‘The excitement to play in the Europa League is IMMENSE!’ Early-season star Pablo Fornals on West Ham’s European dream, his recall to the Spain team and how a goal at Liverpool just before the Covid-lockdown changed everything
- Pablo Fornals spoke to Sportsmail about West Ham after a good start this season
- He talks about how the Hammers can take inspiration from Villarreal in Europe
- Fornals spent the first Covid-lockdown alone but trained hard and was rewarded
- The 25-year-old is now back in the Spain squad and assisted at the weekend
This has to be a first: someone singing ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ in the main stand at Spain’s training ground just outside of Madrid.
‘They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,’ continues West Ham’s Pablo Fornals before translating the song back into Spanish: ‘Pompas de jabón, lindas pompas de jabon’.
Looking out on to the main training pitch and grinning broadly, Fornals is demonstrating that his English is good and that he knows the club song.
Pablo Fornals is back in the Spain set-up after impressing for West Ham so far this year
The 25-year-old (R) will play a part on Wednesday when the Spanish take on minnows Kosovo
He is a happy man because he’s where he wants to be right now: living in London, back in the Europa League with West Ham and back in the Spain squad after a three-year absence.
He came on as a second-half substitute on Sunday and immediately set-up Spain’s fourth goal in a 4-0 win over Georgia. On Wednesday night, he’ll play his part as they face Kosovo.
When West Ham signed him in 2019, European football and international call-ups were what were expected. His progress was interrupted by a difficult first year but under David Moyes he is thriving and excited by the Europa League challenge.
Fornals is back in the Europa League too – his ex-club, Villarreal, won last season’s competition
Can West Ham use Villarreal’s achievement last season to inspire them?
‘Well Villarreal are used to playing in European competition, but why not?’ he says. ‘Why not use them as an example. In the end each team has to play their own tournament and what we do on the pitch will decide how far we go.
‘You can never get distracted from the league because that is going to dictate where you will be the following year but the excitement we all have about playing the Europa League is immense.’
Perhaps that applies even more to Fornals who had such a tough first season interrupted by a change of manager, a relegation battle, and a global pandemic.
When Manuel Pellegrini was replaced at the start of 2020, Fornals soon dropped out of the team under Moyes.
The Spaniard scored away at Liverpool in February 2020 – which was the break he needed
It was away at Liverpool in February that things began to change. ‘There was an injury at half time and there were doubts about what to do because the manager had only just taken over and he asked Mark Noble what, between various options, he would he do?
‘Mark was in this stage of his career where he was a bit of a link [between players and manager] and he looked at me, and turned back and said for the coach to give the opportunity to me.’
Fornals didn’t waste it, scoring in the second half. It was the first step on the road to convincing Moyes that he was worth his place in the team. ‘That’s a day in my life that I’ll never forget and it shapes what follows,’ he says.
Coronavirus sent football into lockdown soon after and left Fornals in his new flat on his own with his friends and family back in Spain.
But boosted by having shown the manager what he was capable of, he used the downtime to come back stronger than ever.
‘I would go for a run each morning and the club would send us things to do at home. I would also train with a fitness coach, online. I think 60 per cent of the day was dedicated to training.’
He got to explore the city pounding the streets and when he and West Ham came back, they pulled away from relegation and set themselves up for last season’s Europa League finish.
Fornals is in a good place, enjoying international and European football once again
‘They were tough weeks,’ he says. ‘I don’t think they were harder for me than for anyone else but it’s true that I was on my own. I never thought: I want to leave. Instead I was determined to use lockdown to reduce the time of my adaptation.’
Coach, captain and team-mates were in regular touch to help him through that difficult period and perhaps that explains the bond that seems to have developed.
‘I didn’t know too much about the team before I joined,’ he says. ‘I had seen them play and I knew the club, but I wasn’t a fan the way I am now.’
When it’s put it to him that he’s really fallen for the club he says: ‘Completely. The songs, the crossed hammers sign from fans when they see you in the street, the bubbles.’
He does admit, however, that it’s still Paella 1-0 Pie and Mash. He’s found a Spanish restaurant in London’s West End that cooks the rice just like his father back home, but he hasn’t been taken out for the local speciality yet. ‘I think they have had it (pie and mash) at the club canteen before but I haven’t tried it,’ he says.
Fornals (R) admits he has fallen for West Ham and he has started this season in fine fashion
When Pellegrini left it could have been the beginning of the end for Fornals but he says he was clear from the off: ‘I was not Manuel’s player, I was West Ham’s and I had to give everything for the new coach.’
Moyes knows LaLiga well after coaching at Real Sociedad, although Fornals says the two are yet to swap stories. ‘Every now and then he will have a go at saying a few words in Spanish, his coaching staff too,’ he says. ‘But we are too focused on the here and now to talk too much about it.’
So what does Moyes ask of him? ‘Nothing more than he asks of everyone – a lot of hard work and that in the final third we make the difference,’ he says.
He’s been doing that with the help of Michael Antonio and their good relationship off the pitch seems to have helped.
‘It shows doesn’t it? It really shows. We have a very good understanding. The relationship is good with everyone but with “Micky” I think we have got used to playing together.
He is back in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad and set up the fourth goal in a 4-0 win over Georgia
He adds that he has a ‘very good understanding’ with West Ham forward Michail Antonio
‘He knows what I’m going to do or where I’m going to run. And I know what he is going to do; if he wants it played long or to feet. Almost without looking one knows where the other is.’
Fornals certainly knows where he is right now: in a good place enjoying international and European football once again.
‘I’m a more complete player [than when last called-up to Spain in 2018],’ he says.
‘I don’t think my work ethic has changed because I have always given everything but I’ve learned from playing in the Premier league, from my team-mates, and the opposition. I’m very happy.’
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