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Saul's revival: Family reveals dedication behind Chelsea loanee's bid to impress

09:00 GMT 02/11/2021
Saul Niguez Chelsea
The on-loan Chelsea midfielder is in line to start in the Champions League tonight and has a long-term goal of making the Spain World Cup 2022 squad

Saul Niguez is taking lessons from his footballing family amid a turbulent time in his professional life.

His father – retired footballer Boria – guides him along with his two older brothers Aaron and Jony, who still play professionally.

That family support has been a calming influence through a chaotic first few months at Chelsea and might give him a shot at convincing the club to use their £30 million ($41m) option to buy him next summer.

Bidding to overcome a bad run of form at Atletico Madrid, the 26-year-old secured what was literally a last-minute loan deal to revive his career.

He made his debut in a Premier League game at home to Aston Villa but was hauled off at half-time having not yet adapted to the pace of the English game.

Thomas Tuchel has been nonetheless impressed with his new midfielder's reaction in training and the Spain international has since improved in his subsequent four appearances.

"He requires time and adaptation and is in the ideal place to evolve, continue to grow and regain his sporting level," Jony, his eldest brother, tells Goal.

Middle brother Aaron says: "For me, it is the ideal team for him. He has always watched the Premier League because he likes it a lot.

"He likes the intensity, verticality and especially its fans, they always help their players, their team at all times and especially in the less good moments. Both Cesar (Azpilicueta) and Kepa (Arrizabalaga) are helping Saul a lot to adapt.

"I am convinced that Saul needs the adaptation process of him like any player, but I'm sure that the best version of him will be seen soon."

His hardships in adapting to English football are nothing compared to what he's endured in the past. An injury sustained in his first Champions League knockout game against Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 stands out.

Defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos accidentally kicked Saul in the stomach, forcing him to be rushed to hospital with a serious issue with his left kidney. Forty days later, he would return but needed to take anti-inflammatories and pain injections just to compete.

With those medications taking a toll on his ability to perform, Saul moved to a vegetarian diet, cutting out meat and eggs. Under the watchful eye of nutritionist Johnny Ondina, who is a former professional footballer and worked in Valencia's backroom staff, he has managed to regain his top physical condition.

"Saul and I have been working [together] for approximately three years," Ondina tells Goal. "He is one of the best professionals I have ever met and, in addition, we are now friends.

"Through his brother Aaron, we talked about his plant-based eating. It is very easy to work with him. His physical complexion is very complete and the care that he gives to his body makes him one of the world's elite."

Saul is embracing English life, living in central London and taking steps to learn the language as quickly as possible. That dedication comes from his father, who is a legend at boyhood club Elche.

"My father's influence on us was great but he never forced us to do anything," Jony explains. "He explained to us that the life of a footballer requires time and sacrifices. He was there to support and advise us. The decisions were ours and we had to know that things are not easy to achieve."

Aaron adds: "My father from a very young age taught us to comply with effort, daily work, discipline and above all perseverance.

"He taught us a lot of values through football, such as invisible training, how to eat well or rest. Being between five and 10 years old he made us rest after lunch and at night. It did not matter if it was the weekend or summer, we were always in bed at 10pm." 

The end goal for Saul is to regain the powers that he showed in his early career in La Liga, which should ultimately lead him to be called up to Spain's national team ahead of the World Cup in 2022.

Alongside that, Saul remains connected to home.

In March 2020, when the world went into lockdown, Saul launched a project called 'Saldremos Juntos' ('We’ll get out of this together'). It supported small business owners stay afloat during the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

In conjunction with his brother Aaron, he also runs the Club Costa City Academy, which helps form young players in Elche.

"For all the people of Elche and for the boys and girls of the club, Saul is their example to follow," adds Aaron. "Beyond his brilliant football career, I would highlight what he does when he is with us at Club Costa City.

"He transmits his humility and above all the ability to grow."

Those values are something Chelsea are seeing first-hand. It is a club which understands the importance of adding a good person and not just a quality player to their star-studded squad of European champions.