His Seville accent remains pronounced, but Adrian San Miguel del Castillo’s grasp of English has developed impressively since he joined West Ham in June 2013. In 15 minutes of lucid conversation with Sport, only one word causes the rangy goalkeeper to consult his patient translator.
“It’s a…” Adrian begins, before breaking off and leaning right. “Como se dice ‘anécdota’?”
The translator grins: “Anecdote. It’s just the same.”
Slaven Bilic’s preferred shot-stopper, a mainstay of the Hammers’ early-season surge into the Premier League’s top six – interrupted slightly by last Sunday’s battering at the hands of Tottenham – had been explaining why he chooses to wear 13 on his back.
“It is a long reason,” he says. “From playing in the academy at Real Betis, I always had number 13. When my contract finished there, I had been at the same club for almost 16 years.
“I also wore a yellow jersey with Betis. In Spain, 13 is an unlucky number and yellow is an unlucky colour. Both together should be really unlucky, but not for me. My last season went very well.
“When I arrived at West Ham, they asked me if I wanted number one because Jussi Jaaskelainen had 22. I replied: ‘No, I’d like 13.’ Everybody said ‘wow’.
“They checked again when Darren [Randolph] came to the club. I said no again. I wanted to keep my number 13. The number on the back of the shirt doesn’t matter. It does not mean anything out on the pitch.”
The tale fits with Adrian’s intriguing backstory. This is a determined man who enjoys upsetting the odds. After seven seasons in the reserves at Real Betis, his progress stalled by a cruciate ligament injury, a La Liga debut came only three years ago as a substitute against Malaga, after a red card for first choice Casto. Down to ten men, Betis lost 4-0. Without a string of saves from man-of-the-match Adrian, they might have shipped eight.
Later in the same campaign, Sam Allardyce travelled to Spain and offered the out-of-contract Andalucian an opportunity to play at Upton Park. He had a decorated compatriot and former Premier League favourite on hand for advice.
“I talked with Pepe Reina before signing,” Adrian says. “He told me that if I had a chance to come here, to a historic club like West Ham, I shouldn’t think of anything else.
“Pepe told me the football was slightly different. As a goalkeeper, you need to be alert all the time for shots from long distance. Over here, players try to score from far out. In Spain, they try to work a position closer to the box.
“The other thing is aerial balls. In Spain, referees will blow for a free-kick if anyone touches you. Here, other players are given more of a chance. You need to be strong in your area.”
Speaking enthusiastically about his new life on these shores, Adrian cuts a contented figure. He married long-term girlfriend Tamara in the summer and signed a contract extension at the start of October. On committing his future to West Ham until 2017, the 28-year-old cited a “special relationship” with the fans as a significant factor.
Undeniably, the Hammers faithful have taken Adrian to heart. Performances are one reason – earlier this year Spain coach Vicente del Bosque asked assembled journalists: “Why is nobody asking me about West Ham’s goalkeeper?” – but passion also contributes to his popularity.
Adrian describes himself as a player who “enjoys every minute of every game, and shows it too”. Prolific on Twitter, switching between Spanish and English, he also maintains interaction with supporters away from the Boleyn Ground.
Above all, one night has etched his name into modern West Ham folklore. Back in January, an FA Cup third round replay against Everton ended 2-2 after extra-time and went to penalties. Adrian dived left to save from Steven Naismith, but Stewart Downing’s miss at 4-4 meant the goalkeepers were, after a host of further successful conversions, required to take spot-kicks.
Everton’s Joel Robles went for power. His shot cannoned off the bar. Adrian was up. He marked out a long approach; so long, in fact, that there was time to hurl his gloves to the ground during a shuffling run-up. Rather than blasting it, though, Adrian passed the ball into the left corner (above), sending his opposite man the wrong way and causing Upton Park to erupt.
“That is probably my best memory at West Ham; certainly the most famous,” he says now. “I enjoyed my save a lot, and then to score a winning penalty was unbelievable.
“I felt very confident in that moment, and took off my gloves. It was an instinctive movement, but I was thinking: ‘I have finished my job in goal, now I enjoy my strike like an outfield player.’ I will remember that moment for the whole of my career.”
Having featured in victories over Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea since August, Adrian is building an enviable portfolio. He is also in a prime position to pinpoint the change in approach Bilic has encouraged from the Allardyce days.
“The big difference is their mentality of football,” he explains. “Football is a big thing. There is not just one style. You can play however you want as long as you get results.
“With Sam, we were more direct – straight to the goal and crossing a lot. Now, with Slaven, we are different. We try to keep possession of the ball and play it out from the back.
“I didn’t know Slaven when he played here before and showed so much passion on the pitch. With us, he is quiet and calm. He tries hard to get across his ideas, and I think the team has adapted well to that.”
The team will need to adapt quickly to the absence of attacking talisman Dimitri Payet – out for three months with ankle ligament damage. Fixtures will come thick and fast over the festive period, but their goalkeeper is prepared to scrap for every point.
“I think there is a lot of motivation to play against big teams and beat them,” he says. “We have shown that in some great performances away from home. If there is one thing we need to improve, it is to take the same approach in the other games against teams level or below us.
“The league is long and you play against everyone. If we want to finish towards the top, we need to get results against everybody.”
Adrian takes great care over each sentence, which adds purpose to his final note. Fully adjusted to life on these shores, this adopted Londoner is fiercely proud to be representing his new home.