One of the newest faces within the Roma squad, Carles Perez has nevertheless needed little time to make an impression on the Italian capital.
An opening goal for the club, against Gent in the Europa League, was an early indicator of the attacking threat the January signing will bring to the club.
As he continues training ahead of Serie A's potential resumption, we sat down with Perez to learn more about his career to date...
What were you like as a child?
“I was a really happy, lively boy. As early as I can remember, I always wanted to have a ball in my hands – and at my feet, more importantly. I always used to complain when I couldn’t play. I spent a lot of time playing with my friends, always as a striker. I hated it when it was my turn to go in goal. I remember the only present I ever wanted was a ball or anything else to do with football.”
What’s your first football memory?
“My first clear memory is the Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona game in La Liga in 2009. I watched it with my family – I always used to watch the games with them. When I was younger, I didn’t think of myself as a fan of a specific team, but given that all of my family were Barcelona fans I ended up following them too.”
And who was your idol?
Would you watch Spain when they played at the Euros and World Cups?
“I have to be honest with you: I’ve always preferred playing football to watching it on TV. Obviously I watched the big games but I didn’t watch them all. Even when it came to international tournaments, I’d only watch the matches from the knock-out stages onwards.”
It must have been pretty good growing up as a Spain fan and seeing the country win two Euros and a World Cup…
“Yeah, we had a lot of success and played some spectacular football.”
How old were you when you started playing football for a proper team?
“I started in a football school at the age of five and then I joined my first real team at the age of seven: Damm. They’re not a team on the same level as Espanyol and Barcelona but they have good traditions at youth level. I spent three years at Damm before I was signed by Espanyol.”
That must have been a big step up. Can you remember how it felt?
“Yeah, it was a move that gave me a lot of strength and confidence to kick on. The fact that I’d been signed by one of the two top teams in the city and the region gave me a lot of satisfaction. I was there for four years.”
Was the dream already to become a professional footballer at that point?
“Absolutely, yes. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do from an early age, even when I was at Damm. I wasn’t sure that I’d manage it but certainly my aim was to become a footballer. Joining Barcelona was another goal I had – something I managed when I was 14.”
How did that feel?
“My immediate reaction when I found out they’d signed me was one of disbelief. It came just after I’d scored a brace against them in a 3-1 win for Espanyol. They’d been tracking me for a while, spoke to my dad and then finalised the signing. I joined the Cadete B [U15] team, then after three months they bumped me up to the Cadete A [U16] team.”
Were you still living with your family at that point or had you moved into club accommodation?
“No, I was still living at home with my family. My father would take me to training and then home again. It was around 35 minutes in the car from the house. Then when I got my own licence I started driving myself and eventually moved into an apartment in Barcelona.”
Who have been the most important people for your development and your career in general?
“The support of my family has definitely played a key role throughout my development. They’ve always supported me and given me confidence.”
And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“In terms of my career, the best advice has come from the experienced, established players I’ve played with. One that has stayed with me came from Xavi, who told me that – in football – everything depends on you. Nobody gives you anything for free – you have to reach each milestone on the back of your own efforts. Leo Messi also helped me and lots of other young players, but those words from Xavi are the ones that had the biggest impact on me.”
What was it like training with the Barcelona first team for the first time?
“Well, I remember that I was really nervous, even though the session was taking place the day after a game, so the starting line-up was doing recovery work while we trained with those not involved in the match. Despite that, there was a lot of pressure – the coach, Ernesto Valverde, was watching and there was Leo Messi and other wonderful players on the sidelines watching the game. It was like you were constantly under the microscope.”
During your time in the Barcelona academy, you took on Roma in the UEFA Youth League in the 2015-16 season. What are your memories of that clash?
“It was a twist of fate. When I joined Roma they showed me photos from those games. It was in the group stage and we drew 0-0 at Trigoria and 3-3 in Barcelona. I played in both games – Roma had a brilliant team.”
What do you remember of your first-team debut for Barcelona?
“My first game was on the last day of the 2018-19 season, away at Eibar. I came on in the 70th minute. That said, I think of my real debut as being on the second day of this season in a Barcelona v Real Betis game at the Camp Nou. I started the match, we won the game 5-2 and I scored to make it 3-1. It was an unforgettable moment.”
What memories do you have of your Champions League debut, when you scored away at Inter?
“It was great. I scored in a legendary stadium like San Siro, against a top team which I remember watching on TV with my dad when I was a kid. I remember telling him that I wanted to play lots of matches at that level, so it was a dream come true.”
You joined Roma in January. What have you made of the experience so far?
“I have good memories of the first few months, up to the suspension of the league due to coronavirus. As I’ve always said, I’m really pleased to be here and happy with the support I’ve received from the coaching staff, my team-mates and everyone who works at Roma. Their support has given me a lot of confidence. It’s a shame we haven’t been able to play for so long, but we’re ready to get going again.”
How are you getting on with Paulo Fonseca?
“The fact that I’m here is thanks to the faith he’s shown in me since the first time we spoke. He’s a person that has very clear ideas – he has great football knowledge and he likes playing good football, with a style that I like. He wants to maintain control of the play and keep possession of the ball rather than chasing after the opposition.”
How helpful has it been in terms of your adaptation to have joined at the same time as another Spaniard in Gonzalo Villar?
“I met Gonzalo when we were playing for the U21s. Obviously, when you move abroad it’s a big help to have a compatriot there to support you. We’ve helped each other out – thankfully Italian isn’t too different to Spanish, so that’s made it easier for us. Our other team-mates have been really helpful too and made us feel at ease straight away.”
You scored your first goal for the club against Gent on your Europa League debut…
“I was delighted to score and it was even better to do it at home so I could celebrate in front of our fans. Hearing the Stadio Olimpico shouting my name after the goal filled me with pride and satisfaction – I wasn’t really expecting that. It’s a memory I’ll keep forever.”
Have you been able to explore the city at all? Up until the lockdown, at least…
“It goes without saying but Roma is a marvellous, peerless city with so much history. I’d never been to Rome as a tourist but in the short time I had just after joining I visited the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and lots of other attractions with my family and friends. The people are really friendly and helpful too. It’s a shame that coronavirus happened after that, but let’s hope we can come through it as soon as possible.”
How was lockdown for you?
“It wasn’t easy, partly because I was here on my own. Aside from football and the team, I missed my family a lot. I think the lesson we can all learn from this period is that we need to appreciate the things that we took for granted, like seeing our families and friends and being able to hug and kiss them. Given that I had to spend a lot of time at home, I took the opportunity to do a bit of studying and I also played a lot of Call of Duty against my friends on the PlayStation, as well as watching TV series like Money Heist and Elite.”
During the crisis, you promoted a fundraising campaign in favour of your local hospital. What was the coronavirus situation like there?
“It’s the hospital I always went to for everything as a kid so I wanted to make contribution by helping them to buy the resources and equipment they needed to tackle the crisis. I thought it was a completely natural thing to do to repay all the help my fellow citizens and I have had during our lives. The impact of COVID-19 in Spain was similar to the impact it had in Italy and now things are gradually getting back to normal.”
How did it feel coming back to Trigoria to train with your team-mates?
“It was a massive relief to be able to get my boots on again and run on a pitch after such a long time at home. Playing football is all a footballer wants. It was great to work with my team-mates and the coaching staff again.”
Roma will return to action against Sampdoria on 24 June. How much are you missing the matches?
“I can’t wait to get back out there for a match, to wear the Roma jersey and to try to do my best. It won’t be the same playing without fans, but we’ll do everything we can to entertain people and make the fans watching on TV happy.”
Check out earlier entries in our Big Interview series:
AS Roma x Lindsey Thomas
AS Roma x Antonio Mirante
AS Roma x Juan Jesus
AS Roma x Diego Perotti
AS Roma x Justin Kluivert
AS Roma x Amadou Diawara
AS Roma x Jordan Veretout
AS Roma x Elisa Bartoli
AS Roma x Betty Bavagnoli
AS Roma x Chris Smalling
AS Roma x Edin Dzeko
AS Roma x Gianluca Mancini
AS Roma x Aleksandar Kolarov
AS Roma x Nicolo Zaniolo
AS Roma x Jim Pallotta
AS Roma x Cengiz Under
AS Roma x Paulo Fonseca
AS Roma x Leonardo Spinazzola