Dani Olmo

“I always said I’m Spanish and my wish was to play for Spain”

09/13/2019 · By Iñigo Esteban
Dani Olmo is facing new challenges after a successful summer that has put him in the forefront of the football landscape. © RFEF

You have to have courage and a very clear head to pack your bags at 15 and leave your country and your roots behind to fulfil a dream: to be a professional footballer. And a lot of talent to achieve it, too. Dani Olmo arrived in Croatia in 2015 to become one at Dinamo Zagreb, and this summer, during the European Under-21 Championship, he presented himself to the football world. He tells us about his peculiar road to becoming one of the most promising young players in Spanish football.

This summer, his name was on everyone’s tongue; firstly because of his excellent performance in the European Under-21 Championship won by the Spanish team in Italy, and secondly because of the rumours regarding his future. Dani Olmo (Terrassa, Barcelona, 1998) left FC Barcelona’s youth academy for Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, which would allow him to grow as a footballer. It turned out to be a lucky venture. At 21, he was named MVP of the final, scoring a brilliant goal and standing out alongside other well-known young players of the Spanish league. Several big clubs in Europe tried to sign him, and now he’s facing some new challenges: captaining the new U21 squad, debuting with the Spanish National Team and, at some point, returning to La Liga as an established star.

In 2015 you left Spain and moved to Croatia, which, in football terms, is not as powerful as your homeland. Why Croatia, and why then?

Basically, I went because of the project they proposed. What Dinamo Zagreb offered was not provided by any other club. I would be training with the first team at 16, and at that time we felt it was the best option for me and, above all, for my future. That decision helped me a lot, not only on a professional level, but also as a person. Once I was there, the adaptation period was supposed to be the first year—I would be playing in the second team, and after three months I was already training with the first team and learning its dynamics. That definitely made me grow.

Isn’t it a lot of pressure for someone as young as you were then?

I knew very well what I wanted to be and what that meant—what I had to do and how much I would have to fight to become the player I am now. There have been more or less tough moments, but the truth is that I think my goal was very clear, and it’s been worth it.

How about the country? What’s it like to live in a place with a culture that is so different from your own?

It is obviously a different country with a different culture and habits, but they took me in like one of their own from day one, and I felt at home right away. Zagreb is a very beautiful city, ideal for a footballer and absolutely worth a visit.

You’ve had a very busy summer: UEFA Under-21 Euro 2019 champion with the national team, being named man of the match in the final against Germany, the rumours about your future—what’s it been like for you?

It was a very good championship, we had a great group and we have the result to show for it. We were gung-ho, and we reached the goal we’d set ourselves beforehand, which was to become European Champions. As for me personally, the truth is that I tried to do my bit for the common good.

Before the tournament you had played only a few games with the team. For the fans, perhaps in part because you’re playing in a foreign league, you’ve been one of the great surprises, and with your performances (starting in many games, MVP of the final with goal included), you’ve made yourself known to the general public. What’s your assessment?

I was aware that I hadn’t played too many official matches with the national team and that I had to show I was on the right track in Croatia. That would increase my visibility. In the end I got the opportunity to play, we all played a great tournament and were able to enjoy the game.

"Playing for the Spanish National Team is the highest aim. That’s my goal"

Is it true that you were offered the possibility of playing for the Croatian national team and you rejected it because you wanted to represent Spain?

That’s more of a press thing, really. It’s true that at some point they told me they would like to see me play for Croatia, but I always said I’m Spanish and that my wish was to play for Spain.

After this summer, is the challenge now to make your debut with the senior national squad? The Tokyo Olympics?

Playing for the Spanish National Team is the highest aim for any player, and I’m no exception. That’s my goal, but I’m aware that I have to take things slow, always keeping my feet on the ground. Now we have to focus on this new European title, and also on the doors playing in the Olympic Games could open. You have to go little by little and I’m sure that, if everything goes the way it has so far, my time will come.

One of the changes you’re experiencing is being the new captain of this U21 squad. What does that mean to you?

I’m proud of it. I’m sure we’ll all go for it. We know each other, although not all of us have played together, but these first days have been very good.

When it comes to club teams, you’ve always said you’re comfortable in Croatia, but do you see yourself coming back to Spain in the short or medium term?

Yes, I don’t rule it out. I’ve always said I would like to return to La Liga. In the end it didn’t happen this summer, for different reasons. I’m very happy in Zagreb and very focused on the team and the National Team. We’ll see what happens in the future, it’s not something I worry about at the moment.