Rodrigo Bentancur interview: Antonio Conte is intense and always wants 100 per cent - I really like that

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Rodrigo Bentancur interview: Antonio Conte is intense and always wants 100 per cent - I really like that
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Rodrigo Bentancur has even surprised himself by how quickly he has adapted to life in the Premier League.

The Uruguayan has made an impressive start to his Tottenham career since joining from Juventus in January and, before their slip up against Brighton last weekend, was a key figure in their renaissance under Antonio Conte.

Alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in midfield, Bentancur has become a vital component of Conte’s 3-4-3 system that has lifted Spurs to fourth in the race for the Champions League.

New signings arriving in the Premier League from abroad can often need time to adapt to the physical demands of English football.

But Bentancur has enjoyed a near-seamless introduction, which is no surprise when you hear the work he has put in behind the scenes since moving to London.

“No sooner had I arrived I just thought that I need to make an impact,” Bentancur tells Standard Sport.

“I enlisted the help of Daniel, my fitness coach, who I managed to bring over here as well. I knew I would have to be prepared as the English game is so intense and so quick, so end-to-end. I needed to prepare on a number of levels, with my lungs and fitness for the speed of the game.”

Talking to Bentancur, it is easy to see why a workaholic like Conte was so keen to link up with a player so dedicated to his craft.

“Professional footballers have a lot of spare time, so that’s where ‘my uncle’ Daniel comes in,” says Bentancur, who has worked with family friend Daniel since he followed him to Italy when he left Boca Juniors in 2017.

“By spending your spare time doing extra work and fitness work, it’s a positive. Ever since I have arrived I have seen that mentality that Antonio has. That’s something that I really appreciate and I really like as well.

“He is the sort of coach who is very intense with everything and he wants his players to always give the maximum with everything, 100 per cent all the time.”

Bentancur left the small city of Nueva Helvecia in Uruguay to move to bustling Buenos Aires and join Boca Juniors aged 13, and then played in his first Superclasico against River Plate aged 17, which perhaps explains why he has been unfazed by the challenge he has faced.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“It certainly wasn’t easy at the time,” he says of his move to Argentina. “You are going from a town, population of around 10,000, to a massive city with a population of 20 million.

“It was a long period of my career, something special and I never wanted to miss out on. I don’t want to be disrespectful to any fan base in the world, but those Boca fans in that stadium are something different. It’s something special.”

Bentancur comes from a football family. His father, grandad and brother all played professionally, while his cousin is a coach.

The game shaped his childhood, which is why he is keen to work with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, who put on free sporting activities over the Easter holidays.

“If we can lend our profile to help such a cause then that is always a positive,” says Bentancur. “I am looking forward to getting the chance to go along and attend one of these events, because I spoke to Cuti (Cristian Romero), who had gone to an event and met the kids, and he said it was fantastic.”

The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation hosted free sports sessions at N17 arena over the Easter period. (Tottenham Hotspur)
The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation hosted free sports sessions at N17 arena over the Easter period. (Tottenham Hotspur)

Two years after his Boca debut, Bentancur secured a move to Juventus in 2017. He won three Serie A titles and the Coppa Italia twice with Juve and views his four-and-a-half years in Italy as the perfect preparation for working with Conte.

“Italian football is almost like the school for defending,” he says.

“In terms of positional sense and tactical awareness that really came on during my time in Italy, because that’s what they do extremely well and what you learn.

“The kind of concepts and ideas that they (the Tottenham coaching staff) want to get over as well, it’s stuff that I have been used to seeing.”

Bentancur joined Spurs in a double January deal from Juventus alongside Dejan Kulusevski, who has also hit the ground running.

“It does help coming with a team-mate,” says Bentancur. “I knew that he was a great player, but I think he is displaying even more qualities and abilities since he arrived at Tottenham. He’s playing even better than at Juve.

“Our front-three are fantastic players. So our job is really just to get the ball back and give it to them, because it is a 99 per cent chance they are going to score a goal!”

 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

Despite his encouraging start, Bentancur is keen to stress this is only the beginning for him at Tottenham as they bid to bounce back at Brentford on Saturday.

“Everything begins with a dream,” he says. “I can’t say it hasn’t been anything but tough for a kid to come from such a small space, 10,000 population. You would never imagine this.

“But I am lucky enough to have been successful and I think the important thing is that you have to never give up. It’s not about resting on your laurels, it’s all about working hard to maintain that level.”

Throughout the Easter school holidays, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation ran free sporting sessions at the N17 Arena to help keep local families fit and active. To find out more about upcoming programmes, email thf.activities@tottenhamhotspur.com

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