Marcelino Nunez exclusive interview: Norwich’s Chilean midfielder working to make his mark and fulfil lofty ambitions | Football News
Marcelino Nunez smiles at the mention of his stunning strike in Norwich’s 3-1 win over Birmingham. The volley – picked out of the air and slammed in from 25 yards – has just been named the Sky Bet Championship Goal of the Month for February.
The midfielder, speaking to Sky Sports in a video call from Norwich’s training ground, describes it as his “best moment” since joining the club from Chilean side Universidad Catolica in August but there appears little danger of him getting carried away.
“Yes, it was a great goal, but I still need to show, and continue to show, the player that I really am,” he tells Sky Sports. “I need to be calm and keep working hard, because my targets are big ones.”
Nunez does not hesitate when asked to elaborate on those targets.
“To become established as an undisputed starter at Norwich,” he says. And that is just the start. “Like all players, I want make the step to the Premier League,” he continues, “and, beyond that, play in the Champions League, and represent my country at a World Cup… and a Copa America.”
It is quite the list, one which reflects the 23-year-old’s drive and ambition, but for now the focus is more immediate. Norwich are four points off the Championship play-off spots in seventh. The battle for a top-flight return continues against Stoke on Saturday.
Nunez, a 14-cap Chile international, hopes to play a central role in it but, as he says himself, his efforts to nail down a place are ongoing. Since the Birmingham game, in which he scored two goals and set up the other, he has only started two out of four.
That is not to say he is not valued by David Wagner, the head coach who replaced Dean Smith at the helm in January. In fact, the opposite is true. “We all love him as a character and as a player,” said the former Huddersfield boss last month.
Rather, it is a case of giving him time to fully adapt to English football – and the language – and of finding the best role for him. So far this season, Nunez, or ‘Nacho’, as he is nicknamed, has been used on both sides of central midfield, as a No 10 and even out wide.
“My favourite position has always been as an eight or a 10, but right now it depends on what the manager needs,” says Nunez.
“If someone is injured and there’s no one else in a certain position, I am happy to fill in and I will perform in the best way I can.”
There is no doubting that. Nunez’s work-rate is formidable. Wagner has marvelled at the physical numbers he puts up in training. Back at Universidad Catolica in Chile, supporters used to joke that he ran home after games, such was his boundless energy.
Gus Poyet, his manager for a year there, sometimes harnessed that energy by using him at wing-back, and, even during longer periods out of the starting line-up at Norwich, he has thrown himself into his training and preparation with the same zeal.
“You always have to give your best and set a good example to the younger players,” Nunez explains. “I always work hard, even in tough periods, because I know it’s a process.
“I have a good relationship with the manager. We talk about my good performances and my bad performances, and we are always looking for ways to improve.”
The season has not been without challenges but it is clear Nunez is enjoying every aspect of life at Norwich.
His grasp of English is still limited – this interview is being conducted in Spanish and the club have employed a translator to help him and fellow summer signing Gabriel Sara – but it is improving with lessons and the language barrier has not held him back.
“To come from Chile to an important league like the Championship is something beautiful, it’s tremendous,” he says. “I’m very happy with the way I have been welcomed at the club, with my team-mates, with the league. All of it.”
Nunez was convinced to make the move by Norwich’s sporting director Stuart Webber, who travelled to Brazil to meet him and his representative following a Universidad Catolica Copa Sudamericana game against Sao Paulo in July.
Nunez was blown away when shown the state-of-the-art facilities at the club’s newly-developed training centre, a factor which, among others, helped to make Webber’s pitch straightforward.
“They have everything you need to do your job at the best level and I mean everything,” says Nunez, his eyes widening.
“The pitches, the gym, the meals. All of it helps you adapt very quickly. Also, the dynamic in the training sessions is very intense. Then, when you play the games, you see that the league is also very intense and competitive.”
Nunez always had it in mind to move to Europe having grown up idolising Chile’s generación dorada – their golden generation.
“Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Charles Aranguiz, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla… They were all in Europe, like I am now, and I have always tried to transmit the same energy they played with. For a young player, they transmitted a lot of positive things.”
Nunez admits, though, that he did not necessarily see his own move across the Atlantic landing him in England.
He may be a tireless worker, but he sees his biggest strengths as technical rather than physical and that is apparent in the way he plays. Nunez is a creator and a set-piece specialist. No player has attempted more through-balls in the Championship this season.
“With my characteristics, I didn’t always see myself in this league because it is very physical but, thanks to God, I have been able to adapt really well,” he says.
“I like the Chilean league, for the style of play and the good technical level, but what’s different here, in addition to the resources available to the clubs, is the high intensity.
“It is more like the Copa Libertadores or the Copa Sudamericana [South America’s equivalent of the Champions League and Europa League]. If you give an opportunity to those teams, they kill you.
“It is the same here in the Championship. If you make a mistake or drop your level, you are punished.”
Nunez is doing everything he can to avoid that eventuality, his efforts underpinned by the drive instilled in him as a young player from a poor background in Santiago, Chile’s capital, where those he has left behind are now supporting him from afar.
“It’s just about continuing to develop and improve myself as a player,” he says. “I’m very happy here, one step away from the best league in the world, which is the Premier League, I just have to keep working hard, to keep chasing my targets and fulfilling my dreams.”
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