Alberto Zapater never believed the footballing legend that Spanish players are not equipped to succeed with Italian clubs.
While his country enjoys a golden age in sport, the Genoa CFC midfielder accepts he cuts a relatively solitary Spanish figure in Serie A. Even so, the former Real Zaragoza captain is not only the anchor figure in a team that has soared up Serie A; Zapater also has the honour of having scored the first-ever goal in the UEFA Europa League. All of which is a source of pride to a player who is conscious of flying the flag for both his nation and his adopted city.
"I'm always asked why Spanish players, historically, have not succeeded in Italy, but I answer with the example of Luis Suárez who became one of the best in the history of this country," the 24-year-old told uefa.com. "Right now there's me and a couple of other Spanish lads in Serie A, who aren't having the luck to start every week. But more and more Spaniards are beginning to play all over the world.
"Our country is in a sporting golden age if you think of Rafael Nadal, Fernando Alonso, EURO 2008 and our basketball team. Ultimately, our football sums it up and we play with style. Leaving my home town where I'd been captain, and after I'd turned down many offers to sign for other Spanish teams, was a hard choice. I'd been through two years at Zaragoza where I'd suffered and my family had suffered because of our relegation and subsequent promotion. So to score the first goal in the Europa League for my club, at home, with all the fans dreaming big after so many years without European football – when all that sank in, it really hit me."
Claim to fame
Zapater made history with a delicious free-kick four minutes into Genoa's 2-0 victory over SK Slavia Praha on 17 September, Matchday 1. The significance of his strike, the first goal in the competition proper, was lost on him at first. Nor does he envisage repeating the feat too often. "When I'm 40, I can tell my kids it was me who scored that historic goal and that it was beautiful. I don't get many, so the ones that go in are extra important," he said. "I only knew the detail after the match, when I was told. I'd also scored direct from a free-kick [against AS Roma] and everyone in Italy told me I was a specialist. But I came here to achieve great things for the team, not for me. I was just happy because the team won."
With return matches against Slavia and Valencia CF to come in Group B, Zapater expects his partnership with Genoa to thrive and the name of his adopted city to gain prestige. "I think that after so many years of not being in Europe, at Genoa we need to enjoy this competition. To play against great players, and show Genoa to the whole of Europe, is our aim so it's clear we want to win the next two games and qualify for the next round."
To watch a full version of this interview in the uefa.com Magazine, click here.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.