Frenkie De Jong sat down with SPORT for an exclusive interview ahead of an important fixture against Napoli in the RO16 of the UEFA Champions League this Saturday. The Dutch-midfielder talked about his recent injury, the dream of lifting the trophy, and more.
How is the team on a mental and emotional level?
We are doing well, there is positive energy in the team and we are looking forward to the match against Napoli. The feelings are really good.
A 0-0 scoreline at Camp Nou works, but I imagine that it is better not to take any risks?
We always play a game with the intention of winning it, no matter the result. You are Barça and you play at home, so you have to go to win.
What can we expect from Napoli? Where can you hurt them at the Camp Nou?
We have seen videos of the first leg in San Paolo and the last Napoli games in Serie A. We know what we have to do, we know what we are going to do and we believe in it, but obviously I am not going to confess how we are going to play because everyone would know, including Napoli (laughs).
Frenkie, do you think the fans can dream of you lifting the trophy on August 23 in Lisbon after the tumultuous final in the League?
Of course, we can dream of winning the Champions League. I think that if we are at the top we are one of the best teams in the world; in the end, we are four victories away from proclaiming ourselves champions and if we show our best version and we are plugged in and we plan the matches well we can win it, of course.
How did you experience the outcome of the League? You were out with injury for a good part.
Like everyone else, I think it is very difficult to win a league when you miss so many points. Of course, we all end up very disappointed by that. We know that we have to improve a lot and all these weeks we have worked for it and to face the game against Naples in the best way. The feelings within the team are now positive.
Messi, your captain, raised his voice. He said that playing the way the team played in the last moments of the league, it was impossible to aspire to win anything. Did you agree with his statements?
He was right, we had lost against Osasuna at home. With all my respect towards them, the normal thing if you are Barça is to win a team like that at home. I think it was normal for him to make those statements because we had just played some bad games.
What has been Setien’s message to lift the team’s spirits these weeks?
We have left behind the League. We lost it, obviously, but having those negative thoughts is of no use anymore. Now we are already looking forward to the Champions League match and we are 100% focused on winning against Napoli. So we have not touched on that topic again, just to correct mistakes and things that needed improvement.
Which teams do you feel are strong in this fight for the trophy? Is there anyone to fear especially?
We are not afraid of anyone. Obviously there are very strong teams in the running, it is difficult for me to bet on one or to tell you Bayern, Madrid, etc. I think that first, you have to have the respect Napoli deserves. It would be a lack of sensitivity to say that one or the other is more favorable. Then we will see our objectives little by little.
You won’t be able to feel the warmth of your people in the stands, Frenkie. What is the message of the dressing room for the fans in this very complicated and atypical situation?
Of course, it is a shame not to have our fans because they always help us a lot. I think that for the rival it is a tremendous difficulty when they come to Camp Nou and play against 100,000 people. My message for the fans is that I know it is difficult for them not to be able to cheer us on from the stadium, but I would only tell them to be positive, to believe in the team; I know that the end of the League was not what was expected, but I would ask them to trust from their homes.
What do you think about your performance this season at Barcelona?
“If I talk about my performance, I could have done a lot more this year. I don’t think I have played many bad games, but I haven’t been able to string together several good ones either. I think that when I have been good I have performed at a correct level, but not good enough”.
How do you see Riqui Puig coming into the first-team dynamics?
“I think Riqui has a lot of quality, he has the Barça DNA, everyone can see it when he’s on the pitch. He knows perfectly how Barça plays, their philosophy. For me, he’s much more than ready to be a starter at Barça, but it is not something that depends on me. We have a lot of good players who can start, so it’s more of a question for the coach. In my opinion, he has tremendous quality”.
What do you think about the whole Arthur scenario?
“It’s sad. The situation is difficult for everyone, for the club, for Arthur himself, for the dressing room. I do not know the details of why it has reached this point so it is difficult for me to give my opinion”.