Despite two seasons on the periphery at Tottenham Hotspur, even after his standout displays at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Giovani dos Santos’ star is on the rise once more. On loan at La Liga outfit Racing Santander, the Mexican forward has become an integral part of the side in the space of just four months.
Now entering the closing stages of the Spanish season and with major international tournaments on the horizon, Los Aztecas’ No10 made the time to answer FIFA.com’s questions on his current form, his troubles at Spurs, a new era for El Tricolor and his future goals.
FIFA.com: Giovani, how are you feeling at the moment, given your fine form with Racing Santander?
Giovani dos Santos: I’m really happy with how things have gone in Santander, I think coming back to Spanish football has been crucial. This is where I grew up as a player, where I learnt the game. I think that my contribution has been very good. I’m on top form and showing what I’m capable of, and that for me was what really mattered when it came to choosing to join this team. Now all that’s left is to fulfil the objectives we have as a squad and avoid relegation.
You must be relieved to be playing regular football, after enduring a difficult period at Tottenham.
I went through two very tough years, during which I barely played. I just wasn’t given a chance. The situation wasn’t ideal either, because when I signed Juande Ramos was in charge and I was quite regularly involved. Then he got sacked and Harry Redknapp came in, and I’ve not been part of his plans. This season has been more frustrating because I thought I’d get more playing time. I came back from the World Cup, played during pre-season and performed very well in several games, but yet again I wasn’t given an opportunity.
Did you have any personal problems with the manager?
Not at all. I trained hard and gave 100 per cent during the week because I wanted to convince him to give me more playing time, but at the end of the day it’s his decision and it didn’t go my way. The most important thing is that I’m now doing really well here in Santander.
How did you cope during the tough times?
Things don’t always go your way in football: there are always good and bad times. At the end of the day you have to have a positive attitude and a strong mentality, and not let any setbacks get you down. And that’s what I’ve done – I’ve tried to keep my composure, even when things aren’t going the way I’d like.
Though you’re still only 21, you’ve had to deal with weighty expectations from a very tender age. Do you personally feel you’ve hit the heights you expected to?
If I’m honest, I don’t. At the moment I’m trying to rediscover my best form, and I want to be back at the top of the world game in the not-too-distant future. That’s my goal and I’m very focused on achieving it. This spell at Racing has really helped me regain my confidence and match sharpness, and I think I’m on the up again.
Your younger brother Jonathan is also struggling for first-team football at Barcelona, where you yourself started out. Are you in regular contact with him and have you given him any advice?
I speak to him a lot and tell him he needs to be patient. He’s at the best club in the world, no doubt about that, and has huge stars for team-mates. It’s a great opportunity for him to be able to train with them. He needs to keep cool, play well for the B team and wait for his chance, which I’ve no doubt will come.
Moving onto the subject of the Mexican national team, how are you enjoying this new era?
I’m very happy. The new coach, Jose Manuel de la Torre, has shown a lot of faith in me. I think we’ve got a good squad with a lot of talent, who have the hunger and the desire to make history. I think that the main difference between this era and the previous one is the fact we’ve now got much more experience, despite still being young.
Prior to De la Torre's appointment as coach, El Tricolor had gone through a turbulent period featuring repeated tussles with the media. Are the players ready to put that behind them?
I think so, the idea is to start from scratch with a new coach, a new system and a new atmosphere. There’s no point in focusing on anything negative from the past, we only need to hold on to the good stuff. I think what went on before was blown out of proportion. There was more talk about what was going on off the pitch than what really mattered. The last few months caused feelings of impotence and frustration for us, because people were intruding in our private lives. Like it or not, that creates a bad atmosphere around the national squad and of course it affects your commitment to the cause. But anyway, this new cycle has started very well and we’re aiming to keep improving one step at a time.
With Mexico involved in the forthcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America, do you have a preference for which one you play in?
If possible, I’d love to play in both. But of course it’s the coach’s decision, and I’ll do whatever he says. I’ve had the opportunity to play at one Gold Cup, which we won, and I’ve never played at a Copa America. But it's Chepo (De la Torre) who’ll decide.
This year’s Gold Cup will be a great opportunity for Mexico and the United States to battle it out for CONCACAF bragging rights...
It’s true that there’s a fierce rivalry between both, and obviously this is going to be a new chapter in that, but writing off the rest of the field would be a serious error. It’s going to be an eagerly contested Gold Cup and not just between Mexico and the United States, because there are other tough sides in Central America and they’re preparing well too. Besides which, there’s the prize of a place in the Confederations Cup, which makes this competition that much more enticing. Mexico will be giving it everything they’ve got, that goes without saying.
One last question. Though there are still three years to go, are you already looking forward to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, given your close ties with Brazil?
I hope to go into the 2014 World Cup in great form and performing at my peak. There’s still time for me to do that. What’s more, the chance to play in Brazil is a huge motivation for me. It’s a country I know well, my dad was born there, I go there a lot on holiday and I know that they live and breathe the game in a very different and passionate way. Of course the thought of achieving something historic at that tournament has crossed my mind.