Matias Vina has just come from a meeting with Gary O’Neil – “and with Marcos,” he adds to Sky Sports. Marcos being Marcos Senesi, his Argentine team-mate and, for now, translator, as he adapts to new surroundings, and a new language, at Bournemouth.
Vina, signed on loan from Roma with an option to buy at the end of the season, is still finding his feet a week on from his arrival on the penultimate day of the transfer window. “I don’t have a car or a house here yet, so I’m just in a hotel,” says the Uruguayan, smiling.
He is enjoying it, though, and it helps, he says, to have someone to chat with over a maté, the herbal tea drink popular among South American players, as he navigates the language barrier.
Happily, Senesi is one of several Spanish or Italian speakers in the dressing room with whom Vina can communicate. “They have welcomed me very well,” he says. “It’s a very nice atmosphere and a nice town. I feel I’ve settled in quickly with the group.”
The head coach has been similarly accommodating. Tomorrow, another meeting is scheduled. There is, after all, much to discuss. “He is going to show me a few videos so I can see a bit more about how we play and what he wants from me,” Vina says of O’Neil.
The left-back, one of six new signings in January, cuts a relaxed figure in the club’s media centre at the Vitality Stadium. But he knows the seriousness of the situation he has walked into. Bournemouth sit 19th in the Premier League table. The threat of relegation looms.
It is unfamiliar territory for a player whose career up until now has been a succession of trophy wins.
As a teenager in Uruguay, Vina was part of the U20 side that claimed the continental Copa Sudamericano in 2017. More silverware followed at boyhood club Nacional, and he then lifted the Copa Libertadores as part of an historic treble with Palmeiras in Brazil before winning the Europa Conference League with Roma last term.
“It’s true, wherever I have played, I have won things,” he says.
The objective is different at Bournemouth. Success would be survival. But Vina’s experience was part of his attraction to Bournemouth and the pull of the Premier League was strong.
So strong, in fact, that the 25-year-old, who has 28 caps for Uruguay, didn’t have to think twice about coming. “In my opinion,” he says, “this is the best league in the world.”
Vina sought confirmation from Tottenham’s Rodrigo Bentancur, a team-mate from that Uruguay U20 team along with Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, and there was also a conversation with former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, another international colleague.
“Luis told me that obviously you have to adapt, in terms of the language and the intensity of the league,” says Vina, “but that once you have adapted, it is the best there is, that it is a beautiful league and that I would enjoy it a lot.”
Vina hopes to make his full debut when Newcastle visit the Vitality Stadium live on Sky Sports on Saturday having featured as a late substitute in the 1-0 loss to Brighton, a game which he feels demonstrated the qualities that make the Premier League unique.
“It surprised me in a good way, the competitiveness between our team, which is in a difficult position, and a Brighton side which is really high in the table,” he says.
“The truth is the games are very even. In the other leagues I’ve played in, the teams are not so evenly matched. Where the teams are in the table generally defines the outcome of the game.
“But from what I’ve seen, our team looks very good, very intense.
“It has surprised me a lot.”
The intensity represents a change of pace from Italy’s Serie A.
“Physically, it’s stronger here,” he says. “Even in training, I’m really feeling that. In Italy, the games are a little bit more tactical. In moments, they can be end-to-end, but not like here, where every game is back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It’s a lot more intense.”
Bournemouth’s plight adds to the sense of urgency but Vina points out that, for all the silverware he is proud to have on his CV, he is familiar, too, with what it takes to overcome adversity.
In fact, it was one such experience that shaped him as a young player, when, having won the Copa Sudamericano with Uruguay’s U20s who then reached the last four of the U20 World Cup in South Korea, he found himself out of favour for a full year back at Nacional.
His initial reaction was one of anger. “That year, 2018, was one in which I didn’t play much at all but there was a change in my head,” he explains. “I had to say to myself, ‘OK, I’m not playing, but if I don’t train well, I’m not hurting anyone except myself.'”
He resolved to redouble his efforts. “I started to train for myself, and, knowing I wasn’t going to play at that time, I tried to focus on the following year and what was to come,” he says.
A change of manager followed and Vina duly thrived, helping Nacional win Uruguay’s Primera Division title in 2019 and claiming the competition’s player of the season award in the process.
It set him on the path to Palmeiras, then Roma, but in the first half of this season, having featured regularly under manager Jose Mourinho in the previous campaign, he wound up on the fringes again, featuring only a handful of times for the Italian side before his move to Bournemouth.
“I now see it as something to make you stronger,” he says. “It is one of the things I talk about with my partner when these periods come up, to use what happened in 2018 and 2019 as motivation.”
Besides, like all players from Uruguay, a two-time World Cup-winning nation despite having a population roughly equivalent in size to that of Buenos Aires or Madrid, Vina is a fighter.
“I’m a player who doesn’t hold anything back,” he says.
“I always try to give my best, for myself and for my team-mates. I try to help them physically, I try to help by scoring, by making runs, by always giving the option of a pass, by working hard.
“I think this characterises all of us in Uruguay. Of course, there are some players who have more quality than others, but none of us lacks intensity or work ethic and I think that’s instilled in us as children.
“When I was a child of four or five years old and I went to play football, the first question they would ask me was whether I had won, not whether I had had fun on the pitch.
“So, already, at four or five years old, you start to have that in your head, to win, and to win. You always try to give your best to make sure of that because it is what matters.”
Vina and his international team-mates were unable to do that at the World Cup in Qatar, crashing out at the group stage in agonising fashion, but it was still an opportunity to acknowledge how far he and his former team-mates from the U20s have come.
“There were a few of us from our generation out there in Qatar,” he says, smiling again. “Bentancur, Valverde, Nicolas de la Cruz… We were saying that it felt like no time at all that we were playing in the U20s, now here we are. Honestly, it’s something incredible.”
From afar, Vina is now supporting Uruguay’s next wave of young talent as the U20s seek to bring home another Copa Sudamericano in Colombia, but his focus is firmly on Bournemouth, and on helping the club secure its Premier League survival.
“Obviously, in my previous clubs, I was fighting for trophies and this is another reality,” he says. “But I see the objective as the same: To win, to keep getting points, to go game by game, to try to help get the team out of the position we are in, and to fight until the end.”
And beyond that? Vina’s loan deal expires at the end of the campaign but there is an option to make the move permanent and he has come to Bournemouth with an open mind.
“I’m a player who just tries to go day by day,” he says. “I’ve felt really comfortable in the days I’ve been here and I like the town a lot. I just want to try to help the club get out of this situation. If that’s possible, then of course I would be open to staying.”
Watch Bournemouth vs Newcastle live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm.