Nikola Kalinić has given an extensive interview to AS talking about his past experiences, explaining why he failed at Milan and comparing football in England, Italy and Spain.
Milan signed Kalinić from Fiorentina last summer but after a very disappointing season, sold him to Atlético Madrid.
The Croatian won the UEFA Super Cup with Atlético but is yet to find the net in the league as he’s usually left on the bench with Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa starting. Kalinić has given a long interview to today’s edition of AS and tried to explain what went wrong in his past experiences.
“How did I start in football? When I was 9 I got into HNK Hajduk Split and I did it to always play with kids older than me,” the 30-year-old striker told AS journalist Jorge García. “I could never play with my generation, I had to learn fast. I went to NK Istra 1961 and HNK Šibenik before returning to Hajduk.
“I love Hajduk, it’s the club in my region of birth and where I became a player. Who was my idol? It can be said that Ibrahimović inspired me. I love that type of strikers. I can’t do what he does, nobody can perhaps, but I love him watching play. The rivalry with Mandžukić? We fought to be the league’s Top Scorer one year. It was nice, he won by one goal, he’s an extraordinary player and teammate.
“I left for England at the age of 20? Yes, I was almost a teenager, I didn’t know the language. I came to play at Blackburn and I had a hard time adapting to that football. It was a constant fight, you played to survive, and with you head up all the time to watch the ball flying.
“That kind of football wasn’t for me. England has the most physical and rocky football. I faced great defenses like Manchester United’s with Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand and sometimes you don’t even touch the ball. My family and I learned things, as a life experience, but the football was hard. Then came a very positive experience in Ukraine, with FC Dnipro.
“Juande Ramos was very enriching for me, he taught me a lot; he and Marcos Álvarez, the physical trainer that is now in Betis. I played and scored in the Europa League final against Sevilla. Then, Paulo Sousa appeared in my career. He called me to join Fiorentina. It was exciting, they barely knew me but I was getting space in a great league. We played well with Sousa, I scored goals and it was a good moment before going to Milan [Kalinić scored 33 goals in 84 appearances for Fiorentina].
“Why didn’t it work out at Milan despite the expectations? For me, it was difficult. I couldn’t do preseason with the team. I was training alone in Split, waiting for the transfer to happen. I arrived once the season had started. Then I had many physical problems…
“Milan is a great club, who are used to winning and fighting for trophies, and they want results very quickly. However, 11 new players had arrived and it takes time to build something. Still, I wish Milan all the best. They deserve to fight for the Champions League.
“How is Gattuso in the dressing room? Well, he’s incredible. Outside the pitch he’s the type who makes many jokes, gives very good atmosphere, laughs, but when you start training or on the pitch… He gives everything and wants everything. He presses you. He’s crazy, but in a good way. He’s a great person and I think Milan will go far with him [Gattuso often defended Kalinić in his pressers].
“My first impression of Spanish football and of Atlético Madrid? I’m happy. I hadn’t played in Spain, I had done it in England and in Italy but I came with enthusiasm and I’m very focused on doing well at Atlético. What has caught my attention the most about? The game. Everyone plays well and express good football. There isn’t as much defense as in Italy, everyone wants to play and win games.
“What is the most difficult league for a striker between England, Italy and Spain? England, if you don’t play in the strongest teams. If you play in small sides, you suffer. You play against very powerful teams without being able to find solutions. Sometimes you don’t touch the ball. It’s all long balls, fighting, jumping… for young players, in my opinion, it’s best not to go to England. And if you go is because you have an option to play for Man City, Man United, and Arsenal… teams that try to play. What defense made it the most difficult for me? I talked about Vidić and Ferdinand before, but I would also throw in John Terry, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci there.
“What happened in the World Cup when I was kicked out of the Croatian NT? There was a lot of talk about that already… it’s the past and now I want to concentrate on Atlético. What happened is a long story and there’s been more talk about it. If I’d be open to return to the NT? Of course, I’m open to return. It’s hard to explain, it’s clear that I would like to return but some things would have to change.
“I turned down an offer from China when I was at Fiorentina? It was a lot of money, it’s true, but I play because I love football, not just for money. If I had gone there my career would’ve almost ended. I decided that I wanted to continue in football at the highest level. I wouldn’t have been happy, I would’ve made a lot of money but my family wouldn’t have been comfortable.
“If I went and my wife and son weren’t happy then the money wouldn’t have been worth it. I wanted to play stronger football against great teams.”