Cristian Romero tells Sky Sports about thriving under Antonio Conte, his aggressive approach to defending, and Richarlison's 'infectious' energy; watch Tottenham vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.30pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm
Saturday 17 September 2022 17:56, UK
Cristian Romero walks through the door and the sound of laughter follows him. He has just shared a joke with Hugo Lloris in one of the corridors of Tottenham's Hotspur Way headquarters. He is still grinning as he takes a seat in the bustling canteen.
"I think the togetherness of the group is the best thing we have," Romero tells Sky Sports. "We live together really well as players and get on really well every day. I think that's the most important thing."
We are meeting only two days on from Tottenham's Champions League loss to Sporting Lisbon, a setback which brought an end to their unbeaten start to the season. But there is little appetite to dwell on it. Spirits are high following the morning's training session.
"It was a difficult game, but losing is part of football," says Romero. "Of course, we really don't like it and, clearly, it wasn't our best game. But it is just the beginning. We have to trust that things will turn out well if we keep working in the way we are."
It is an attitude which has served Romero well.
The centre-back, fiercely combative in the way he defends and yet unerringly composed in possession, has become a key figure for Spurs since his arrival from Atalanta in August of last year and his impact has not gone unnoticed.
"There is something special about him," said Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher when naming Romero his signing of the season in May. "He isn't the biggest of defenders, but he is clever, he is switched on, he is cool on the ball. I think Tottenham have a real player there."
Spurs paid £42.5m to make his loan move permanent this summer, the Argentine signing a five-year contract with the club having taken to the Premier League like a natural despite what he describes as a "big difference" in style from Italy's Serie A, where he had flourished over the course of the previous three seasons.
"Serie A is much more tactical," he says. "There is a lot more pausa in the game. That's partly because of the referees, who don't let play go as much. Here, the ball is in play all the time.
"All the teams are also very aggressive, and the majority of them have a good way of playing and are offensive too. Physically, they are all at a very good level and that means the games are always very, very competitive between the two teams."
It is ideal, in other words, for a player who relishes the physical side of the game as much as Romero.
"Yes, yes, yes," he says with a smile.
"The Premier League was always one of my favourite leagues, so when I had the option to come to Tottenham, it was an easy decision and I was very quick to finalise my transfer here.
"Fortunately, my first season went well. I know I have many things still to improve but I will try to do that."
That first season, while an undoubted success - culminating in a fourth-placed Premier League finish which ensured Tottenham's return to the Champions League ahead of north London rivals Arsenal - was not without its challenges.
Romero spent three months on the sidelines having suffered a hamstring injury soon after Antonio Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo in November. All the while, he was having to adapt to a new country and, most significantly, a new arrival at home.
"In the beginning it was difficult, above all because my wife was in her seventh month of pregnancy and there were a lot of changes," he says. "Fortunately, she supported me in the decision I made, like she always does, and now everything is good off the pitch.
"Family is the always the most important thing for me. Obviously, football is my passion and I don't take it for granted. I know I am lucky to do what I love. But the most important thing is family."
His son, Valentino, arrived safely in December. So, how is he sleeping? Romero smiles. "Better now. He is great, he is growing. I don't always have a lot of time away from the pitch because we train a lot and travel a lot, but whenever I am at home, I love it and we are always together as a family."
Romero clearly has a sensitive side but out on the pitch he is a different beast, ferociously aggressive, unafraid of confrontation, and, at times, he admits, guilty of overstepping the mark.
The 24-year-old arrived in England having received 39 yellow cards and three reds across his 102 appearances in Italy and there have been notable flashpoints in England too, including the Marc Cucurella hair-pull for which he was fortunate to escape punishment in Tottenham's 2-2 draw with Chelsea in August.
"It really depends on the game," he says of his fiery streak. "I always try to give opponents maximum respect. If something happens which isn't good, I always reflect on it and I apologise.
"This season, I think I'm doing better in that sense," he adds. "I know it's something I have to improve, but I have only had one yellow card in the games I've played so far this year."
Spurs fans love Romero for his competitiveness - "I am always grateful for the support they give me," he says - and the same qualities can be seen in his new team-mate Richarlison.
The pair have history. They clashed when the Brazilian was playing for Everton last season. But all that is firmly behind them now and Romero's admiration for the 25-year-old is obvious.
"He has brought a lot to the team," says Romero. "He is a player who is a little bit different to the ones we already had. He is a player who puts in absolutely everything, all the time.
"We have Harry Kane, who, for me, is a maximum talent and one of the best strikers in the world. We also have [Heung-Min] Son and [Dejan] Kulusevski, who also make the difference.
"But Richy is giving us different things and that's something which I think is infectious."
Richarlison is already thriving under Conte and the same is of course true of Romero. The defender is still getting to grips with English. This interview is being conducted in his native Spanish. But language has been no barrier to his progress under the Italian.
"He is a manager who has helped me a lot tactically," he says of Conte. "The career he has had shows how good he is and I think we are on a good path. Every day I wake up with a desire to keep learning."
That openness to learning has certainly helped at Spurs.
I just want to repay the faith the club has put in me. I hope things will continue in this way and I will be here for a long time
Romero played in the middle of the back three for his previous clubs Atalanta and Genoa but, under Conte at Spurs, he has been moved over to the right-hand side.
"It's very different. My favourite position is in the middle, because that's where I have always played, but I am playing on the right for the national team too now and I will happily play wherever I am asked to, so I don't have a problem with it.
"At the beginning, it was difficult, for sure, but I got used to it and I learned the role. I have to keep learning and keep correcting many things, but I'm good and I feel comfortable there."
Romero has had that same appetite for self-improvement since his youth. As a teenager at his boyhood side Club Atletico Belgrano in Argentina, he studied Barcelona - "their team that won everything" - and, specifically, their central defenders.
"I always loved watching that team because I loved to watch Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, and also Javier Mascherano when he played there. Those three were beautiful to watch."
What about these days? "Today, the best defender for me is Virgil van Dijk, always, and Lisandro Martinez from Manchester United.
"For me, they are the best in the Premier League."
Romero knows Martinez well from the Argentina national team but his most glowing praise is reserved for Lionel Messi, another team-mate at international level.
"Messi, for me, is a different class of player," he says. "I haven't seen a player like him in my life. He does incredible things and I don't think there is any comparison. It's brilliant to play with him."
Romero hopes to follow up Argentina's Copa America triumph last year with more success at the upcoming World Cup - "of course, that is on my mind," he says - but for now his focus is on Spurs.
"I just want to repay the faith the club has put in me," he says.
"There are a lot of years ahead if the club wants it and if all goes well. I hope things will continue in this way and that I will be here for a long time. Things have gone well. Last season, we achieved our goal of qualifying for the Champions League and we were very happy."
And what next? Does he see Spurs as contenders for major honours?
"Talking is easy," he says. "But we have to show it on the pitch. We have a good group of players to win trophies. We only have to convince ourselves.
"It is early in the season. We are still a long way from that. We just have to go step by step, improving the things we need to improve. But I think we are on a good path.
"We have to trust that if we continue like this, with the work we have done and the work we are doing, we can achieve big things."
Watch Tottenham vs Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.30pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm