He was the most used player by Zinedine Zidane in Real Madrid’s double winning season and Lucas Vazquez admitted that the magnitude of the season’s achievements are still sinking in.
As Los Blancos completed their first LaLiga and Champions League double since 1958, the 25-year-old featured in 50 of the side’s 60 games, although he didn’t play in the Cardiff.
However, he isn’t bitter over that and was simply delighted with what the club managed to do during an outstanding campaign.
Four titles, a double for the first time since 1958, how do you reflect on Madrid’s season?
“It has been a spectacular season. From start to finish, the team did a great job. In the league, we led and controlled our fate almost all season and in the end, I think we are justified champions. Winning the Champions League with this club is something special and we did it by winning it for the second consecutive year, which nobody had ever achieved before.”
You played 50 games, that is more than any other player, despite not enjoying starter status.
“The fact that I played 50 games is something to be happy about. It is an important figure. If I have done well, it is because the coach trusts me and gives me many opportunities. I just try to repay him on the field and hope I can do it for many more games and many more years.”
How important have the second string side been, who have impressed whenever Zidane has chosen them?
“That has been a little bit of the secret to our success this season. The fact that we can make nine or 10 changes in a game means the team is more rested and all players in the squad are more involved. Above all, we can reach an important game like the Champions League final in as fresh a condition as when we started the season. It has allowed us to compete well in two competitions, LaLiga and the Champions League, and given us a good chance of winning them.”
Was Zidane always clear with you? Did he explain from the beginning what your role would be?
“Yes, from the start of the season he told us what his idea was and what each player’s role would be in the team. The truth is he delivered on that. He gave us all opportunities, he gave everyone playing time. That makes it a group success as well as an individual one. Zidane only asks that you train well and then he decides on the games we will play in.”
A starter one day, substitute the next, then a few minutes in the next game… is it difficult to keep the focus and intensity when you are coming in and out of line-ups like that?
“I think it comes down to the motivation you have for playing for Madrid. The fact that I can play for Real Madrid means that I am always ready, knowing that we need to win. We are competitive players, young people and we always want to win. In the end, that is reflected in the results. Everyone wants to be a starter, that’s clear but the one who makes those decisions is the coach. It is up to us to work hard and be at our best when we are needed.”
On a personal level, what does Zidane ask of you? More work in midfield or creativity when in attack?
“Both. Defensively, he wants me to help the side a lot and that means dropping into midfield to help the central midfielders. In attack, he is a coach who always gives us a lot of freedom in that department which means each of us can get the best out of ourselves.”
After a season like that, playing 50 games and winning the double, how do you feel seeing the Spain side be selected and you weren’t among those picked by Julen Lopetegui?
“Man, I suppose that just like me, there will be many other players who are disappointed not to be selected. The truth is that you always want to play for your country, it is the highest honour so it is tough when you don’t but what you must do is work hard to be in the coach’s next list. With a World Cup coming up, that’s very important.”
So your objective is to be going to Russia in 2018?
“Of course. The goal has to be to be that. Being able to enjoy playing in a World Cup is the ultimate for any player and I hope I can experience it. As always, it will only happen through hard work. I have already played in a European Championsip, which everyone talks about as being the sister competition of the World Cup, but I hope to get the opportunity to experience both.”
After 59 years, Real achieve a league and Champions League double. What does that feel like? Madrid aren’t used to enjoying it.
“Honestly, it is an incredible feeling to be able to go to Cibeles twice in two weeks to celebrate two important titles with our fans. Achieving it makes us feel very lucky and happy. It wants to make us improve even more.”
How did a club like Madrid go so long without doing it?
“Because it is always difficult to win a title. You have to work hard and this year you saw what happened when we did that. The fact that we achieved two in the same year makes us reflect on it and realise how important it was. The players and coaching staff feel like this is a great group.”
Let’s talk about LaLiga. Did the team have doubts after losing El Clasico in the final minute against Barcelona?
“When you lose at home against a title rival it does make you rethink somethings. However, we were in a very good position and had the game in hand against Celta so we knew it was still in our hands. When you depend on yourself, then you must trust yourself. So we did. Fortunately, it went well.”
After five years without winning the league, is it possible that LaLiga was more important than the Champions League?
“It is difficult to choose. You want to taste both. They are two very important competitions and we were happy to win both. It had been a long time since we won LaLiga and we did really want that one because it is a tough tournament to win. There are 38 games and you must fight a lot. In Madrid, demand is always at the maximum so our goal is always to win everything.”
A treble couldn’t be won because of the Copa del Rey loss against Celta. How many times was that strange game discussed?
“The Copa got away from us and it left us out of a competition that we really wanted to win. We will go all out next year to win it.”
A year ago you did well at the San Siro with the penalty [in the Champions League final] but this time didn’t feature in Cardiff. How did you deal with that?
“Football is like that. No two matches are the same, no two Champions League finals are the same. You must analyse everything and learn from mistakes as well as improving on successes. Despite everything, I have played in 10 Champions League games which isn’t bad. I hope I can also put La Duodecima on my CV [laughs]!”
After a few years of Barcelona dominance, have these three Champions League wins in four years turned the tide in favour of Madrid?
“We are happy with what we are doing. We want to continue playing well and winning titles. After a few years, then you can look at cycles.”
What did Zidane say at half-time in the final against Juventus to get such a radical change out of the team?
“He told us that we were fine, we should trust in ourselves and what we were doing. He said that if we did that when we would win for sure.”
From the outside, it seems that one of the keys to Real’s success is the chemistry of the group. How is that looked at from within?
“Well it is actually the same as it looks from the outside. We are always laughing and joking, everyone gets along, we have fun… that is reflected on the field with the natural bond between us. There is a good atmosphere that is helped by winning matches. Who is the boss? Man, the captain is the captain.”
Recently in LaLiga and in Europe, you have accompanied all of your messages on social media with the image of a pineapple. Where did that idea come from?
“It started with a photo that was taken after training in Valdebebas. There were six or seven players around the ball and that image reflects the unity of the squad. Hence the pineapple. From there, it brought luck. We won the next game so I left it until the end of the season.”
Zidane seems so calm. Presumably he has to crack the whip from time to time?
“I think there’s a bit of both. He combines knowing perfectly when to tell you to work harder and also when to relax a little more. The coach knows this squad better than anybody else.”
The 2016/17 season has barely had time to be digested but 2017/18 is already on the horizon with Manchester United and Barcelona in the Super Cups in both Europe and Spain.
“Being at this club means you have to always fight to the maximum. We go into each competition with the intention of winning it. If we do things right, we can do that.”
In the dressing room, is there already talk of a treble and possibly improving on this season?
“It is a bit early isn’t it? Let us rest [laughs]!
What about the 13th Champions League?
“You always dream of it. We must go for it.”
Now for your wedding, Lucas’ third title of the season.
“Yes after such a good season, I must try to put a good finishing touch on it. Let’s hope my girlfriend doesn’t back out [more laughter]!”