LAZAAR’S EYE IS ON TOP-FLIGHT

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

LEFT-BACK Achraf Lazaar made an im­pres­sive de­but for New­cas­tle United in their 2-0 home win against Wolves in the EFL Cup third round in mid­week.

Here, Emanuele Gi­u­lianelli catches up with the 24-year-old Morocco in­ter­na­tional:

WHY NEW­CAS­TLE?

“I al­ways wanted to play in Eng­land: I ac­cepted the New­cas­tle of­fer with­out hes­i­ta­tion. It ar­rived un­ex­pect­edly, while I was eval­u­at­ing other so­lu­tions. I put them aside and ac­cepted New­cas­tle im­me­di­ately. They are a great club.”

HOW WAS THE DEAL?

“The ne­go­ti­a­tions, as I’ve said, have been very quick. Rafa Ben­itez called me on the phone to ex­plain his plans and to tell me that he saw me in his project of build­ing up a win­ning team. He told me about very im­por­tant things, con­cern­ing the cur­rent sea­son in the Cham­pi­onship but even the fu­ture in Pre­mier League, where he wants to have, in a very short time, a team ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the po­si­tions close to Europa League qual­i­fi­ca­tion. But, for now, we have to work step by step, and the first one will be to do our best to come back to where our sup­port­ers de­serve to be. This team can reach this tar­get be­cause we have very im­por­tant play­ers.”

WHAT ABOUT YOUR EX­PE­RI­ENCE IN ITALY?

“In Italy I’ve grown up as a man, be­fore (be­ing) a player. I ar­rived there when I was al­most a child and I’ve learnt how to face life, how to pick my­self up af­ter hard mo­ments. I’ve known how to never give up.”

WHY THE CHAM­PI­ONSHIP?

“Yes, it is a sec­ond divi­sion, but New­cas­tle re­main a first divi­sion club, one of the best clubs all over Eng­land. Rel­e­ga­tion oc­curred by ac­ci­dent. Th­ese things can hap­pen when a series of un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances pile up. How­ever, it is in that mo­ment that a big club like New­cas­tle rise again! The team is ready, even if there is a lot to work to do. I can tell, from my ex­pe­ri­ence, that the level is higher than the Ital­ian Serie B and even of Serie A, con­cern­ing speed.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BEN­ITEZ?

“He has worked in the most im­por­tant clubs of the world, but he is still a hum­ble man. He al­ways helps you. He al­ways stays with the group and works with us, giv­ing us all that we need. He re­spects his play­ers and it’s a plea­sure to me and to my team­mates to give our best for a man­ager like him.”

WHAT ABOUT NEW­CAS­TLE SUP­PORT­ERS? DO YOU EX­PECT A HARD SEA­SON AF­TER THE DIS­AP­POINT­MENT OF REL­E­GA­TION?

“Sup­port­ers of ev­ery club all over the world ex­pect big re­sults from their teams. But, de­spite rel­e­ga­tion, the sta­dium is al­ways full. There’s never been an empty seat. They are re­ally great sup­port­ers. Be­fore the last match,0 I saw all the sup­port­ers in the stands: it was an ex­tra­or­di­nary view. New­cas­tle sup­port­ers and their sta­dium put in me a great will­ing­ness to play for them!”

WHO ARE YOUR CLOS­EST RI­VALS IN THE FIGHT FOR PRO­MO­TION?

“It’s a very hard league and I think we have to be care­ful of ev­ery club we face. They are all very quick. They al­ways run at their best for all the 90 min­utes. If you want to achieve pro­mo­tion, you have to give a lot, more than your op­po­nents.”

WHIAT ARE YOUR PER­SONAL GOALS FOR THIS SEA­SON?

“Go­ing up to the Pre­mier League with New­cas­tle and be­com­ing the idol of the sup­port­ers and this city. Then, in Jan­uary, I will play in a very im­por­tant com­pe­ti­tion, the African Cup (of Na­tions) with the Morocco na­tional team. I want to give to my coun­try the great hap­pi­ness of win­ning the cup. This is one of the pages I’m dream­ing about writ­ing in my book: to make the 35 mil­lion peo­ple of my coun­try happy.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR DE­BUT?

“I’m happy to have made my de­but and that it ended with a win. I felt re­ally ex­cited.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

EX­CITED: Achraf Lazaar on his Toon de­but and, in­set, play­ing for Palermo

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