It has been a short summer for everyone at West Ham United, but particularly for Diego Poyet, who was involved for Uruguay at the FIFA U20 World Cup.
His team were unfortunate to lose at the last 16 stage to Brazil on penalties but the former Charlton youngster wants to use the experience to springboard into a positive season with the Hammers.
We caught up with the No23 during the pre-season training camp in Ireland.
Diego, we’re here in Cork for a training camp as we prepare for our Europa League campaign. It’s been a short break for everybody, especially for you – there was only a week or so between the end of the U20s World Cup and your return. How have you got over that?
DP: “It’s been tough. We lost to Brazil on penalties, but I knew I was going to have to come back early. From the end of last season we were told we might have an early start because of the Europa League and I’m fit and happy to be back with the boys and the team.”
If we can talk about the World Cup a little, obviously penalties is a heartbreaking way to go out, but Uruguay did themselves proud at the tournament?
DP: “Yes, it was hard. From the teams who qualified we probably got the toughest draw. We had to play Brazil, who were one of the favourites and they went on to lose to Serbia in the final. We were unlucky with the draw. I know to win the tournament you’re going to have to play against the best teams sooner rather than later. We got Brazil and we played a good game, but penalties – they scored all five and we missed one so that was it for us.”
You lost to the eventual finalists, you beat the winners in the group stage. Was it a case of you feeling what might have been at the end of it?
DP: “Yes. Like all Uruguayan teams we were hard to beat. We didn’t concede many goals and were in every game until the last ten minutes. The Brazil game, we kept it at 0-0. We had our chances and they had theirs, but there wasn’t much between the teams. We beat Serbia in the opening game, and they went on to win the competition, which shows how tight it all was.”
For yourself, before those friendlies at the end of the season for Uruguay, you hadn’t played for them before. For it to all come together so quickly, with you playing your part in it – was that something that made you proud?
DP: “The team had to do quite well in the U20 Copa America, which was held in January, to qualify for the World Cup. They finished second, so there was already a team there formed which knew each other. In between that time and the World Cup, I’m grateful for how they received me and I felt part of the group right away. I came on in the first two games and the started the final group match and the Brazil game. The manager was pleased with how I did, but there was the disappointment of going out in the last 16 because we could have gone further.”
You went to New Zealand with us last summer, you wouldn’t have expected to go back there so soon again!
DP: “I didn’t expect to be there twice in one year. For the first couple of days we stayed less than a minute from where we stayed and played our games. It was nice, because I was the only player from the squad who had been to New Zealand before so I showed them a couple of places that we had been the year before.”
This camp here must be a good way of getting all that travelling out of your legs and getting ready for next season again?
DP: “From Uruguay to Auckland there was a lot of travelling, and then we had to change cities between games, which adds to the fatigue. I’m happy to be here. Obviously the flight from home to here was very short and now I’m raring to go. I can’t wait to start.”
It all gets underway next week with the Europa League. I guess it’s a great chance to get some matches under your belt for the first team.
DP: “I didn’t get the chance to play much last season, so hopefully if I get the chance I’ll play and if it’s the Europa League then great. We want to keep going forward, qualify and get through these first stages. All its going to do is help the Club and show what a good Club we are.”
How much did you feel you learned last season, making your Premier League debut and playing in a few cup games as well?
DP: “I knew my first year was going to be tough. It was the first time I had the new club feeling. I had been at Charlton since I was 11 and was already training sometimes with the first team, so I had a lot of time to get used to it and get ready for the step up there. Last season was my first in the Premier League, a new team and everything, so I had to get used to it. I feel comfortable now and am ready to go. There’s a new manager, it’s exciting times for everyone at the Club. It’s all really good at the moment.”
With the new manager coming in, is having these games so early good, as it gives you an immediate chance to impress?
DP: “I think it is. People can impress in training but there’s nothing like impressing with what you can do in games. That’s what matters, so it’s an opportunity for everyone, the Club and the fans to travel to Europe. It’s a chance to play against some of the big clubs in Europe.”
For that first game next week, I guess it’s a bit of a step into the unknown. We don’t know too much about the opposition so how do you approach those kind of games?
DP: “Just win. We need to win and I think everyone’s pretty happy that the first leg is at home. The most important thing is to win these games, qualify, get to the group stage and then we’ll see what group we get. For now we’ve got to concentrate on winning the game and playing well. It’s still the first game of pre-season after just a week of training so we’ll see how fit we are and how fit they are, but I’m sure we’ll do well.
Personally, what targets have you set yourself for the year ahead?
DP: “Targets? I’ll have to see. I haven’t worked with the manager, I know things about him and have watched how his teams play, but he’ll speak to the players and then we’ll start to see the differences from the previous manager. It’s all very exciting and new for everyone and it’s a good time to be at the Club.”