Kieran Trippier is running scared. Sheltering at the side of the pitch at the José Zorrilla, he looks over his shoulder. “I’ve got to keep my eyes on him at all costs,” he says. Which is when Yannick Carrasco comes into view. “He’s been chasing me around with a razor,” the Englishman says. “We had a deal that if we won La Liga, he would shave my head.”
And Kieran Trippier has just won La Liga with Atlético Madrid, the first major trophy of his career.
Outside, thousands of fans have made the 195km trip from Madrid and are gathered in the car park, celebrating. Inside, his teammates are waiting in the corner to go and join them, Luis Suárez rounding everyone up, calling him.
“I can’t put it into words,” Trippier says, still in his kit, apart from the white trainers and socks that replace his boots, ready to board the bus like that, arriving back after midnight. “It’s been a roller-coaster season and to be able to help my team achieve this, I can’t put it into words. To come here after the last two, three years at Tottenham, for the president and the manager to give me that opportunity, to come and play for Atlético – it’s been a great journey. And now I’ve won La Liga.”
No one expected that, not even Trippier. “Of course not,” he concedes. “Madrid and Barcelona have been dominating La Liga for the last seven years since Atlético won it but I looked at the team, the manager and the players they have and I just thought: ‘Why not?’ Go abroad, test myself, different league. It would be good for my family, my kids, and I don’t look back. I’m one of those people that doesn’t mind being thrown in at the deep end. And I just give it all I can.
“People doubted the move when I first arrived, people were saying I won’t get past the halfway line in a Simeone system …”
Hi, Danny. “… I don’t listen to anything, though; the most important thing is my wife and my kids and we didn’t think twice about coming here.”
Danny Mills may not have foreseen it, but Trippier has played very high and very wide for Atlético – even more so this season. His has been a vital role, too. When he was suspended, staff at the club repeatedly commented that they hadn’t expected a full-back to be so important, the impact of his absence so significant. In part, that’s because he isn’t really a full-back, at least not exactly. Instead, he has played a hybrid role, shifting with different phases of play, somewhere between wing-back and full-back. Without him, this is a system that doesn’t work.
There was a reason why he played every minute until his ban and was immediately returned to the team after it. There is a reason why he has finished with 28 league appearances – every one 90 minutes long. In which he has provided six assists and not collected a yellow card. Nor, thankfully, did his absence deny him, or his team, the title. It might just have made it more dramatic, taking it to the final day.
The last five games have been on a knife edge: a 1-0 win over Elche in which a last-minute penalty hit Jan Oblak’s post; a draw 0-0 with Barcelona, Leo Messi’s late free-kick flying just wide; a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad which saw them desperately hanging on in the final minutes; a 2-1 win against Osasuna, coming from with goals in the 82nd and 88th minutes; and now a 2-1 victory at Valladolid. Again, they trailed. Again, a Suárez strike saw them through to take the title, his 21st of the season.
“It’s incredible having Luis come to the club, because it just gives everyone a lift when you see someone like that come through the door,” Trippier says.
“For me to be able to come back in February and help my team to this objective, I can’t put it into words. I don’t look back. When it all [the ban] happened, I was watching the team [and] suffer[ing]. But it’s not about one player; it’s about the team and they did very well when I was not involved. And I’m just happy we won.
“It’s not easy – you’re going to go through bad spells as a team. It’s about reacting to the challenge and we certainly have. Going 1-0 down today, Osasuna, the last few games … it has been [crazy] but it is just about how you react. Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla – you can’t focus on them. Luckily, the players have responded. It’s been an incredible journey. Thirty-eight games: it’s not easy.
“Nerves? It’s hard to say. Maybe before the game, but once you cross the white line all you think about is trying to win, even when we went 1-0 down. We went in at half-time and we knew that we could still get in the game, like we did against Osasuna with 10 minutes left. We always keep believing but we’ve done it. And we’ve done it the hard way.”
Costly too. “What? What?” Trippier says. Carrasco is there grinning. “I’ve come to cut your hair,” he says.