Javier Garrido is so comfortable at Norwich City, so happy to be back in England, that he reached the third round of Norwich’s darts tournament in January without ever having played before.
The first-to-three-legs competition was held at the training ground after some players had been to the World Championship.
“I beat Russ [Martin] in my first game, the second one I beat Barney [Leon Barnett],” recalls Garrido with pride. “In the third game, Jed [Steer], he threw me away. I didn’t go through but I did my best.”
Garrido fondly remembers the whole squad gathering for the final, in which Steven Whittaker beat David Fox. Raised at Real Sociedad, now on loan from Lazio, this was a new experience for Garrido. “It was the first time I played. Obviously in England it’s different than in Spain or Italy about the darts. In Spain, we don’t have that culture.”
As he makes clear, repeatedly and sincerely, in our interview overlooking the pitch at Carrow Road, Garrido loves life in English football. “The atmosphere, the culture, the English people,” he explains. “Maybe English people don’t realise that but for foreign people it’s amazing.” So when Chris Hughton offered him a way out of Lazio last summer he was delighted.
“I didn’t feel so comfortable in Italy, so when I knew Norwich City were interested in me, everything was so easy,” Garrido says, having joined one of the tightest squads in the division. “The players here they work hard, and the atmosphere in the dressing room is great. That is our main strength. They want to improve every day, and want to give 100 per cent, and obviously Norwich is a great club for that, because they give opportunity to players who have been playing League One, or Championship, and the players try to take it.”
This is the left-back’s second spell in England, having spent three years at Manchester City after Sven Goran Eriksson signed him as a 22-year-old in 2007. His English is now very good although he concedes that some of the more regional accents in the dressing room rather leave him behind.
“Sometimes I am struggling, if they start speaking between themselves so fast I have to be 100 per cent focused on what they do, so sometimes I get lost,” he reveals. “With Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] sometimes because he is Scottish, and Holty [Grant Holt] as well speaks quite fast.”
Garrido and Holt are from different footballing backgrounds. When Garrido was winning the European Under-19 Championship alongside David Silva and Sergio Ramos, Holt was playing League Two for Rochdale. But football clubs are diverse places, and now they are on the same team, to Garrido’s pleasure.
“It’s football, it’s football. You never know in years where you can be. [Holt] did so well because he was playing at a low level of football and now he’s in the Premier League, and that shows you and everybody he loves his football. He is a banter guy, he likes all the time joking. He has got his personality, which you can see when he plays, how he gives everything for the team.”
Holt and Garrido represent the two halves of the Norwich squad. Holt, the British core, mainly drawn out of the lower leagues, largely responsible for Norwich’s consecutive promotions. Garrido, the recent foreign signings, such as Alex Tettey and Luciano Becchio. It is a mix that works. And if Norwich stay up, Garrido’s loan move will be made permanent, as he has already fulfilled the other condition, having played 25 games here.
The peaks of this season were stirring home wins against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. Those were great afternoons at Carrow Road and Garrido was delighted to be part of them, providing the cross for Anthony Pilkington to head in the only goal against the likely champions. There was a fierce atmosphere that day and Garrido revels in the tight angles and the proximity to the pitch this ground provides, with its characteristically English feel.
“You see how close it is,” he says, pointing out from the directors’ box to the stands. “For a Spanish guy this is so good, because you live the football so, so close. People are shouting and pushing you. And when the referee finishes the game, and we did it, and everybody is happy, that’s one of the best moments a player can live in his job.
“You’ve got in Spain some stadiums that are amazing, but here everybody is close, you feel the football everywhere. Supporters at the stadiums are so good, one of the biggest differences between one league and the other is that atmosphere at English stadiums.”
Small grounds are not as welcoming to big teams in England as they are in Spain. “Barcelona and Real Madrid, it doesn’t matter which stadium they go, sooner or later they will have the three points. Here, it’s not. Here, Carrow Road is a very tough place to come. I don’t think people want to come around here as they know they risk losing some important points.”
So Garrido is in no mood to write off the Premier League, even if it has three fewer representatives in the Champions League quarter-finals than La Liga does. “It’s the eternal question, ‘which is better – English football or Spanish football?’” Garrido says. “I think every league has their moments. I remember four, five years ago every year in the last eight, there was three or four English teams. Now, in Spain, we live in a very good moment. But I think the English teams and the top teams can beat any team in Europe.”
Garrido certainly still has friends in elite Spanish football – Silva phoned him to ask about the merits of Manchester City before he moved there. He has played for Spain at under-15, under-17, under-19 and under-21 level, but he has not yet won a full cap.
“That is my main dream,” he said. “I know at the moment to receive a call from the national manager Vicente del Bosque is difficult but the main thing is you have to do well in your team, playing regularly, and if the manager decides to call you, do it.”
The problem is this Spain team is arguably the best in the history of international football. Left-back used to be a relatively open position but not any more.
“I know it is a difficult moment,” Garrido admits. “Because now they have found Jordi Alba at left-back, he has been doing so good, at Barcelona and the national team. The other day they played Nacho Monreal because Jordi Alba was injured, and he did really well. But who knows? Who knows?”
My Other Life: I know Alan Partridge
I live in the city centre with my girlfriend. You cannot compare Norwich with Manchester or Rome, it’s quite calm. The city is smaller, so is more relaxed. For footballers and their families, it’s an easy city to live in.
Sometimes we go to the cinema. I always have a discussion with my girlfriend, she likes dramatic and love films, I am more about action and stuff. I know what Alan Partridge is but I haven’t seen it.