Meet Oriol Romeu – the Premier League footballer who has not bought clothes for a year

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Oriol Romeu has been working with his own nutritionist over the past 18 months and helped revitalises his time at Southampton - GETTY IMAGES
Oriol Romeu has been working with his own nutritionist over the past 18 months and helped revitalises his time at Southampton - GETTY IMAGES

Oriol Romeu is a Clint Eastwood fan, but not in the way you might expect. Forget 'Dirty Harry': the Southampton midfielder is more taken with the veteran actor’s view on the environment, and one quote in particular: "Everyone talks about how to leave a better planet for our children, but we should try to leave better children for our planet."

It resonated with Romeu, and strengthened his own resolve to make a difference, in his own small way. The 30-year-old, who recently became a father himself, decided, for example, to eschew 'fast fashion' and go a year without purchasing any clothes.

“I was buying too many and I didn’t need them,” he admits. “Maybe it was because of the lockdown I realised that I only need, say, three T-shirts or three pairs of trousers. So in 2021 I didn’t buy anything - I had too many things already.”

It is far removed from the image of the materialistic, millionaire footballer but then Romeu certainly does not fit that stereotype. Indeed, self-improvement is his life mantra: from hiring a personal nutritionist (disregard, for a moment, his weakness for his homemade cheesecake), trekking around Nepal and India, and studying his Spanish compatriot, the tennis great Rafael Nadal. Only the latter seems not to have had an impact, given he was recently thrashed 6-0 by his manager at Southampton, Ralph Hasenhuttl, who admittedly used to be a semi-professional at the sport.

Now aged 30 Romeu is in the best shape of his career and talks enthusiastically about working with his own nutritionist over the past 18 months. “I changed a few things and it has improved every aspect of my level,” he says. “I like to cook but my food knowledge was very limited. I did not know enough about what nutrients everything had. I wanted to inform myself and make better choices so I could split everything to get the protein, the carbohydrates, the good fats.”

Oriol Romeu of Southampton during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton at Molineux on January 15, 2022 - GETTY IMAGES
Oriol Romeu of Southampton during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton at Molineux on January 15, 2022 - GETTY IMAGES

There is a Spanish saying that Romeu lives by: when you are happy with your conscience it means you are doing the right things every day. “You don’t regret anything,” he explains. “If I am not playing I don’t want to look back and think, ‘I should have done this or done that’. I approach it as a challenge: what do I have to do today to get back tomorrow or next week or next month? And that helps me feel those situations better and with a better mind-set.”

He took that approach in February 2020 when he was out of the team. Fearing his exile may become permanent, he sought a meeting with the manager. Was it a showdown? No, instead Romeu asked to play for Southampton’s Under-23s to regain his sharpness with team-mate Che Adams doing the same. Hasenhuttl was impressed and has since referred to Romeu as the most professional player he has worked with.

“He saw that when I was not playing, when I was not feeling my best I would still stick to my routines and my habits,” Romeu explains.

He applies that conscientious approach to other aspects of his life. “Anything we can help to set the right example and do the right thing,” he says. “We are in a position where we are seen and sometimes people look at us or up to us. I think it’s important to follow what you think is right. It’s not to say we are perfect because we are not perfect. But at least try and do the right thing yourself.”

Hence his interest in the environment and consumerism. “We are always wanting more and more – a new jacket or change your phone every year or your shoes every two weeks, Apps and things you find hard to resist. It’s quite dangerous if you can’t find the right balance and especially with us, with footballers, because we get paid a lot of money and maybe we find it hard to make the right choices. You need to be able to say no to things and make sure it doesn’t go too far. You need to be able to resist looking at your phone too much.”

Romeu is a tennis nut. He is also a big fan of Nadal and not just because of his extraordinary ability, “his attitude, his way of approaching things”.

“I really admire the way he is. I watched the Amazon Prime documentary about his academy and I thought it was brilliant the way he really engages with everything, how he spoke and tried to advise and tried to help,” Romeu says.

"And how humble he is considering all he has done. As an example when he was in New York he had a driver but he didn’t sit in the back because he didn’t like that feeling. Instead he sat up front next to him. It just shows how he wants to be, how he feels. Hopefully we will have more sportsmen like him.”

Rafael Nadal - AP
Rafael Nadal - AP

Romeu took part in a club-organised tennis tournament during a recent international break. Despite being the best amongst the players he was no match for Hasenhuttl. “The manager was quite good, I have to say. I didn’t have my best day and it wasn’t close but I need to defend myself here as I beat him at table tennis!”

It is another sign of the togetherness at Southampton, which will be needed on Saturday when they host Manchester City. Pep Guardiola, a fellow Catalan and Barcelona protegee, regards Romeu as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, and the man himself does not sound phased at the prospect of a meeting with the champions - even identifying “the space behind their high defensive line” as an area to exploit.

Southampton may be stuck resolutely in mid-table but they still feel upwardly mobile, not least because the air of uncertainty around their ownership has been cleared by the recent takeover.

"I didn’t feel like there was any kind of anxiety before it happened,” Romeu says. “If anything it has helped everyone think: ‘Oh, we want to get bigger and if I want to stay at this club I have to do better because they will want to sign more players and better ones, spend more money.'

"If this club wants to be bigger then we will have to finish in a better position and play better football. And that’s a good way of pushing everyone and making sure we are all aware that this club wants to improve. It's something that we needed.”

As Dirty Harry might say: that would make Romeu’s day.

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