Roma's Kevin Strootman keen to prove himself in Champions League
Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman has asked to be judged after Tuesday night's Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid, as he aims to prove he is back to his best.
After two injury-hit years at Roma, the Dutch midfielder missed out on Champions League football last season and is now keen to grasp the opportunity as the Giallorossi prepare for their return to Europe's elite club competition at the Stadio Olimpico against a side who have reached two finals in the past four years.
"Playing in the Champions League is very important for us," he told a news conference in Rome. "We fought last season to finish second [in Serie A] and be in the Champions League and now we can play in the Champions League against big clubs and, as a player, that is the most beautiful thing that you can get.
"I hope after tomorrow's game you can tell me if I am the real Strootman, but it's hard because I've had a serious injury and when you are out for two years, it's a very long time for a footballer.
"Maybe I've changed something, but certainly I've got to do more things to be ready for a game and be ready for training -- I need to be careful -- but I'm doing well physically and played over 50 games last season. I'll leave it to you to let me know after tomorrow's game how I am."
Strootman can expect a busy night with coach Eusebio Di Francesco admitting he expects the game to be won or lost in midfield.
"Fortunately we've got Kevin Strootman here with me who is a leader, and he's a determined player who can guide the team and we need players like him who can take responsibility, as well as leading the team," Di Francesco said.
"That is why I have great faith in my experienced players. We need players with character too -- this can be an additional strength.
"We've thought of a way of causing them problems, even if I can't reveal it publicly. In terms of being in the game, being balanced -- we've got to be on a par with them and this is fundamental. We've got the potential to hurt them."
Strootman conceded that he may not have the competition experience his coach is looking for, but that he and Radja Nainggolan are learning the ropes from a master in Daniele De Rossi.
"All I can say is that we've got a strong midfield, but we've got to show that on the field in every game, not just in one good game," he said. "Of course De Rossi's played a lot of big games in the Champions League, the Europa League and in the World Cup and he's got a lot of experience, whereas Radja and I have a bit less.
"But we've got to put all we can out there as it's very important for the team. I've got to show myself too. The most important thing is showing what we can do in every game. Your opponents are always strong in the Champions League so we've got to attain a high level, and that also means tomorrow."
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.