Oriol Romeu: “If you listen to too many people or opinions, you can lose who you are”

It’s easy to see why Girona signed Oriol Romeu. Moving into his thirties, a Premier League staple for seven years with Southampton, he still moves well on the pitch. Perhaps he only measures five feet ten inches (182cm), but he plays like he’s six foot something. Sporting a deliberately shaved head for as long as memory serves, if you had to pick one of Girona’s midfielders to wield the baseball bat in the face of a break-in, his imposing eyebrows leave little room for debate. “Sometimes you have to be a bit nasty, in a good way,” he admits.

And yet, he is the nimble, Spanish midfielder too. Once tipped to at least rotate with, if not replace Sergio Busquets, it doesn’t take long to work out that this is not a holding midfielder, but a pivote. There’s a rhythm, a pulse, a beat that makes his contribution so much more than just keeping his position. Often he touches the ball in the opposite direction to the subsequent pass – just to move the opposition a couple of paces away from the recipient. A subtlety that belongs to fine footballers.

Behind the defiant eyes, there are plots and plans. Romeu isn’t exactly what he seems at first glance, because while outwardly he suggests that he is no a shrinking violet, that strong gaze is often turned inwards, introspecting as much as inspecting his surroundings.

Back at Chelsea, over a decade since he moved now, Juan Mata gave him a book to read and it turned into a library. He admits that after Barcelona and Chelsea, his loan move to Valencia started badly not because of anything he found there, but because he arrived ‘algo crecido’ – too big for his boots.

“Football is one thing and my life is another. I’m sure there will be things that are related, But I’m not the same person on the pitch as I am with my family, it’s hard to relate things for me. I’m not at home being aggressive or thinking about which pass to give,” he smiles.

“But no doubt, somewhere along the line, there will be a connection.”

Perhaps that connection is in his way of approaching things. In 2021 Romeu released a book based on a diary he had taken down over the course of a season at Southampton, in a climate where footballers are encouraged to have round-the-clock security placed on the perimeter of their thoughts.

If there is one thing that jumps out of Football Espana’s time with Romeu, it is that whenever Romeu feels his body failing – he still believes he is at peak fitness – football won’t lose his penchant for exploring the what and the why.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing coaches, probably there will be an opportunity in the future where I can try to be a coach. I love football, I love the game, the footballers, trying to make them better and listening to them. I would like to try it and see if I can be successful.”

How many footballers, or people for that matter, would have mentioned listening to footballers? That list of coaches reads like a masters in modern day coaching too; Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola, Andre Vilas Boas, Rafael Benitez, Armin Veh, to name a few.

And yet Romeu is quite precise in where he gets his information from. He doesn’t have social media himself, and it is clear that he has his reservations on the value of such a crowded room of voices, all vying for quantifiable attention. Asked how it is influencing the managers of today, Romeu lets slip that he spends his spare time listening to Thomas Tuchel.

“It does affect you, if you let it affect you. I was listening to Thomas Tuchel not long ago, about how he didn’t want to listen to praise or criticism, because if you listen to too many people or opinions, you can lose who you are and what you want to do.”

“So maybe I need to watch and analyse, and see if listening to many opinions makes you a more distracted person.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that after Valencia, Barcelona and Chelsea, Romeu retains a degree of disdain for an increasing hysteria present in football.

“I also don’t like listening to lot of opinions. I like to be… not in a bubble, but more like with my close people, and not try to listen to too many points of view.”

Up in the north-east corner of Spain, it also makes sense that he has chosen romance of Girona for his return from England – a city full of alleys that belong in novels, and artistry in every stone.

Michel Sanchez might not belong alongside many of those previous managers in terms of reputation, but tune into any Girona game, and it’s not hard to work out the attraction of working for him. Not many promoted sides find themselves with the fifth-best attack in the division halfway through the season.

“The way he manages the players and the way he wants everyone involved, and makes the whole squad feel involved. It’s awesome, I think he’s doing a great job.”

“The way he wants to attack and press teams, we study teams and work out what is the best way to press them. But I’m learning a lot from him.”

Few have been involved more than Romeu, playing 90 minutes in every La Liga game but one since he signed. Real Madrid and Argentina legend Jorge Valdano recently named them amongst the two most entertaining teams in Spain, and a large part of that is down to their insistence on playing adventurous football that few of their resources dare too. Talented youngsters, mixed with journeymen and veterans to form a team that gives you the impression that while they never know how long they’ll be there, they are there to make the most of a rare culture.

Romeu included. It’s curious dichotomy Romeu leaves you with. On the one hand, there is the footballer and the person that seems clear on his convictions and unafraid of making eye-contact with any challengers. On the other, sits a polite, thoughtful man that seems to actively seek ideas, perspectives and different ways of doing things. If football is about stories, Romeu has plenty of writing to do yet.

Tags Barcelona Chelsea Girona Oriol Romeu Thomas Tuchel
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