Juventus’ Koni De Winter on being club’s youngest Champions League starter, learning from legends, and more

When the time came it was unexpected. “I didn’t expect to come in against Chelsea when I was on the bench, it was surprising,” Koni De Winter told CBS Sports. “It was amazing, I was happy to start in that way even if I was sad for the team that we lost (4-0).” The Belgian center-back, born in 2002, arrived at the club in the summer 2018 when he was just sixteen. Now, De Winter has not just appeared in the Champions League but two weeks after he made is debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, he became the youngest player ever to start a Champions League match for Juventus when the side faced Malmo at home. 

So, how did he feel knowing that the moment was coming? “During the day I was relaxed until ten minutes before the kick-off, then my teammates cooled me down since I was really nervous,” De Winter said. “I slept good the night before, I was calm and I don’t get nervous so much before a game”. When kickoff game, De Winter took the pitch at fullback, playing on the right alongside alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Daniele Rugani. This time he got to to celebrate as Juventus won, 1-0.

Bonucci and Rugani aren’t the only defenders that De Winter has the opportunity to study under. There’s Mattijs de Ligt and of course one of Italy’s most legendary defenders, Giorgio Chiellini. His experienced teammates are definitely helping him to make the right steps in this moment of his career. “Giorgio Chiellini gives me a lot of tips, but also if you see them in training, I try to get as much as I can. With de Ligt we have a good relationship since we speak the same language.”

But it’s not just about the defenders. De Winter singles out Juventus’s young American midfielder as somebody who is particularly fun to be around. “Weston McKennie is always laughing, always happy.,” De Winter said. Then of course theirs the coach. “Coach Allegri is the same with everybody, he knows what he wants and what he expects from all of us.” 

While his Champions League debut might have come earlier than expected, De Winter knows he’s ready to make an impact at Juventus when his time comes. “This is my fourth year at Juventus, I’ve had time to adapt, since I came here when I was really young. I’m happy that I made the right decision and took the right steps. During the lockdowns last year it was difficult with the quarantines, being alone outside my country was not easy to handle from a personal point of view,” he said. But now, he’s convinced he can prove himself in the first team. “I want to play games with the U23s until the end of the season, and then let’s see what opportunities might come with the first team. I want to compete and show myself that I’m worth being there”. 

As De Winter looks to make his mark in Juventus, he has very little doubt about whose footsteps he wants to follow in as a soccer player, and a defender more generally. CBS Sports asked De Winter who was his idol when he was younger and he didn’t hesitate, “Vincent Kompany. He was the captain of Belgium and he was a point of reference for all of us.”  

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