Matt Doherty wants to face Atletico team-mate and French star Antoine Griezmann
International friendly: Republic of Ireland v Latvia (tonight, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm)
MATT Doherty may have enjoyed a barbeque at Antoine Griezmann’s house – but hopes he’ll get the chance to grill his Atletico Madrid team-mate ahead of next Monday’s Euro 2024 opener with France in Dublin.
Doherty, who will captain the Republic of Ireland in this evening’s friendly international with Latvia, moved from Tottenham Hotspur to the Spanish capital at the start of the year after being surplus to requirements at the north London club.
So far, so good, according to the 31-year-old defender – even though his game-time has been sorely limited at Atletico, only making his debut as a late substitute in the side’s 6-1 thrashing of Sevilla earlier this month, while he was an unused sub in last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Valencia.
“It's going well for me in Spain,” said Doherty at yesterday’s pre-match press conference alongside manager Stephen Kenny.
“It's a different experience completely, different culture, different preparation for games. I'm enjoying my time there even though I'm not playing that much.
“The reason I left was, well, initially it was just to go on loan for the rest of the season and then obviously we had the problems with too many loans.
“So then it was a case of I couldn't really say no to that type of experience and a manager of his calibre. I always like to challenge myself and be uncomfortable at times and it was a similar case there.
“I didn't have long to think about it, but the time I did have I just couldn't say no to that opportunity.”
The Dubliner has been made to feel very welcome at his new club and already has huge respect for the leader of Atletico – Griezmann.
“He’s got a great relationship with everybody. I think I was only there two weeks and we had a team barbeque at his house and he looked after everybody.
“He’s got the respect of everybody in the squad, he leads them on the pitch and off the pitch. We know what kind of world-class player he is, he’s been doing it for years and years. For sure, he is going to be someone that we’ll have to keep our eye on for 90 minutes.”
Doherty wants to get some much-needed minutes into his “legs and lungs” in the hope of getting the nod for the upcoming French game and to face Griezmann – but to captain his country for the first time this evening came as a big surprise.
“I obviously got told this morning [about captaining the team]. So I just told my Dad, I haven’t really told anybody. For me, it’s obviously a pleasure, a great honour,
“I’ve obviously never done it before so when Stephen told me, I was a bit surprised, I didn’t expect it. I’ve to thank him for doing that, I know he believes in me a lot. Even though I’ve not been playing that well, he’s always kept in contact and I guess he knows that when I’ve played, I’ve never let him down. That will be the same case again, and hopefully I can do him proud.”
Kenny’s decision to make Doherty captain tonight was, on the face of it, a bit left-field – but the Ireland manager explained his thought processes and says there is so much to learn about how the former Home Farm player made his way to the top.
“It hasn't been straightforward for Matt in his career,” said Kenny. “He's not always been one of the main players for Ireland.
“He's had to bide his time over the years, had to play in League One, come from the League of Ireland to play in League One, in Scotland, come up the hard way, from League One to the Championship and the Premier League, play in the Premier League regularly.
“Now with the move to La Liga. It’s been his own personal journey. He's had to fight hard and adapt, consistently adapt to go up the various levels.
“He has done that very well. When we were out in Spain 18 months ago and had to go and play Hungary, a bit light squad-wise, there was an issue with Matt, injury-wise, and he could have easily not played in that game.
“He was the only senior right back available. Even though it was a friendly game, he passed himself fit and was determined to play regardless.
“He played 90 minutes and we drew, he put the team before himself, we didn't want to take a risk but a lot of players would have not played, he was determined to play.”
Meanwhile, the Ireland manager said age won’t stop him picking Brighton’s in-form attacker Evan Ferguson (18). Regarded as one of the hottest prospects in the Premier League, Kenny said: “We are not shy about playing young players.
“It’s about the impact a player can have and the level of performance. The age then becomes irrelevant. It’s about who’s in form and who isn’t.”