Thierry Correia was struggling. Home was more than 850km away in Amadora, a 15-minute drive from central Lisbon, Portugal. The 21-year-old had arrived from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in the summer of 2019 for a hefty 12 million euros. But instead of starting every match, he was glued to the bench.
Having trained and played regularly for the youth side that Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and former Los Che winger Nani once starred in, watching on the sidelines was a harsh reality.
“I didn’t feel like part of the team because I wasn’t playing much,” Correia told Batzine in an exclusive interview. “I confided in my parents, and thought maybe I should have stayed at Sporting longer.”
Yet, there was no time to feel sorry for himself. Fuelled by grit and moral support from teammates, the right-back dragged himself out of his funk to become a key player this season.
Teammates you can count on
Joining at a tumultuous time when Marcelino Garcia Toral was sacked weeks into the 2019/20 season, Correia fared no better with replacement Albert Celades, who only fielded him twice in LaLiga – he made two further appearances under caretaker manager Voro.
But the pacy full-back credited Goncalo Guedes and Eliaquim Mangala for their words of wisdom. “(Despite my lack of game time), there was no chance to slow down. Their help was crucial in overcoming my mental block to remain focused,” said Correia, who has 11 league appearances under his belt this season.
It was a common theme throughout the interview – teammates supporting each other. Today, his biggest competitor is also his mentor. Ten years his senior, Daniel Wass stands in the way of the starting right-back spot.
Is there a cutthroat competition between them? Not quite, said Correia with a grin. It is evident he holds the Dane in high regard though, explaining that there is just enough passion for a friendly rivalry. “Wass can play in different positions and is vastly experienced. He is always ready to help the younger lads during training,” he added.
Interestingly, some of the best defensive advice came from fellow Portuguese Guedes – a winger by trade. The duo would watch highlight reels, and Valencia’s record signing would meticulously analyse attacking movements, which allowed Correia to devise countermeasures.
Strength in numbers
Sixteen months on, and fresh from scoring his first Valencia goal against third tier Yeclano Deportivo in the Copa del Rey, he has nurtured a newfound mettle – one that also courses through the team. The Bats are currently three points above the drop zone, but Correia believes that the only way to improve is to keep playing.
“I’m young, so I need to play a lot of games,” he said. “This is a time of learning, and we have to help each other out.”
The familiar roar of Mestalla would be a welcome motivation. “Mestalla is a stadium where fans give us a huge boost. While the pressure is not as much when playing away now, having people in stadiums again will be the best,” he said.