From the moment Rodrigo Bentancur walks into the media room at Tottenham’s training ground, he cannot stop smiling.
The 24-year-old is fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“Playing in the Premier League is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Spurs’ new midfielder exclusively tells Sky Sports via an interpreter, as he continues to perfect his English. “I consider the Premier League to be the best league in the world.
“It certainly has been a real dream of mine to play in this league. I used to watch English football and the Premier League as a kid growing up.
“I’m very happy to be here and to arrive at Tottenham, it’s a massive club.
“Things have been going really well. I’ve had the help of all of my team-mates and all the backroom staff, so I’m excited to get going.”
Before finalising his £21.5m Deadline Day transfer from Juventus to Tottenham, the Uruguayan enlisted the help of two stellar international team-mates.
Glowing reports from former Liverpool forward Luis Suarez and Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani encouraged Bentancur to make the move to England.
He reveals: “I was following my situation [transfer to Tottenham] while on international duty, and as soon as Luis Suarez found out that there was a possibility of me coming to play in the Premier League, and for Tottenham, he made himself available to give me as much information as I required.
“Suarez said it would be a great move for me and it would help me both professionally and personally. If I needed anything, he was willing to help me out.
“Edinson Cavani got involved too. I asked him [about the move], even though he will be an opponent, and he said it was a spectacular league to play in and it would benefit me greatly.
“They both said what a fantastic league it was.
“I knew it was a big step in my career, so to get information and background on the league was very important.
“It was a decision that I didn’t hesitate in taking.”
Suarez even reportedly advised Aston Villa manager and former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard to sign Bentancur last month, which led to Villa having a £20.5m bid turned down by Juve.
But even with Villa’s interest, Tottenham had a trump card.
“The fact that [head coach] Antonio Conte was here was a massive factor in helping me make up my decision to join Tottenham, and a big motivation,” says Bentancur, who knows all about the Italian from his time in charge at Inter Milan.
“I feel that he can dramatically improve me as a player and I’m looking forward to learning from him big time.
“His track record is amazing. He’s won lots of titles and has been successful wherever he’s gone.”
Bentancur himself has plenty to shout about when it comes to silverware.
He won two Argentine league championships and a Copa Argentina with his first club Boca Juniors. That was then followed by three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias in his four-and-a-half-years at Juventus.
Conte has publicly singled out Bentancur as a player who can bring a “winning mentality” to Tottenham, who last won a trophy in 2008.
“I have learned a lot of stuff when I was at Juve and won lots of things,” Bentancur says. “Hopefully my experience there can help in some way to cement a higher level of confidence in the team and that’d be great.
“We’ve got some quality players here and we need to instil that self-belief that we can win trophies.”
Conte has also been clear on Bentancur’s role, pinpointing that his best position “is [as one of] two midfielders” – the job he was given on his first Premier League start in last Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat against Wolves.
Bentancur’s performance was a bright spot in a poor result, and is even more impressive considering he is just two weeks into life at Tottenham and is still adjusting to the pace of the Premier League.
“I think it’s going to take time to settle in,” he admits, “because the Italian and English leagues are quite different, especially when you come to think about the intensity and the speed of the game in this country compared to Italy.
“This settling in period will take a bit of work. It’s something I’m currently working really hard on and I’m hoping to get used to English football in as short a time as possible.
“My main role [as a midfielder] is to close down space, cover my defence if someone steps out to attack, help my team-mates recover the ball and then start the play.
“I’m more defensive than offensive, but the main thing is that I give 100 per cent and want to help my team-mates in whatever way I can.
“If I can score some goals and get some assists this season, that’ll be more than welcome.”
Bentancur is set to play his first away game for Tottenham this weekend at Manchester City on Saturday Night Football, live on Sky Sports.
Recent results for the two teams are poles apart: champions City are the league leaders, unbeaten since early December and buoyant after Tuesday’s Champions League last-16, first-leg thrashing of Sporting Lisbon in Portugal.
Tottenham, meanwhile, have lost their last three league matches and have slipped seven points off the top four having failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games in all competitions.
So can Tottenham really cause an upset at the Etihad?
“Whenever you play against Man City you know you’ve got to concentrate 100 per cent against them for the entire match,” Bentancur says. “If you give City even half-a-centimetre where you shouldn’t they can punish you, so it’s all about getting our mentality right for this game.
“We’ve worked so hard in training and we’ve got a tactical plan to take there. We want to make sure we apply that tactic and what we’ve been working hard on, to put in a good performance and get the right result.”
Saturday’s clash is an opportunity for Bentancur to face Kevin De Bruyne for the first time.
“De Bruyne is someone I’ve followed a lot,” he says. “He is one of the best midfielders in the world.
“It’s a good test for me early in my career, so if I’m selected it’ll be a real chance to put me through my paces.”
It’s also a chance for Bentancur to claim his first Premier League points, having lost on both of his appearances against Southampton and Wolves.
But despite his unfortunate start, Bentancur remains positive – after all, he is realising his dream.
Still smiling, he says: “It wasn’t the start to English football that I had dreamed for.
“Things can happen like this, it doesn’t always go your way. But what it does do, it focuses your mind when you have two defeats and we’ll be going all out at Manchester City to try and win the game.
“In those two defeats we created lots of chances but you’ve got to take them, and we didn’t convert them how we wanted to.
“But we’re really focused on the next match. We’ve trained super hard this week, and we’ll try our best to go and put in a positive performance up at City.”
Watch Manchester City vs Tottenham live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm