The UEFA Champions League round of 16 is back on Tuesday (catch all the action on Paramount+) and Villarreal CF vs. Juventus is one of the standout ties of the round let alone this week.
Arnaut Danjuma, a summer arrival at El Madrigal from AFC Bournemouth, sat down with Que Golazo's Luis Miguel Echegaray to discuss his fast start to life in Castellon, how La Liga has helped move his development along rapidly and to look ahead to that mouthwatering clash with the Italian giants.
"I am grateful for the opportunity the club gave me and I am trying to do my best to move forward and improve," Danjuma told CBS Sports exclusively. "It is a warm club. If you look to the owners, they are a family and they replicate that in the club. From the first day I came here you could feel the club was warm. It is a family club; everyone is willing to help each other, and everyone is looking out for each other. I think Villarreal really distinguishes itself from other clubs."
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Juventus on Tuesday means that the special UCL anthem will be blasting out from the speakers at El Submarino Amarillo's spiritual home after they qualified via their UEFA Europa League success under specialist Unai Emery and Danjuma admits that these are the nights Villarreal live for.
"The Champions League is the highest level of international club football so ultimately that is where you want to prove yourself," he said. "It speaks for itself, whenever you hear the anthem on the pitch, you want to give it your all. So far, we have been performing alright and I think we proved that against Atalanta that as long as we stay true to ourselves and close to our DNA, that we can handle business with anyone.
"It is difficult, and you always need to be on your toes and switched on, but we are doing well. Now, I am looking forward to playing Juventus. Even in the group stage we played against 'bigger clubs' like Manchester United and we played well, I feel like we should have won. That shows that if we stay true to ourselves, I feel like we can beat anyone. You just need to be switched on all the time -- if you switch off you can quickly ship three goals!"
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For Danjuma, 25, the jump was big from the Championship to La Liga and the Champions League, but the Lagos-born attacker feels that the step up in quality has unlocked his potential in an extremely short space of time.
"Playing with big players opens your mind to a new way of playing," said the PSV Eindhoven youth academy graduate. "Since joining Villarreal there is a massive difference in the way I play. I have improved so much in a short amount of time. If you look to the right people, play with the right people, and try to better yourself, there are so many ways to improve yourself in football."
Emery also played a big role in Danjuma opting to join Villarreal with the Spaniard leading the club to its first major piece of silverware in its 79-year existence through a penalty shootout in the Gdansk, Poland, final to lift the trophy for the fourth time.
"Unai was the main reason why I came to Villarreal," the Dutchman told CBS exclusively. "I spoke with him before I joined, his vision, his plan, the way he presents himself. All of that together convinced me to play for the club. I cannot explain in words how good he is in terms of strategy, making his players better, making the whole team perform. He has been massive for me, I have been performing very well for him and he is still working with me on a day-to-day basis, still trying to improve me. There is so much I have learned from him in a short amount of time, I am eager to see what the next days, weeks, months are going to bring. I cannot put it into words."
Emery is at his best leading an underdog side in his native Spain which is why Sevilla was such a good fit for the 50-year-old and his continental specialist reputation also makes him a tricky adversary for Villarreal's opponents in the Champions League and La Liga.
"I am not sure we have a plan, but I am pretty sure Unai has something (up his sleeve)," Danjuma said. "Although the Champions League game is so big for me personally and the entire club, you still do not want to focus on it too much. There are still many big games coming up in La Liga. We still want to climb the table. The focus is not only the UCL, but La Liga as well. But I am pretty sure Unai has a plan already and knows what we are going to do against Juve. So long as we are confident and Unai comes up with a masterplan, anything can happen!"
On La Liga, Villarreal are currently sixth in the table and within three points of the UCL qualification places albeit having played one more game that Barcelona and Danjuma is convinced that he and his teammates can bridge that gap between now and the end of the season.
"[Top four] is a realistic expectation," he said. "Whether we make it is up to us, but if you look to the quality we have, the manager we have, then we should compete for the top four. I 100% agree with you on that. We dropped a few points at the beginning of the season, but if you look to the table, we are not that bad, we are not far from the top. We fought our way back into it."
So far, Danjuma is loving life in Spain and is embracing another culture in what is already his fourth European country of his impressive career and that melting pot of styles is evident in his game with Villarreal which saw he bag a hat-trick against Granada over the weekend.
"I find it exciting," said the former Club Brugge and NEC Nijmegen man. "Whenever something is exciting, I grab it with both hands and make the best of it. I do not mind living in different countries at all -- I like the experiences and the challenges. I have lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, England, and Spain now. Different cultures, different people, so much more to learn, different styles of play, different managers. Whatever football brings me, there is always so much more to learn especially when you travel across Europe."