Villarreal star Arnaut Danjuma grew up idolising Cristiano Ronaldo but insists his team-mates are NOT scared of the superstar as they look to down Man United… the ex-Bournemouth man has taken LaLiga by storm after snubbing a Premier League return
- Villarreal ace Arnaut Danjuma says his team are confident of beating Man United
- The former Bournemouth midfielder reveals he worshipped Ronaldo as a child
- But he insists that his team-mates aren’t scared of Ronaldo and have a game plan
- The Dutchman was Cherries’ top scorer last term and joined Villarreal for £21m
- He has wasted no time adapting to LaLiga, scoring three goals in his last five
Not every player makes the leap from the Championship to LaLiga, but if there’s one thing Arnaut Danjuma knows it’s how to adapt.
Last season he was tearing up England’s second tier with Bournemouth as their top scorer, and now he’s already taken the Spanish top flight by storm after sealing a £21million move to Villarreal. He has three goals in his last five games with the Yellow Submarinem and will be looking to sink Manchester United ahead of their Champions League clash on Wednesday night.
The 24-year-old winger got a taste of life in the Premier League with Bournemouth in 2019, but it was a season to forget as Eddie Howe’s men were consigned to the drop. So this game at Old Trafford is a shot at redemption of sorts, but it also holds significance because of who he might be lining up against.
Arnaut Danjuma (left) is looking forward to a meeting with his hero Cristiano Ronaldo (right) as his Villarreal side take on Manchester United in the Champions League at Old Trafford
The Dutch star earned a £21m move to Spain after firing in 17 goals for Bournemouth last term
‘I am secretly a fan of Ronaldo!’ he tells Sportsmail – laughing nervously.
‘He is definitely a player I have always looked up to and I respect him in a lot of ways.
‘Cristiano Ronaldo used to be, and still is, an inspiration for me in football, so that shows that I’m doing something good as well. The minute you meet your idols – or your rivals let me say – you’re doing something good.’
Fair point – he is doing something good. Last season he was up against the likes of Rotherham and Wycombe Wanderers with Bournemouth and smashed in 17 goals. Now he’s pitting himself against the world’s very best and already has three this season – including one in the Champions League against Atalanta on Matchday One.
He said he respects the Portuguese superstar ‘in a lot of ways’ after watching him as a child
Villarreal will be tasked with handling an upgraded United, also featuring Raphael Varane (left)
The Dutchman is supremely confident in his own ability, and that of his team-mates, and insists they are not scared of Ronaldo or any other of United’s greatest assets – stressing they will head to Old Trafford with one objective – all three points.
This is a rematch of the Europa League final, where Villarreal won on penalties, so Unai Emery’s men know how to beat them – although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have seriously upgraded, with Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho also joining the marquee addition in Ronaldo.
‘Scared? That’s a bit of an exaggeration,’ he says. ‘You definitely need to keep a five time Ballon D’or winner in the back of your head, but I think we’re confident.
‘We just played against Real Madrid, we put in a decent performance (0-0 draw). To be really honest with you, I think we’re going there to win. We’re not going to just participate. I’ll back my team, I’ll back myself and I’ll back the coach. I’ll back the entire staff. There’s no point going there if you’re not going to win.
Danjuma has made a flying start to his career in LaLiga, netting three in his last five games
‘You need to be aware of great players and [Ronaldo] is one of them, so we obviously keep him in the back of our mind and during our analysis.
‘You can’t be impressed with others players on the pitch. I think I’ve got the balance very well – I’ve got the personality to step on the pitch and respect the opposition, but then again it won’t influence the game in any way. I need to play all the way for my team-mates and I’ll do that the minute the whistle blows.’
Former Arsenal boss Emery was hailed for his tactics in the last meeting between these two sides to mastermind a stunning fourth Europa League triumph, and while Danjuma wouldn’t discuss what Villarreal’s strategy would be, he said the team had a ‘very good game plan’ to hurt United.
‘Against every team we’ve got a certain game plan,’ he added. ‘I think that’s one of the very good qualities of Unai and I think that’s the reason why they won against United and Arsenal.
Wednesday’s clash is a re-run of the Europa League final, which saw Villarreal boss Unai Emery get the better of United as his side won on penalties to see him lift a fourth Europa League title
‘We have a very good game plan in hand against United. I’m not sure if I can lay it on the table, but we certainly have a way of how we want to win there.’
Emery is slowly rebuilding his reputation, which became fractured, after failing to lead Arsenal to a trophy or the top four during his ill-fated 18-month spell.
The Spaniard’s hands-on approach with Danjuma has been a huge part of his fast start to life at the club, and he admits he is learning plenty from him.
‘A lot already, a lot, a lot,’ he says. ‘It helped me perform straight away [because of] the way that he manages me. The minute I came to the club he looked after me, speaking a lot to me, helping me a lot in training, making me get used to the way that he wants to play, the culture of the club, my team-mates.
‘I sat down with him watched a lot of videos about other players and the way they play, the way that he wants me to play with other players.’
Danjuma has hailed the impact of the Spaniard and how he has helped him adapt into the team
The 24-year-old turned down a handful of Premier League sides to join the ambitious Villarreal
The Nigerian born player started his career in Holland, but joined Club Brugge after failing to make an impression in PSV’s academy
Danjuma was a wanted man in this past summer after his impressive exploits last season – with a handful of Premier League clubs keen to bring him back to the top flight.
But ultimately it was an easy decision to snub those bids after feeling wanted by Emery, as well as the allure of playing Champions League football.
‘Yeah, there was concrete interest from the Premier League,’ he continues. ‘I can’t reveal who, but I made a clear choice of going to Villarreal. Once the Europa League winners are interested in you, you need to respect the interest.
‘I’m a fairly intuitive person, so the moment Unai started speaking to me it just felt close to home, it felt natural, it felt good, it felt a logical next step in my career. Playing in the Championship for another season, I couldn’t do it.
‘Maybe if we went up at Bournemouth, we could have had a different conversation, but I’m just very eager, very determined to put myself on the highest platform possible.’
Holland international Danjuma – born to a Dutch father and a Nigerian mother – has dealt with turbulence and a handful of set-backs throughout his career. He moved from his native Nigeria to Holland at the age of just four and later linked up with the PSV Eindhoven academy – who were convinced he wasn’t first team material.
Danjuma is used to settling in different leagues and considers the Premier League the best one
It was at NEC where he started show his promise, scoring just once in his first season but then netting 14 in his second. That was enough to earn a move to Club Brugge, and just a year later Bournemouth splashed out £13m for his signature.
Three countries in as many years might be tough for a lot of players, but Danjuma is used to bouncing around and feels it’s served him well during his career. He might not have set the Premier League alight immediately but it didn’t take him long to get used to his surroundings, and now he’s flourishing in Spain.
‘I got really well accustomed to moving abroad from a very young age, so it was easy to get used to the English game because I’ve done it twice already,’ he explains.
‘It’s very easy for me to get used to the way of living in Spain, from the team-mates to the language, everything. It’s very easy for me to get accustomed to something new.’
Playing on the Old Trafford turf won’t be a new experience, however. Danjuma has fond memories of walking out at the Theatre of Dreams as a PSV youngster, and he also featured there for Bournemouth during his sole Premier League season.
He is fulfilling his dreams of playing at the highest level with Villarreal but has refused to rule out a future return to the Premier League amid ‘plenty’ of English interest in the recent window
‘I can remember scoring there in the Premier League, but I was offside!’ he recalls. ‘Old Trafford for me, it’s one of the best stadiums in the world. Not only the stadium, but it’s one of the best teams in the world.
‘Obviously having played there, I know what it means to play in the Premier League, so I really respect the league. I think it is the most competitive, the toughest league in the world.’
So, is a return to the English top flight in the cards for the future?
‘I aim for the highest possible [accolades] in my career and play the highest platform of football. If that means the Champions League I want to prove myself, if that means the Premier League then that will be the Premier League.
‘I came to Villarreal to prove myself again but I’m definitely visualising the next step.’
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