🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem | OneFootball

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Lewis Ambrose·6 March 2023

🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem

Article image:🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem

It is the dream of any aspiring footballer to play in, and compete for, the Champions League.

It is a dream Paris Saint-Germain left-back Nuno Mendes is now fulfilling and, what’s more, he is doing it alongside and against the stars he grew up admiring.

“I remember it even today,” he tells OneFootball as part of the FedEx Next In Line series. “School classes finished and I was going home. And that day I was alone, nobody was home.

“And suddenly I see this gentleman behind me. I continued on and got home. He arrived and went up too. I was scared. I went and opened the door. And the man said, “calm down, calm down, I’m a scout for Sporting.” And then I got calmer. And we talked for a long time until my mother arrived.

“He had been watching my games and he said he liked me a lot. He would like me to do some training at Sporting. At the age of nine, that was it.”

Article image:🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem

The year Mendes turned nine — 2011 — was the year Lionel Messi won his second Champions League title.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Mendes was playing alongside the Argentine in football’s most premier club competition.

“The Champions League has a different atmosphere from the [national] championship, from the cup. There’s a lot of pressure. And I don’t know how to explain it, but …when I heard the anthem for the first time, I got goosebumps,” he says.

“It was Brugge. It was a very important day for me. I was very, very happy to have participated in my first game. Nervous, of course. It’s normal. They gave me a lot of confidence and talked to me to keep me calm. All players want to assist Lionel Messi, obviously.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t score, but it was good to settle myself into the game and to be more comfortable in it.

“Whenever I can, I watch the Champions League. Massive games, top teams. And it’s always good to watch games and also learn some things. I remember a Sporting v Barcelona game. I remember going to the stadium to watch that game. There was a different atmosphere with a lot of smoke, a lot of noise. I remember an Atlético v Real Madrid final at Estádio da Luz, in Portugal.”

Another team-mate, Sergio Ramos, helped Real Madrid win that final.

Article image:🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem

But Mendes is no longer just watching the Champions League, he is sharing the stage that is the highest level with the best players around.

The round of 16 will see him face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, where one of his role models made a name for himself.

“I’ve always liked players in my position. I follow more players in my position than other positions. The player that I’ve always liked, that I’ve always appreciated, is Alaba.

“Since I was little, I really liked the way he played. He’s a player who scores a lot of goals, both from free-kicks and in open play. He defends very well. I think he does almost everything well.”

Mendes has impressed this season since his move from Lisbon to Paris but he recognises there is always room for improvement.

Luckily, he has the chance to test himself against the best players in the world on a daily basis in training.

“I always told my agent that I’d like to play for PSG. Fortunately, I’m at Paris Saint-Germain, where I really wanted to be. It was a big change when I got here.

Players think very fast. They play one or two touches, simple football. The players are top notch.

“There are things I can learn. In the Champions League every detail counts. The way we play here at PSG, we are a very offensive team.

And sometimes when you attack a lot, when you switch to defending you can get distracted and undesirable things may happen.

“We analyse the players, what they do. As defenders, I think it helps us a lot to know what they’re used to doing and what they do best. I focus more on defending because not conceding goals is the most important thing for the team.”

Article image:🎥 EXCLUSIVE: Nuno Mendes on Messi in training, his idol, the UCL anthem

So how is his progression coming along?

“I’ve been evolving defensively, and that’s what I intend to do.

“I’m not a player that dribbles a lot. But sometimes I have to do it. Sometimes I have to dribble but I don’t focus too much on that, because we have top quality players who can do that. Like Neymar, Messi, Mbappé. These are players who…They go into games and do what they want. In a one-on-one, they can get past you very easily.

“Facing them training allows me to improve every day. Whenever we train and I’m with one of them, that’s good for me. “Good”, quote unquote, because I learn.”

At just 20, the learning curve has been steep but Mendes has faced the challenge head on.

Now he has the opportunity and the platform to make an impression both on and off the pitch. How does he intend to be remembered when he looks back over his career?

“A calm, hardworking, humble person. A player who had a lot of influence on football. I want to be recognised for this.

“I still have a long way to go. I still have a lot of time to evolve. I’d like to win all the competitions I’m in.

“I intend to leave my mark in football. That’s my goal.”