Atalanta defender Merih Demiral believes Manchester United would have not qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 without Cristiano Ronaldo and explains why he joined La Dea in the summer.
The Turkey international is a close friend of the Portuguese star. They spent three seasons together at Juventus before Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United and Demiral’s move to Atalanta.
In an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, the former Juventus defender admitted he could have joined a foreign club over the summer, but opted to sign for La Dea.
“I spoke to the coach [Gian Piero Gasperini] before joining the club,” he said.
“I understood that this could have been a big chance for me.
“I must admit that the beginning was quite difficult, you must understand the mechanism and change mentality. Always look ahead and the ready to track back.
“Gasperini’s training are intense, but I believe this coach is the most suitable for me. I like the duels with strikers and try to anticipate them.”
La Dea are just four points off Serie A leaders Inter, but have been eliminated from the Champions League group.
They finished third behind Villareal and Manchester United with Demiral’s friend Ronaldo scoring two goals in two games against La Dea.
The Portuguese star has played a key role in the Red Devils’ European campaign with six goals in five games.
“There’s a strong bond between Cristiano and me,” said Demiral.
“He’s always helped me and we often chat on Whatsapp. I think he is one of the best people I’ve ever met.
“I can easily say that it’s better to have him in your team rather than against you. He always makes the difference. Look at what he’s done in the Champions League. Would Manchester United be in the last 16 without him? No…”
Demiral and Ronaldo will meet in the World Cup play-offs in March and the winner could meet Italy in the Final.
“My Turkey side have a chance against Portugal, even if they are among the best countries in the world,” said Demiral.
“If we go through, we’ll meet Italy, but be careful because we are no longer the same team you watched at the Euros.”
This past June, Italy beat Turkey 3-0 in the opening Euro 2020 match in Rome. In March, Roberto Mancini’s side will face North Macedonia in the World Cup play-off semi-final.