is your desire to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy this season?
Gabi: The only title this club has not won is the Champions League*, and everyone dreams of it. But we’re not letting go in any competition – in the league we’re still chasing Barcelona and fighting for the title, and we hope we will be up there at the end of the season.
Juanfran: Friendly matches, pre-season matches, league matches or Champions League matches … our aim is always to win, and give everything we have for the shirt we wear. The Champions League is different. It’s something special, and it’s something we’ve not been able to win before. So let’s hope, and I’m convinced that sooner or later we will win the Champions League.
*Previous winners of all three UEFA club competitions
UCL: 1971, 1972, 1973, 1995
UCL: 1974, 1975, 1976, 2001
CWC: 1971, 1998
UCL: 1985, 1996
UEL: 1977, 1990, 1993
Clubs that can can complete a full set of major UEFA titles:
Need to win UEFA Champions League
Anderlecht, Atlético Madrid*, Parma, Tottenham Hotspur, Valencia
Need to win UEFA Europa League
AC Milan, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund*, Hamburg, Manchester United
*Able to do so this season