So this is awkward. It’s a beautiful day at Las Rozas, 25km north-west of Madrid, and Pedro Porro is sitting in the sunshine, happy to be back in the Spain squad among old friends, when that rant is raised. “Well, that’s his thing,” the Tottenham wing-back starts saying, not sure what to say about the moment his own manager tore into the team he has just joined, when he says: “The first thing is, what you’re talking about: I hadn’t heard it until now.” Wait, really? You mean you don’t know what Antonio Conte said? “Yes.”
Oh. And so the first time Porro hears about Conte’s attack on Spurs is here, reported back to him second-hand and 1,000km away. He listens to how after Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Southampton, a game in which Porro scored and one he has just brought up as a sign that things are getting better, his coach claimed they couldn’t be much worse. He hears how Conte criticised the club’s culture, accusing his players of being 11 individuals not a team. And he is told that the manager declared failure “the story of Tottenham”. Talk about ruining the moment.
When the recap comes to an end – “in short, it was quite something” – Porro pauses, goes “pffff” and then grins, swiftly firing back: “Well, that’s his opinion.” There is a laugh – not from him – and then, still smiling, he says: “I’m not getting involved there. That’s not one for me.”
Which seems fair enough. Imagine it: you’re young, you’re a new arrival, you don’t speak the language, and you’re not even sure where you are yet – so much so it takes a while to remember the area you’ve just moved to. During your debut one of the club’s former coaches calls you “so bad it’s unbelievable” and now someone tells you the current coach, the guy who brought you in, said that and probably won’t be around much longer.
As Porro himself puts it, it’s easy to picture him “going blank, in shock”. Instead, there’s that smile. He’s heard it all before, even if he didn’t hear this one. London is still where he wants to be – he lives in Barnet – and time remains on his side. There is no lamenting the decision to leave Sporting for this, even if Tottenham’s own coach labelled them losers. “No,” Porro insists, “I don’t think: ‘Where have I ended up?! What have I let myself in for?’ Not at all.” And asked his long-term plan, the response is unequivocal: “To play at Spurs, of course.”
“I’m clear that what I want is to be a success for my team: that’s all I’m thinking about. We’re out of the cups and the last league game escaped us but I’m confident in myself and the team. We can sort it out, of course. Absolutely. And I feel better all the time.”
Being here helps: international football and not a cloud in the sky. “Going home, being with Spain, is phenomenal; it fills you with pride,” Porro says. “I have spent a lot of time here with the U21s, they gave me confidence and if [coach Luis de la Fuente] has called me, it’s because he thinks I can play, that I deserve it.”
Porro is only 23 but he knows how football can be. At 14 he left home in Extremadura for Madrid, joining Rayo Vallecano, travelling “with fear, to see what happened”. Next he headed for Girona, where although he impressed he experienced relegation. He joined Manchester City and was immediately told to leave again. And he set off for Valladolid, not entirely voluntarily. He loved Lisbon but left there too and that brought anxiety, as he was forced to wait until the last minute. The Sporting coach, Rúben Amorim, insisted he would only be allowed to leave if Spurs paid his buyout clause. Eventually, he went on loan with an obligation to buy for €45m (£40m).
“Those final two weeks were very hard,” he says. “There’s uncertainty day after day. You have to be focused on playing, but that’s not easy. I even had a cup final on the last day. But I’ve always been mentally strong. That’s fundamental.”
Porro was 19 when Manchester City signed him and 19 when he left, four days later. He joined from Girona, the club City own, but says he hasn’t got “the slightest clue” if that was what took him there: “My agent told me. I was surprised. It’s one of the best clubs there is, even though I was young. It’s a place to learn.”
Not that the lessons were delivered exactly the way he hoped. It’s not just that Porro never played a game there; he never even got there. “Nada, nada,” he says. “I wasn’t there at all. I didn’t even train.” You didn’t talk to Pep Guardiola, to the staff? “No, no, nothing. They told my agents and we looked [for somewhere to go]. Nothing was said directly to me.” Do you feel dislocated? “Not dislocated. You don’t feel important. And that’s hard. You’re there but you’re not there. I took it as a [sign that] I had to grow, follow my own path. It wasn’t just that it’s a big club, I was little too.”
There is a pause. “When I left City for Valladolid it was a smack in the face because I was very young,” he continues. “City wanted to sign me long term but decided to loan me to mature in professional football because I’d only been playing for a year, at Girona. It’s hard for someone so young to go away. It all happened very fast: the last day of the window I had to find somewhere. Sometimes where you’re going doesn’t suit you. At Valladolid I found it a harder but you learn from the hard years, the experience even if you don’t play. That’s life, something else to make you stronger.”
In Lisbon, initially on another loan, Porro “found myself” he says. There’s a fondness for the club where he played alongside Marcus Edwards – a friend he describes as an “extraordinary” player – and for whom he was decisive in victory against his current team earlier this season, an early glimpse perhaps that not everything was perfect over there. So why go? “Life is moments and I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass,” he says. “Sporting had given me everything and there was no problem but I was ready to take the next step. I want to play in the best league in the world, the best players are there, and it was a dream to join Spurs.
“I’m integrating as fast as I can. My English is not very good, the first weeks were a bit harder. Eric Dier speaks Portuguese and helped, Cuti [Cristian Romero] too. I knew words, understood some things, but I had never been there. I get the team talks: the manager speaks English differently, as an Italian, which is easier. I’m trying to adapt as fast as I can. And you can see that: in the last game, I let loose a little more.”
That lines invites a reflection: it’s more a human process than a football one “Exactly. I have taken lots of beatings,” Porro says. “There was the coach, I don’t remember [his name] now …”
That’ll be Tim Sherwood. After Porro’s first game, Sherwood described him as “so bad it’s unbelievable”, demanding he be taken off. “It doesn’t annoy me, exactly,” Porro says, although it certainly stuck with him. “You know people will have their opinion, they’re going to say you played badly, that you’re no good or whatever. You try not to even notice, but it’s impossible. There’s always someone saying: ‘Did you see this?’”
Ah, yeah, sorry about that.
“You read what’s said about a player who has been at the club two days – two days – and that hits you because you think: ‘I’ve just got here’,” Porro says, clicking his fingers. “I’m not a machine that goes like this and that’s it, I know everyone, I’m integrated. I really hope he keeps saying bad things about me that will make me stronger. But it’s true that it made an impression because I had been at a big club for so little time and well …”
Porro shrugs, laughs, a determination there. “Let me loose in a prison and I’ll end up owning the place. But it’s hard: it was only a week, I’d never played a minute at City, never played in England in my life. It’s a couple of days, I start against Leicester. What do you want? For me to score five and cut out 70 balls?! Anyone can have a bad day. From there, I just keep on: take English classes, get into the group, adapt.”
If it’s any consolation, apart from this Spain call up of course, Sherwood wasn’t exactly a roaring success at Spurs. There’s a smile in the sunshine. “For me, it makes no difference,” Porro says. “I don’t know him. I don’t know what had happened for him to speak. People passed it on, saying he had spoken badly about me. But he won’t be the first who then had to shut his mouth.”