It is often said that 'things change quickly in football’, and for Benfica’s Victor Lindelöf, this phrase certainly rings true. Last summer, the young defender received a last-minute call-up to Sweden’s U21 squad for the European Championships in the Czech Republic. A few weeks later, he was lifting the trophy with his teammates, and was named in the team of the tournament.
Lindelöf’s progress at Benfica has been equally rapid. The 21-year old was on the verge of a loan move to Middlesbrough in January, until an injury to Lisandro López scuppered the deal and thrust him into the first-team picture. In the space of just 16 days, Lindelöf made his full league debut at Belenenses, started his first Clássico, made his Champions League bow against Zenit, and scored his first Benfica goal against Paços.
This Wednesday, Lindelöf gave an extended interview to Fredrik Jönsson of Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Below is a transcript of the exchange, translated with the help of Jan Hagen, a freelance sports writer and Portuguese football expert based in Scandinavia.
How did you find the game against Zenit?
“It was really fun. I felt good during the game, and I think we controlled the game from start to finish. Zenit did not create many chances. For my part, I felt calm and I had the ball quite a lot.”
You kept a clean sheet, so everything went as planned defensively. You also made some attacking runs and you showed guts.
“It's not like I go out on a football field and am afraid. It's about playing your game and daring to get stuck in. I know which qualities I posses and I dare to exert myself. I have great confidence and know what I am capable of on a football field.”
How have you found the transition to the Benfica first-team?
“I played my first game from the start in the [League] Cup in December [against Nacional]. In January and February, I played around seven games overall. I have great confidence, I have grown with the task. The teams you face aren't bad, but I think I have managed well, and shown that I am a good player.”
And after the match against Porto on Friday, you debuted in the Champions League.
“Yes. It was a dream to play in the Champions League. It was stirring to go out on the pitch and hear the [Champions League] anthem.”
The Estádio da Luz has to be an intense arena (to play in).
“The supporters are fantastic, and the venue is absolutely wonderful. It is a great boost. You grow (thanks to) the audience, it's a powerful feeling to go out on the pitch.”
You got a lot of praise [for your performance] yesterday. Iceland coach Lars Lagerbäck called you "a [potential] world-class player for Swedish football".
“I'm just trying to do my job and play my game. When the chance comes you have to show your best side. I just have to thank him for his words.”
What has the [Benfica] coach and management said (to you)?
“I have had conversations with the coach, but it stays between the two of us. I think they are happy (with me). As I said, it has felt good and I have received praise from the guys.”
How are you enjoying life at Benfica?
“It is a fantastic club. I'm very happy to be here and to learn as much as possible. It is an excellent school. I would never have been the footballer I am today if I hadn't had the training I've received over the (last few) years. I have a lot to thank Benfica for.”
What is it like learning from Luisão and Lisandro López?
“You talk a lot in training. The centre-backs I have around me are good and very experienced. There is no better place to be than here.”
Through the years, there have been some major Swedish players at Benfica, including Mats Magnusson, Jonas Thern, Stefan Schwarz, Glenn Strömberg and Sven-Göran Eriksson. (Is this an) advantage or disadvantage?
“It probably does not matter where you come from, there is always great pressure at a club like Benfica. It is the biggest club in Portugal, it is a great club, and they have many fans.”
How famous are you among the fans? Do they recognise you in the street?
“Obviously you get some congratulations in the town. Sometimes someone wants to take pictures. It's fun that people appreciate what you do.”
Do you need to pay at restaurants?!
“I've been treated a few times. (But) I more often get a table quickly if it is full. Usually I pay for the food, which I gladly do.”
Have you received any songs or nicknames from the fans?
“They have called me ‘Iceman’ in the newspapers. It started a few years ago when I was in the B team. And now they've begun to run it in the newspapers. But I don't know why! I’ve not received any real explanation (for it). It was one of the coaches and a few teammates who gave me the nickname. I think it's because I'm pretty calm and steady.”
How highly do you rate Renato Sanches?
“He's fantastically talented. He's very good on the ball. He has huge self-confidence for an 18-year old, to go out and shine at a big club like Benfica. That's really cool. He's a fantastic person off the field. He's very funny and easy to get along with."
“He's a player that you can't begrudge success. He's (already) very good with great potential. He's kind of my little brother in the team. We joke and talk a lot. (He's) a very lovely guy to be with.”
So you don't want him to leave for 80 million Euros to Manchester United?
“I have no idea. It's up to him and the club. It's only natural that clubs want him.”
You are the captain of the U21 national team and a lot indicates that you will play in the Olympics in Brazil. In about one month, the senior side play against the Czech Republic. What are your thoughts when it comes to the national team?
“It's always a huge honour to represent your country in matches. Now that I'm at Benfica, I focus on playing their games, and try to do as well as possible. If I do well and people like me, maybe I will get the chance. But it's not something I think about every day.”
But you would not have any problem to play in both the European Championships and the Olympics this summer?
“Absolutely not. It would be a huge honour to do it. I need to perform and then we'll see where it leads.”