Nicolás Otamendi on World Cup glory, his influences and being Benfica's leader
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
The centre-back talks to UEFA.com about international honours, Benfica's ambitions and which coaches' wisdom he has passed on to the Eagles' young prospects.
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Nicolás Otamendi is having a season he will never forget. Now 35, the centre-back played every minute of Argentina's triumphant 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign and has helped guide Benfica's talented crop of youngsters into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Ahead of the first leg of their last-eight tie against Inter, which he will miss due to suspension, Otamendi spoke with UEFA.com about his recent international glory, his role in the Eagles' set-up and the most influential coaches of his career.
On winning the World Cup with Argentina
As a player, the dream is to win a title with your country, and now that I have fulfilled that dream and become a champion, there's satisfaction. My goal was also to reach 100 caps and, it just happens, my 100th game was the final. We knew that winning the Copa América was an important achievement. We won the Finalissima and, of course, you always want more.
The World Cup was difficult. It's difficult for every national team, but we had the belief that we could win. If we went on the pitch and competed, we knew we had a certain possibility percentage to win match by match and get to the final. Of course, when it's the final, you give that bit more and try to enjoy the occasion but, at the same time, we had the shirt, the fans and the country in mind, and we knew they all needed this joy.
On returning to Benfica following the World Cup
It's complicated because the World Cup was played at a different time than usual. Stopping the season here in Portugal, joining up with the national side, being lucky enough to win the World Cup, reintegrating yourself into your club and the competitions you compete in is complicated.
At the same time, I think we will only become aware of what we did, what we achieved, when we're on holiday, because right now I'm focused on my club, on doing things as well as possible, and being able to keep winning titles. My mentality is to reach the last day of the season with a chance of lifting more trophies.
On Benfica's chances in the Champions League
The club lives for winning titles, but I am aware that there are strong teams fighting for the same thing. The most important thing we have is that we compete. We have a good coach, good coaching staff, many young players who are very ambitious, and I have a phrase on my tattoo: "conviction, excitement, ambition".
I think that's what it's all about: the ambition to want to win and the excitement at the prospect of lifting 'Big Ears' [the Champions League trophy]. I think we've had a good Champions League so far but we will take it one game at a time. The next rival we have to face, we will try to do our best and keep progressing.
On being a captain and leader
The club gave me a great responsibility but, because of my personality, I enjoy big challenges and I like leading by example. It's about teaching the younger players that you have to aspire to be a role model because everyone is watching you. So, I think you have to be an example and a professional, both on and off the pitch.
I think giving 100% in every training session is important as the foundation of any player is created during training sessions. If you train well during the week, you are well prepared for the game. That's what it's all about: leading in every sense. I am lucky enough to have team-mates who are willing to learn. I always think every game is my last one, which gives me even more strength to keep fighting and winning things.
On which coaches have helped him develop his game
We all know Pep Guardiola is all about tactics, all about football. He's very passionate and I think he taught me so much. He's the best coach I've ever had. It's amazing how he works tactically, how he works on the matches, and I believe it falls on us to understand his ideas in terms of style of play. I was very fortunate to have been coached by him.
Of course, each coach gives you something of their own. Starting out in my career, I would say Ricardo Gareca guided me and gave me everything he had for me to become the player I am today. He was a very important coach for me because he was my first one. He guided me and gave me the chance to play and be a champion with Vélez Sarsfield.
Today, I'm coached by Roger Schmidt. I didn't know him beforehand, but he is a coach who has clarity in his ideas, gives confidence to the players, coaches well and has his own personality, which is important to lead a young squad. It's hard to lead a big group and he's doing it the best he can in his first year, and I think that's very important.