Christian Romero walks through the door and the sound of laughter follows him. He has just shared a joke with Hugo Lloris in one of the corridors of Tottenham Hotspur Way headquarters. He’s still grinning as he settles into the bustling canteen.
“I think the cohesiveness of the group is the best thing we have,” Romero says Sky Sports. “We live together really well as players and we understand each other very well every day. I think that’s the most important thing.”
We come just two days after Tottenham’s Champions League loss to Sporting Lisbon, a setback that ended their unbeaten start to the season. But there is little appetite to dwell on it. The mood is uplifted after the morning workout.
“It was a difficult game, but losing is part of football,” Romero said. “Obviously, we really don’t like that and obviously it wasn’t our best game. But this is only the beginning. We have to believe that things will turn out well if we keep working the way we are. “
It’s an attitude that has served Romero well.
Fiercely combative in the way he defends yet unmistakably calm in possession, the centre-back has become a key figure for Spurs since his arrival from Atalanta last August and his impact has not gone unnoticed.
“There’s something special about him,” he said Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher when he named Romero his signing for the season in May. “He’s not the biggest defender, but he’s smart, he’s active, he’s cool with the ball. I think Tottenham have a real player there.”
Spurs paid £42.5m to make his loan move permanent this summer, with the Argentine penning a five-year deal at the club after taking to the Premier League as a natural despite what he described as a “big difference” in style from Italy’s Serie A, where he flourished over the previous three seasons.
“Serie A is much more tactical,” he says. “There’s a lot more pause in the game. This is partly due to the referees not letting the game go as much. Here, the ball is in play all the time.
“All the teams are also very aggressive and most of them have a good way of playing and they are also attacking. Physically they are all at a very good level and that means the games are always very, very competitive between the two teams.”
In other words, he’s perfect for a player who enjoys the physical side of the game as much as Romero.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says with a smile.
“The Premier League has always been one of my favorite leagues, so when I had the option to come to Tottenham it was an easy decision and I finalized my transfer here very quickly.
“Fortunately, my first season went well. I know I still have a lot to improve on, but I will try to do it.”
That first season, while an undoubted success – culminating in a fourth-place finish in the Premier League that ensured Tottenham’s return to the Champions League ahead of north London rivals Arsenal – was not without its challenges.
Romero spent three months on the sidelines after picking up a hamstring injury soon after Antonio Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo in November. All the while he had to adapt to a new country and, most importantly, a new arrival home.
“It was difficult at first, mostly because my wife was seven months pregnant and there were a lot of changes,” he says. “Luckily, she supported me in the decision I made, as always, and now everything is fine off the field.
“Family is always the most important thing to me. Obviously football is my passion and I don’t take it for granted. I know I’m lucky to be doing what I love. But the most important thing is family.”
His son Valentino arrived safely in December. So how are you sleeping? Romero smiles. “Now it’s better. He’s great, he’s growing. I don’t always have a lot of time away from the pitch because we train a lot and travel a lot, but when I’m at home I love him and we’re always together as a family.”
Romero clearly has a sensitive side, but on the pitch he is a different beast, ferociously aggressive, unafraid of confrontation and at times, he admits, guilty of overstepping the mark.
The 24-year-old arrived in England on the back of 39 yellow cards and three reds in his 102 appearances in Italy, and in England he also had notable moments, including the hair-pulling of Mark Cucurella, for which he was lucky to escape punishment in Tottenham Draw 2-2 with Chelsea in August.
“It really depends on the game,” he says of his fiery streak. “I always try to give maximum respect to my opponents. If something bad happens, I always think about it and apologize.
“This season I think I’m doing better in that sense,” he adds. “I know it’s something I need to improve on, but I’ve only had one yellow card in the games I’ve played so far this year.”
Spurs fans love Romero for his competitiveness – “I’m always grateful for the support they give me,” he says – and the same qualities can be seen in his new team-mate Richarlison.
The couple has a history. They clashed when the Brazilian played for Everton last season. But all that is now firmly behind them and Romero’s admiration for the 25-year-old is obvious.
“He brought a lot to the team,” says Romero. “He’s a player that’s a bit different to the ones we’ve had before. He is a player who gives absolutely everything, all the time.
“We have Harry Kane, who for me is a maximum talent and one of the best strikers in the world. [Heung-Min] Son and [Dejan] Kulusevski, who also make the difference.
“But Richie gives us different things and that’s something that I think is contagious.”
Richarlison is already thriving under Conte, and so is Romero. The defender is still getting to grips with English. This interview is conducted in his native Spanish. But language has not been an obstacle to his progress under the guidance of the Italian.
“He is a manager who has helped me a lot tactically,” he says of Conte. “The career he’s had shows how good he is and I think we’re on the right track. I wake up every day wanting to keep learning.”
That openness to learning has certainly helped the Spurs.
I just want to repay the faith the club has put in me. I hope things continue like this and I’m here for a long time
Romero played in the middle of a back three for his previous clubs Atalanta and Genoa, but under Conte at Spurs he was moved to the right.
“It’s very different. My favorite position is in the middle because that’s where I’ve always played, but now I also play on the right for the national team and I’m happy to play wherever I’m asked, so I don’t have a problem with it.
“It was difficult at first for sure, but I got used to it and learned the role. I have to keep learning and correcting a lot of things, but I’m good and I feel comfortable there.”
Romero has had the same appetite for self-improvement since his youth. As a teenager at his boyhood club Club Atlético Belgrano in Argentina, he studied Barcelona – “their team that won everything” – and in particular their centre-backs.
“I always loved watching this team because I loved watching Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano when he played there. These three were beautiful to look at.”
What about these days? “Today, the best defender for me is always Virgil van Dijk and Lisandro Martinez from Manchester United.
“For me they are the best in the Premier League.
Romero knows Martinez well from Argentina’s national team, but his highest praise is reserved for Lionel Messi, another teammate at international level.
“For me, Messi is a different class of player,” he says. “I’ve never seen a player like him in my life. He does amazing things and I don’t think there’s any comparison. It’s brilliant to play with him.”
Romero hopes to follow up Argentina’s triumph at last year’s Copa America with more success at the upcoming World Cup – “of course that’s on my mind,” he says – but for now his focus is on Spurs.
“I just want to repay the faith the club has put in me,” he says.
“There are many years to come if the club wants it and if everything goes well. I hope things continue like this and I will be here for a long time. Things are going well. Last season we achieved our goal of qualifying for the Champions League and we were very happy. “
What’s next? Does he see Spurs as contenders for major honours?
“Talking is easy,” he says. “But we have to show it on the pitch. We have a good group of players to win trophies. We just have to be convinced.
“It’s early in the season. We’re still a long way from it. We just have to go step by step improving the things we need to improve. But I think we’re on the right track.
“We have to believe that if we keep going like this, with the work we’ve done and the work we’re doing, we can achieve great things.
Watch Tottenham v Leicester live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4.30pm on Saturday; start 17.30