- Dani Olmo among new faces in Luis Enrique's rejuvenated Spain
- Midfielder impressing for La Roja and RB Leipzig
- Main goals for 2021: playing at the EURO and Tokyo Olympics
"Every time I think of it, I get goosebumps. It was amazing."
Every successful career has a watershed moment after which there is no going back. Dani Olmo is very clear about his. The mere mention of the UEFA European U-21 Championship that Spain won in July last year provokes a beaming smile on his Zoom screen.
He headed into that tournament on the back of a great season with Dinamo Zagreb. However, it was La Rojita’s brilliant triumph, with a star turn from Olmo in an attacking midfield role – he racked up three goals in four games and a man-of-the-match award in the final – that triggered subsequent events.
In November 2019, he got his first call-up to the senior national team, which he marked with a goal on his debut against Malta. Then in January, he signed for RB Leipzig, with whom he would end up playing in the semi-finals of the this year’s UEFA Champions League.
"2019 was an amazing year, the best of my career in terms of personal and collective achievements. 2020 has been a strange year but still beautiful all the same. Reaching a Champions League semi-final is a big thing. It was the first time Leipzig got that far, so it's something to cherish."
Dani Olmo, in brief
- Born: 7 May 1998, Terrassa, Barcelona.
- Position: attacking midfielder, although he can operate on either flank or as a deep-lying centre forward.
- International: he has represented Spain since U-16 level and played three times and scored one goal for the senior side.
- Titles: Four leagues championships, three Cups and one Super Cup (all in Croatia) and one EURO U-21 title.
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- Football in the blood: Dani's father, Miquel Olmo, was a professional player and coach, while his brother Carlos is also a footballer. "I listen to them a lot and really take their advice into account, as they tell me what they think is best for me."
- From La Masia to Croatia: At the age of 16, Dani left Barça to play for Dinamo Zagreb, where, from the start, he alternated between training and playing with the first team. "It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but it was an opportunity to really grow. I think I can say that it went well, so I’ll be eternally grateful to them."
- Dual nationality: Dani also holds Croatian nationality but has never played for the Vatreni.
A red-tinted summer
Although he has had very little time to assimilate all that has happened to him in recent months, Olmo already has new goals in sight. Among other things, he is hoping to have a packed summer in 2021, with Spain playing at the EURO in June and then the Olympic Football Tournament in August, when the European U-21 champions aim to be in the mix for gold.
"Hopefully it’ll be a busy summer for me, and I can take part in both competitions," he says with a laugh. "I feel immense pride every time I pull on the jersey. The motivation couldn’t be greater, as being part of the EURO – a tournament we’re capable of winning, as we’ve shown in qualifying – would be a dream."
And while the chance to take part in the EURO comes along every four years, Olmo knows that a ticket to the Olympic Games is a rare privilege.
"For a footballer, the Games are something that happen once in a lifetime, so one of my goals is to secure a place on the team. It's not going to be easy, as the standard in the squad is very high and there’s a lot of competition."
If La Rojita, with the likes of Olmo, Fabian Ruiz, Mikel Oyarzabal, Dani Ceballos and company, can replicate the level shown in becoming European U-21 champions, then an Olympic gold could be within reach.
"I know some people who’ve had the chance to compete at the Olympics and they’ve said it was the greatest experience of their lives. Here at Leipzig I have a German team-mate, Lukas Klostermann, who played in the Rio final against Brazil. We were talking about it and he told me that, although they lost on penalties, it was truly amazing. To be able to experience that next year would be fantastic."
These days, the attacking midfielder is in camp with the senior squad under coach Luis Enrique. After starting Wednesday’s goalless draw with Portugal, he is awaiting Spain’s upcoming UEFA Nations League double header against Switzerland on 10 Oct and Ukraine three days later. The coach, who is the throes of rebuilding the side, considers the 22-year-old as integral to his plans.
"I know that if I’m well and perform well for my club, I'll have a better chance of getting called up, so that's what I have to focus on. And then, if the boss gives me an opportunity in the team, I have to show him that I can be here for the long haul."