Last month Arnaut Danjuma put the cherry on top of one of the greatest nights in Villarreal’s history, grabbing the relative minnows’ third goal in a 3-0 victory over Juventus.
The result dumped I Bianconeri out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage in their own back-yard, and Danjuma’s involvement added an extra sprinkling of magic to this already story-book moment.
Exactly one year prior, the forward was lining up for AFC Bournemouth in the English second-tier as they took on Swansea City in a behind-closed-doors encounter. In that game Danjuma scored and registered an assist, two of the 17 goal contributions he would end the campaign with.
After the Cherries faltered in the Championship playoffs, he was snapped up by the Yellow Submarine for around €25m, where he has been posting numbers superior to players with far loftier reputations.
Scoring the clincher against Juventus was the latest in a long line of highlights in the Champions League and La Liga this season, with Danjuma averaging just under a goal every other game in all competitions.
Speaking to 90min recently, he revealed that he has not found the step-up in quality this term that challenging.
“I’m not satisfied yet, but it has not been that difficult to adapt to be honest with you,” he said.
“But there are multiple reasons for that. My teammates have really helped me adapt to the country, the entire staff have been at me from the very first day making sure I adapt to the way they want me to play. It hasn’t been that difficult but I need to give credit where credit’s due.”
On Wednesday Danjuma will face the biggest challenge of his career to date: a Champions League quarter-final first leg against an all-conquering Bayern Munich side.
After being grabbed by the BT Sport cameras as the full time whistle peeped in Turin last month, the 25-year-old gave one of the most memorable post-game interviews of the 2021/22 Champions League so far. During this chat, a beaming Danjuma repeatedly insisted that the ‘sky's the limit’ for this special Villarreal group.
That proclamation will be tested against Die Roten, but he insisted that the squad were not daunted by the visit of Julian Nagelsmann’s side.
“There are a lot of people who have the opinion that we are the underdog and you do not want to be playing Bayern Munich because they are one of the biggest clubs in the world,” he began.
“But the funny thing is, we are quite the opposite. We’ve beaten Juventus for a reason. Even if you look at the group stage we put in a good performance against Manchester United and went through.
“They won the Europa League last year, beating Man Utd and Arsenal. So the group isn’t necessarily scared of bigger clubs and that’s the mentality that you should have if you compete in the Champions League.
“That’s the mentality that I have and that’s the mentality I will always strive to have before a game. There is no reason for competing if you don’t believe you can win.
“Although it’s Bayern Munich, and we will give respect where it is due as they are one of the greatest clubs in world football, nevertheless they are still humans, they still breathe, they still walk as we do, they still do everything that we do. Everyone can have a bad day too, and we will definitely go into the game trying to win it.”
If Villarreal are to upset the odds once again, wily head coach Unai Emery is going to play a pivotal role. A master of frustrating superior opposition, Danjuma is confident that the Spaniard will come up with another ‘masterplan’ to beat the Bundesliga champions.
“I’ve got a very good relationship with him [Emery]. He recently told me that: ‘I’ve also changed,’ which is very impressive for me to hear from a manager like him,” he said.
“He was already one of the biggest managers in world club football and for him to keep improving himself every day, it’s clear he aims for higher things, which is exactly the same mentality that I have. He will always find ways to improve his strategy, to improve his training sessions, to improve his players. That is one of the reasons we have been performing so well.”
Emery is not the only top coach that Danjuma has had the pleasure of working under in recent times. Shortly after taking over the Dutch national side for the third time, Louis van Gaal recalled Danjuma after a lengthy hiatus and should he stay fit, he is a shoo-in to travel to the World Cup later this year.
“Working with Louis is very good for me. If you look into what he has achieved and what kind of manager he is, it’s a privilege to work under managers like that because there’s so much for me to learn,” he said
“And especially because Louis is such a personal coach, he always strives to have the best relationship with his players.”
Danjuma is also hoping that the Netherlands can draw strength out of the sad news that Van Gaal is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer – a fact he kept hidden from the group until very recently.
“What he came out with meant a lot to the group and he’s very special to the group,” he said.
“Obviously it’s sad news but, there’s still some positives to take from it because the group wants to fight for him and the World Cup will definitely be more special for us. We all stand by him and will try to make the best of the situation.”
Although the World Cup is likely to be his next immediate career milestone, it is hard to shake the feeling that there is more to come from Danjuma.
In the future, he may be eager to have another crack at the Premier League, with his only season in the English top-flight ending in relegation. When asked about this possibility, Danjuma admitted that he did miss playing in England.
“I 100% enjoyed my time in England. Looking back now I no way appreciated it as much as I should have done when I lived there,” he said
“For me, it’s just such a nice country to live in and I’m fluent in the language so that helps as well! I’m trying my best at Spanish as well. I’ve got family that still lives in England.
“In terms of the Premier League, it’s indescribable. The thing I will never forget in the Premier League is the fans. If you just walk into the stadium you cannot replicate the feeling of a Premier League game elsewhere in the world, it’s different.
“So in that regard you are always going to miss a bit of England. If I’m returning one day, I guess that’s up to the way I perform and what the future holds for me.”
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