'For a defender there's no better place in the world to be' - Trippier

Madrid (AFP) –


Kieran Trippier had just finished his Atletico Madrid debut and while all the other players had gone, he stayed on the pitch a little longer.

He had his first victory, a clean sheet, and an assist too, swinging in the cross for Alvaro Morata's winner.

As he walked off, Trippier pointed at someone in the crowd, applauded and threw a clenched fist above his head, the gratitude visible on his face.

"There was this one Atletico fan, I could hear him non-stop for the first 45 minutes," Trippier said in an exclusive interview with AFP.

"He was shouting at me, in a good way, in Spanish and English. He was speaking so fast I found it difficult to understand him but every time I took a throw-in or when I was walking I could just hear this one voice. I wanted to say thank you."

Trippier has played three games in La Liga for Atletico, thrown straight into the starting line-up after signing from Tottenham for 22 million euros ($24.14 million) in July.

That debut meant a lot, given where he had come from, a disappointing final season for Spurs, and what he had come into, a defence regarded as the most steely in Europe over the past decade.

Yet moving to Spain was the biggest leap. Trippier is the only Englishman playing in La Liga this season and the first to play for Atletico in almost 100 years.

"Every decision I've taken in my career has been a brave one," he says. "Football is about taking risks.

"I'd always fancied playing abroad so I had discussions with Tottenham and said I wanted a new challenge, a new chapter for me and my family.

"To play in Spain was an amazing opportunity, I didn't want it to slip away. No regrets."

- 'I'll try to fit in' -

"No regrets", something Trippier repeats and a mantra that seems to guide his all-in approach to life in Spain. There are still adjustments to be made.

"It is difficult eating later than in England, I get hungry," Trippier says with a smile. "And I'm not a big tapas fan yet, I don't like sharing! But it's okay, I'll try to fit in as much as I can."

He is learning Spanish, with two-hour lessons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Already he understands instructions on the pitch.

"Learning is difficult at first but it's essential, that's a given," Trippier said. "You want to interact with everyone, from teammates to fans to staff, everyone at the club. I feel like I'm doing that already."

Atletico's beating heart is Diego Simeone, their coach who led the club to their first league title in 18 years in 2014 and who is remoulding this season, with new signings and an almost-entirely new defence too.

Trippier puffs his cheeks. "He's unbelievable," he says. "The passion he has -- in games you see him celebrating tackles like goals -- it gives you such a lift.

"You can see over the years how strong Atletico have been, his teams have always looked like a family and I feel that now.

"It all comes from Cholo. I think he can take me to the next level. For a defender I don't think there's a better place in the world to be."

Atletico have won three games out of three so far and there is talk in Spain of the title.

"We've had a good start," Trippier says. "We try not to listen to the noise outside."

But Trippier's own start has not gone unnoticed. He was recalled to the England squad on Thursday by Gareth Southgate, who had flown out to watch him play against Leganes four days earlier.

"I texted him to say thanks for coming out to watch me and for the support," said Trippier. "It meant a lot to know I'm still in his thinking."

- 'I'm taking a step up' -

But he never feared moving abroad might harm his international career.

"I'm working with one of the best coaches in the world," he said. "And Atletico is one of the biggest teams in Europe. I'm not taking a step down, I'm taking a step up."

He was dropped in May before the Nations League finals after a poor season for Tottenham that was all the more surprising given his superb showing at last year's World Cup.

"Injuries played a big part but I've got no excuses for last season," Trippier said. "I just struggled for fitness and sometimes I was a bit selfish in that even when I was injured I played when I should have taken a step back to get fit.

"But you learn from your mistakes and I'm feeling fresh now for the new season."

He says his relationship with Mauricio Pochettino remains strong. "I have a lot to be grateful to him for," Trippier said.

"At the end we had a great talk about coming here. He spoke very highly of Cholo, of Spain and living here in Madrid. He wished me nothing but the best. We left on very positive terms."

For Trippier, a brave decision for a fresh start. In his words, no regrets.