The Romanian U19 team is very close to qualifying for the European Championships, and in the build up to that, Romanian sports website lead.ro spent some time at the training ground and with Arsenal youngster Vlad Dragomir.
Our thanks to Arseblog reader Lucian for the translation of the interview (original here), and there’s some very interesting stuff about his life at the club, how he’s being taught and developed, and much more.
It begins by him talking about his younger years …
I started at LPS Banatul (a sports high school in western Romania). On the first day of school, in first grade, a teacher came and asked who’d like to play football. I begged my parents to let me go play. During training we saw that I was a bit better, more developed than the others and so I decided to continue. The trainer contacted my parents and told them he’d like me to keep playing.
But before playing at junior level I also played on the street, with my friends, and the goal was made of just two rocks! I also played in the village of my grandparents, there we built the goal from wood and it even had a crossbar.
In school we played on a small synthetic pitch, so for about four or five years I learned to make a first touch (stop), make a pass, kick-ups. I learned the basics there and then went on to Poli Timisoara where I began to understand what the future might hold for me.
You started early in Poli’s senior team, at 15.
Yes, I had my debut in the second division and in parallel started to come to the national team as well. That was already a different level, I had to adapt: an international game is not the same as a game at junior level, or even in the second division.
When did you feel that football isn’t just playing around anymore? And when did your parents feel that? In the beginning you had to ask for their permission.
Honestly, I only truly learned what football means after I arrived at Arsenal. While I was at Poli it was easier for me, I was in some ways their kid, I knew they needed me. It was much easier, no stress in training because I knew that no matter what happened I’d get to play come the weekend.
At Arsenal we’re all at the same level and in order to play you need to give 100% in training, every single day. Otherwise you simply won’t play. This gave me a lot to think about because in the beginning I went home dead tired and then on game day, didn’t play. I thought a lot about these things, spoke to more experienced players and, gathering info from everyone around, and started taking measures.
What’s the programme, the routine at a club such as Arsenal with an academy that’s known worldwide?
We come in the morning at 8:30 and stay till 4pm. How much can you train? Two hours! You go to the gym for 1h30 and for the remaining time you’re there at the club and have all facilities, everything you might need to analyze a game and improve yourself. All training sessions are recorded, so you can see how you did. Or you go to the technicians and tell them you want to see Ozil’s latest game, and you get to see him only, all the time, with and without the ball. They send you everything you want to know via email.
If you want to spend your whole day at the club, till 10pm, you can do it. The coaches also stay after their programme ends. You can go to the coach and say “Coach, I want you to show me something at the blackboard because when I have the ball and the right wing back is asking for it I don’t quite know what to do”.
He goes to the board, shows you a video and explains every single thing you have to do in every second, every situation of play.
It is fantastic to have all these things available, I have everything I need to progress. I have the feeling that the training in itself is actually very little of what I’m doing there. Football is rather in my head than with the ball at my foot. Before I used to get the ball and then see what to do with it, find a solution, something.
Now I already think what to do before I receive the ball. It took me a while to get used to all of this, at the highest level of football everything happens in a few seconds during which you have to take the best decisions. Otherwise, seeing what defenders/full-backs are in the game nowadays, if you’re not concentrated and ready all the time, they eat you alive as a midfielder or striker.
When you got to Arsenal where did you feel you were lagging behind, coming from our football?
I was missing power/physicality a lot. I got to the gym and wasn’t able to do two correct pull-ups. Others, even smaller than me, were doing pull-ups with 10kg weights added to them. In Romania they don’t make you train in the gym too much, while in England power training is as important as pitch training. If you don’t have the power you can’t do anything.
How did Arsenal become interested in you?
I understood they’d been following my games for the national team for about two years, then they contacted me through my agent. Only this year did I understand what a big step I’ve taken by signing for Arsenal. In the beginning I didn’t want to leave. Luckily for me, my parents understood what a big chance this was. It has been pretty hard for them to convince me to go and see how how this London thing would play out. I had just been with Poli training in Antalya and the flight back was horrendous, I’d been really scared. And when I finally got home my parents told me I have to go to Arsenal the next day.
I’d had a horrible day, I didn’t want to go. I was also injured and couldn’t understand how to go and do the tests injured. In the end they convinced me. They treated me there for four or five days, I got better and they invited me to play. I told them I hadn’t trained, I was not prepared, but the coach insisted I should play and told me to simply have fun on the pitch.
It was my worst game! After the game I went to my parents and told them to leave immediately because I was ashamed to meet the coach after the way I’d played. But they were all happy and I couldn’t understand why. Only afterwards did they tell me that I hadn’t come for tests, that Arsenal wanted me anyway and they had invited me to see if I liked it there.
Who were your childhood idols and who are you looking up to now?
I only watched the important games as a kid. I admired Cristiano Ronaldo, he was at his peak. Like now actually. Even though he wasn’t playing my position and though I know Messi’s better than him, it was him I liked, I was watching him.
Now I’ve started to follow players who play in my position. I’m following Ozil a lot. I sometimes go to the games of the first-team and watch only him. It’s very interesting to study how he follows every player on the pitch, he scans everything and when he gets the ball he passes it without looking. What he does is very hard, but if you understand how it’s done it’s great!
Does it help you that you have a player like Ozil in the first-team who’s left footed, like you, playing in your position/role?
It helps, of course, I learn some automatic movements which he too has. Arsenal are organized like Barcelona, they play the same way – same system – from kids groups to the first-team. If something changes in the way the first-team plays, we change it as well. For example if the first team arrives 3’45min before a game, we change that as well, we don’t come 3’30 like before. Everything they do we do too, so when the time comes to join the first-team we’ll be perfectly prepared for that.
You already made this step, you train with the first-team, you’ve been called up for several games. How is the interaction with Arsenal’s big players?
I had expected a much bigger shock, but the players are very forthcoming, very friendly, they immediately make you feel like one of them, like you’ve been friends for years. I was more stressed at the first training with Poli than with Arsenal. I couldn’t believe it when I saw all first-team players coming to shake hands with us! They notice when you’re down, they give you tips, they push if you need it. They don’t treat you as a kid.
You want to talk to one of them? They’ll find time for you. Me personally I wanted to speak to Per Mertesacker at all costs. I was going through a rougher period and I asked him what he’d do if he were me. He gave me some really helpful answers. I also watched him prepare the game, motivate the team as captain. He spoke to us reserves already in the changing room and asked us to be together with the guys on the pitch.
And how’s the relationship with Wenger? Is the atmosphere at Arsenal burdensome right now? Do you feel the pressure from the stands?
Of course, it would be difficult at any club. We feel it’s a complicated period but we try to go forward, we cannot sit and ask for pity.
The pressure is mostly felt by the players. But we go to their games and feel the pressure too, because we’re close to them and want everything to go as well as possible. We know we might be there as well and misplace a ball, and that would disappoint the fans.
It is very hard to stay positive in such moments, but this can also be an important lesson for the future for us youngsters. The mental part is very important, we have two-three psychologists with us at the team and we really make use of them. Me personally I speak to them very often, because they help me.
What did you find hardest to get used to there?
It was difficult to adapt to their way of playing, their rhythm, much faster, much more powerful, two touches at most.
How’s life in London?
I spend a lot of time at the club and when I get home I don’t really feel like going out. It takes a lot of time to go out there (in London), not like here at us where you go somewhere and then take a cab and in 10 minutes you can already be somewhere else. (Note: Timisoara only has about 300,000 inhabitants).
Does it help to have your family there?
Yes, of course. Now I can say that after training I go home. Before, when I lived at a host-family I said I go home but I was going to strangers. Now it is much better.
What plans do you have for the Elite Tournament with the national team?
We want to top our group. We’ve played some of these teams before and we won. We know there are some very difficult games waiting for us, there is a bit of pressure because we play at home, but if stay together and play as a group as we did at the qualification in Greece I’m sure we’ll make it to the Euros.
Interesting stuff there, and thanks again to Lucian for going to the trouble of translating that from Romanian for us.
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