Spain international Amanda Sampedro (left) and Nagore Calderón
Firm friends off the pitch and team-mates for club and country on it, 2014/15 is set to be a pivotal season for Spain and Atlético de Madrid duo Nagore Calderón and Amanda Sampedro.
Key figures for Atleti yet not yet regular starters for La Roja’s senior side, can the talented young pair do enough this campaign to earn a place on the plane for next June/July’s Women’s World Cup in Canada?
On this and much more, the 21-year-old rising stars spoke exclusively to Women’s Soccer United.
Women’s Soccer United: Having finished third in the league and reached the last eight in the Copa de la Reina last term, what are Atlético de Madrid’s objectives this time out?
Nagore Calderón: It’s important for us to improve on what we achieved last season. If we don’t at least match that we’ll have gone backwards, which is never good. We’ve lost two or three big players but the people that have come in have strengthened the squad overall. Among the signings are national-team players like Ángela Sosa, Rocío Gálvez, Brenda Pérez, Débora García and Vanesa García, who all have a lot to offer.
Amanda Sampedro: There’s a real sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the squad, and we all always want to improve every season. But I think that we need to take it one step at a time, stay humble, enjoy our football, believe in what we’re doing and never forget what we’re all about.
WSU: In individual terms, do you also stick with a ‘one step at a time’ approach or set goals for the season as a whole?
AS: Well, of course you always want to get better every day and, though I scored 26 goals last season, I won’t stop trying to do better and score even more. And I’ve always found that if you stay patient, keep helping your team-mates and do your bit for the side, things will go better for you as an individual too.
NC: We footballers always want to play in every game. It’s that level of ambition that drives us to play better, but you have to work hard to get as much playing time as possible. Given the position I play (attacking midfielder) I’m more of a creator than a goalscorer, but I’m happy to take any goals that come my way! On an individual note, I’ll be training hard to try and make the cut for the World Cup [Canada 2015]
WSU: How far can Spain go at Canada 2015?
NC: I think that if we prepare well, we can spring a surprise. There’s not that many people talking about us [as contenders], but I think we’ve got a great team which plays very good football. If we play to our strengths then we can shock even the biggest teams.
AS: We’ve got a good squad and a solid core, with top-quality players who have loads to offer. Even so, I think that the best thing for this Selección is not to set any targets. We should simply take things one step at a time and that way I’m sure we’ll achieve major success.
WSU: You’re both part of a generation of Spanish players twice crowned European U-17 champions (in 2010 and 2011), while you also have silver and bronze medals from the European U-19 Women’s Championship 2012 and U-17 Women’s World Cup 2010 respectively. What factors were behind all that success?
AS: That generation did so well because it was a really great squad, not just as players but as people too. We were able to form a very tight-knit group, with everyone buying in to what we wanted to achieve and, more than anything else, we all pulled together out on the pitch and fought for a common goal. I think that the help of coach Jorge Vilda [at U-17 level] and [his father] Ángel Vilda [U-19], was also a decisive part of our success.
NC: I’ve got very good memories of my time with the U-17s and U-19s because, while it’s a developmental phase, you’re competing at a very high standard at the same time. I think that period helped all of us grow as players. Playing in European competitions gives you more confidence, which helps you grow up faster and really mature as a footballer. Those tournaments helped us go into the senior squad as more complete players, which made it easier to adapt. Ángel and Jorge taught us so much and fully immersed us in the philosophy of La Selección, which has also made the step up to senior level that much easier.
WSU: How difficult is it to make that step up? Did your youth-tournament experience help you at last year’s Women’s EURO?
NC: Yes, that experience helps you to compete better and also, when you’re taking part in a major tournament like the European Championship, it helps you keep the nerves at bay a little more. That said, it’s a huge step up and you really notice the difference and the increased pressure. Out on the pitch, you mainly notice how much more physical and competitive it is. In the senior game you come up against the best players in the world, you go head-to-head with them and it’s very tough. But I think that Spain are getting stronger and stronger, because we’re coming out of the youth national system better-prepared and that makes the transition to the senior squad smoother.
AS: What you notice at senior level is the sense of experience, of maturity, that’s in the air. It’s no longer just about playing football, it’s about thinking about the situation you’re in, about being able to manage the different periods within a match – such as when you need to slow the tempo down or speed it up. Getting called up to the EURO was a big surprise: it was my first tournament with the senior team and to be honest I was just really happy to be there, to enjoy the experience and get to know my team-mates. It was an unforgettable experience.
WSU: Turning to the subject of coaching: Amanda, are you enjoying the work you’re doing in Atleti’s youth system? Long-term, are you drawn to a future in the dugout?
AS: I’m loving it! Last season I was coaching the benjaminas (U-9s and U-10s) and this season the alevines (U-11s and U-12s). They seem very happy with me and it makes me very happy to see how, over the season, they put into practice everything we’ve worked on. The girls have not just been learning, they’ve also been enjoying their football. Yes, a future in coaching is something I’ve always been keen on, because I love the game. Unfortunately your career as a player is short, so I’d love to get the training I need to stay in football as a coach after I hang up my boots. I’m also in my first year of a Physiotherapy degree, so perhaps that might help keep me in the game too.
WSU: Nagore, do you harbour coaching ambitions too?
NC: Well, I’m in the final year of my degree in Educación Infantil (Pre-school Education), and it goes without saying that all of us who are involved in football would like to stay in the game [after finishing playing]. I love working with kids and so I wouldn’t rule out being a coach in future either.
WSU: Staying on future plans. Do you see yourselves playing out your career in Spain or are you keen on trying your luck abroad?
AS: You always wonder what it’d be like playing football outside of Spain, but I’m still very young and right now I’m very happy at Atlético de Madrid. I’m really determined to do a good job here, with the club I support and so, for the moment at least, I’m just focusing on carrying on here and doing the jersey proud.
NC: I’ve just signed another one-year deal and I’m very happy here, but every player should keep in mind the option of playing abroad and give it proper consideration if the chance comes around.
WSU: One last question. You and fellow members of your U-17 and U-19 generation, such as Alexia Putellas, Virginia Torrecilla and Dolores Gallardo are all senior internationals and should go into the EURO 2017 at the peak of your powers. Could that be Spain’s year?
AS: Yes it could. It’s always been said that this generation can make waves and hopefully, in a couple of years’ time, we’ll be back playing together again and can achieve something big. But before that though, we have to keep working hard, as every year is a different story. However, if that opportunity came around, we’d try and give it our very best shot, enjoy every moment and give Spanish fans plenty to celebrate.
Interviewed by Nick Aitken and Elena Ureña
UK-born but currently based in Spain, I’ve been covering men’s and women’s football for UEFA.com for several years, including trips to two Women’s U-19 European Championships