The last time Kieran Trippier played against Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano he was a Tottenham Hotspur player losing a Champions League final, and with a career on the slide.
When he faces them on Tuesday night it will be as a Spanish league champion and an England captain — he was brave enough to make big changes and the rewards have been just as huge.
‘I know what I came here to do and I have done it,’ says Trippier, 31, reflecting on the last two seasons with a sense of mission accomplished. He also looks back at the team’s 3-2 victory at Anfield the last time they faced Liverpool — a game he believes should never have been played.
Kieran Trippier faces Liverpool again as a Spanish league champion and an England captain
The last time he faced them at the Wanda Metropolitano he was as a Tottenham player losing a Champions League final
And looks forward to the prospect of a Premier League homecoming, and even a return to Burnley so that old boss Sean Dyche can help launch his coaching career.
But the best place to start is in the car park outside Real Valladolid’s stadium where Atletico won the title last May, and where Trippier and team-mates celebrated with supporters who had made the 60-mile journey just to stand outside the ground.
Trippier had joined that small band of Englishmen who have won a major league abroad and the size of his achievement hit home on the journey back to Madrid.
‘The beers were flowing, everyone was singing,’ he says. ‘The gaffer was all over the place as well, he was buzzing. It was just an unbelievable feeling.
Trippier joined that small band of Englishmen who have won a major league abroad last year
‘I came here to try to achieve great things and I’d won the league. I just tried to take it all in.’
His first call was to his wife, ‘his biggest supporter’, who he says has ‘also broken through barriers’ following him to Spain with their two children. And there was cake and balloons waiting for him when he got home and his young son, a budding goalkeeper who trains at Atletico, was singing, ‘Campeones! Campeones!’ for his champion dad.
The team Trippier joined in 2019 had shown what they might be capable of when they won 3-2 at Anfield in extra-time.
‘It was strange night because I think they had about a hundred chances,’ he says.
‘I was speaking to some of the lads before the game because I wanted to let them know how intense it was going to be. When Liverpool play at home, it really is 100mph.
‘What I found at Tottenham is if you stay in the game, then 50 or 60 minutes in, the gaps will open.’
Atletico Madrid showed what they might be capable of when they won 3-2 at Anfield
That’s how it played out on the night with Atletico scoring three extra-time goals to reach the Champions League quarter-finals — not played for another five months as Covid took hold.
The day of the Liverpool match at Anfield the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic — and that week Spain locked down.
A recent cross-party report from MPs says the game should not have taken place.
‘Looking back now, I don’t think it should have gone ahead,’ Trippier says.
Did the players sense that at the time? ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘I don’t mean this in a bad way but I was just focusing on the game. It’s after the match when I realised, ‘Yeah, this is getting out of control now’.’
Football stopped for three months in Spain and when the new season started last September, Trippier had Luis Suarez as his new team-mate.
‘When you play against him he is the worst player you’ll ever come up against, but he’s definitely someone you want on your side,’ he explains.
When the new season started last September, Trippier had Luis Suarez as his new team-mate
‘It’s just his presence. You know when you see someone like that walk through the door it gives the players a lift. They see a winner.
‘He’s a big joker as well. It’s just the whole package, he’s a great player and a wonderful person.’
Suarez proved vital in the title win but so did Trippier, and Atletico’s biggest wobble came when he was banned for 10 weeks by the FA for breaking regulations on betting.
The mood of the conversation has already gone from the elation of the title win to sombre reflection on the pandemic.
Now he is speaking with great care as he tiptoes around a ban that left him feeling guilty for letting team-mates down.
Coach Diego Simeone complained about Atletico missing him for so long when they had not even been his club when the rules were broken.
There were two defeats and two draws in the 10 games he missed.
Coach Diego Simeone complained about Atletico missing the full-back for so long
‘I understood what he was saying. I felt stuck in the middle,’ Trippier says.
‘When I saw my team-mates suffering on the pitch, I put all of the blame on myself. Real Madrid and Barcelona were catching us and I felt like that was my fault.’
Simeone pitched him straight back in, and he played as if he’d never been away. He was one of the first players who celebrated with the coach on the final day, but the relationship does not feel the same this season, with Trippier in and out of the team.
Simeone has a reputation for zero sentimentalism — even to players who have won trophies for him.
‘It’s why he’s a winner,’ Trippier says. ‘Look at his record since he’s been at the club — eight trophies in 10 years. He’s relentless.’
In a footnote, he adds: ‘I’ve learned so much from him that will serve me as a player, or for when I move into a coaching career.’
He has already begun planning for that moment with the FA and having worked for Dyche, Mauricio Pochettino and now Simeone, he certainly has the role models.
Trippier has already worked for Burnley boss Sean Dyche and PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino
‘I’ve learned a lot from all of them and this is something that I definitely want to do,’ he says.
‘Who knows, maybe further down the line I would like to be a manager. Who knows at the end of my career, I could play for Dyche again and get a coaching role with him.’
That would be the ‘perfect scenario’ he says with a smile, adding: ‘I’m always on his case.’
Going back to the North West where it all started may well end up applying to his playing career too.
He was linked to Manchester United last summer and admits: ‘I would love to play in the Premier League again.’
He could return on Wednesday and his time in Spain would still be remembered as a success story.
He was linked to Man United last summer and admits he would like to play in England again