Luciano Spalletti is not a man who hides when the going gets tough. And so when Tuesday afternoon came around and he had an interview scheduled with the Corriere dello Sport, he didn’t give into temptation and ring up to cancel it.
Having picked up just 1 win in his last 10 games with Inter one may have expected a more subdued version of Spalletti to turn up at his meeting with Pietro Guadagno and Andrea Ramazzotti, the two journalists conducting the interview, but as it turns out the Nerazzurri’s Head Coach was just as talkative and engaging as ever.
Below, in a full transcription of the interview, you can check out what he has to say about Inter’s chances of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League, our dramatic dip in form over the last few weeks, Mauro Icardi’s future at the club and the overwhelming warmth that Interisti offer the man in their dugout. And much more to boot.
Spalletti, after seven months here at the Pinetina, how much of an Interista do you feel and what does being an Interista mean to you?
“The excellent pre-season and the exhilarating start to the campaign gave me the chance to immediately sample the enthusiasm of our supporters, this overwhelming enthusiasm which paints you black and blue from top to bottom in the blink of an eye. But perhaps it’s in this difficult period now that I’m realising just how attached I am to Inter. It hurts me so much to see our supporters worried and in pain for our recent results, but at the same time it really fires me up because I want the good of this team at all costs.”
If you could go back in time to last June, would you still say yes to Inter?
“I’d respond with a ‘sì’ that is even more certain, a ‘sì’ with a capital ‘S’. But most of all with a greater understanding of the challenge that awaited me. In these past seven months I’ve had the chance to see things from the inside and therefore gain a greater understanding of all the various situations here. We could use the analogy of renovating a house: you assess all the work that will need to be done at the start, based on your experience, but it’s only once you’ve got started that you can work out exactly what needs to be done where.”
If you were a journalist how would you rate the job Spalletti has done so far [out of 10]?
“I’d give the first part of the season a 9 and the second part a 4, but the comment underneath would be exactly the same for both periods: I’ve given everything I have every single day.”
What rating would you give at the end of the season if you qualified for the Champions League? And what if you missed out?
“If we were to qualify for the Champions League I’d give myself 10, the highest rating possible. If we were to miss out it would depend on how we missed out and who has finished ahead of us.”
What makes you confident that you’ll have one of the Roman clubs behind you at the end of the season?
“All we have to concentrate on is playing every match to the maximum of our potential and collecting as many points as possible. If we haven’t secured 4th place at the end of the season it will have to be because somebody else has been better than us and collected more points.”
What’s been the greatest difficulty that you’ve had to work with at Inter so far?
“The greatest difficulty is these endless comparisons that people keep making between the problems this year and the problems of previous years. These comparisons lead people to think that you can do nothing but wait until the storm has passed, when in fact we need strong and immediate reactions to it.”
Back in October and November, when everybody was saying that Inter were Scudetto contenders, you disagreed. Could you tell what was going to happen and that something was still missing?
“I was playing down our chances then, when everyone’s enthusiasm was at its peak. But I disagree even more now when someone suggests that we’re all worthless, that everything is terrible. I’ve been in this profession for a while now and I see my team every day. I’m a sensible man, forgive me for that...”
Do you agree with everyone who says that Inter need a play-maker and have less quality in midfield than Napoli, Juventus, Lazio and Roma?
“Inter’s midfielders now are the same midfielders that had taken us to the top of the table earlier in the season. Their dip in form during these last two months is linked to the difficult period that the entire team is going through. So if anything there’s a bigger discussion to be had... I think those teams are reaping the benefits of having worked together with the same group of people for a few years.”
Inter had their hands tied in the transfer market both during the summer and in January, and so they weren’t able to sign all of the players you’d wanted. Do you think things could be different come this summer?
“If I agreed to start talking about the mercato now it would be like I was agreeing to coach... The Virtual Team. Like I said last week, listening to people talk about potential new signings for next season is just a way of disheartening the players we already have, who are fighting for difficult objectives.”
Do you like De Vrij? Is he the ideal reinforcement for Inter?
“He could be the captain of The Virtual Team!”
(NB: The Virtual Team is a concept Spalletti came up with during last Friday’s press conference before the Genoa match. As a way of expressing his annoyance at how everybody is obsessed with the mercato, he said “I’m going to suggest to the President that we create a third team; there’ll be us, the female team and a virtual team, a team where all the players that we’re supposedly about to sign play. Our directors [Ausilio and Sabatini] can manage that one.”)
Can you elaborate on this idea of a virtual team that you’ll get the directors to manage? You had lunch with them yesterday, did you talk about this?
“Let’s start by saying that I don’t attack anybody, I simply defend the team. We had a laugh and a joke about it over lunch yesterday - they said that, given my recent results, if there were a team that they were aspiring to coach then it would be mine! I know everybody who works at this club very well and I can assure you that their only interest is doing what’s good for Inter.”
Realistically speaking, how long will it take for Inter to close the gap with Juventus and Napoli? One, two, three years?
“We’ll close the gap when we manage to have the same consistency of results, which at the moment is very different [between us and them]. Time is like an elastic band which stretches and contracts. Professional competence, along with a degree of work and effort which is out of the ordinary, is the ingredient that separates the dream and the reality.”
What can Rafinha give to this Inter team?
“To start with he calls all of his teammates ‘fratello’, and that’s already an example to follow. But it’s when he passes them the ball that he’s treating them as true brothers. The quality of his passing is the best demonstration of how much he can improve Inter.”
Real Madrid, PSG and Manchester United are all monitoring Icardi. Give him a bit of advice; why should he stay at Inter for next season and into the future?
“Because striped shirts suit him better than the others which are all one solid colour. Having gotten to know Mauro it’s his character that makes the difference: he’s not the kind of person who likes leaving a club without having... left his mark on it.”
Why has Perisic’s form collapsed after playing so well for the first 15 games?
“With Ivan we need to have the same conversation that we had about the midfielders: the dip in form and the struggles of the last few weeks concern the entire team. It’s just inevitable that when you’re talking about a player who can make the difference by himself, his struggles can seem more evident and more problematic than the struggles of other players.”
In your first seven months as Inter Head Coach, what’s been the best match your team has played and what’s been the worst?
“I’ve underlined on several occasions this season how we still haven’t managed to express our full potential yet, and as a result of that the idea of play that we have often ends up... being executed with the handbrake on. Having said that I think the concept of playing well and playing badly is very relative: in the first half of the season we demonstrated a clear collective identity, perhaps characterised most of all by defensive solidity and being clinical up front. Nevertheless we had a distinctive idea of how to interpret our matches which enabled us to pick up a lot of points.”
You’ve said that “at the end of the season we’ll talk about my future and draw conclusions based on the results we’ve obtained after a whole year of working together.” Should the fans be worried about the prospect of Spalletti and Inter going their separate ways?
“All companies examine their inventories at the end of the year and consider all the numbers and analyses that can cause people to change their minds. I work every day with maximum commitment in order to stay at Inter for as long as possible, perhaps obtaining some important results in the process.”
As well as discussing all things Inter, Spalletti also touched on several other topics during the course of his interview. So just in case you are interested in hearing his thoughts on Totti, Tuscany, the Scudetto race and the Italian national team, here they are...
Who’s going to win the Scudetto between Allegri and Sarri?
“It’s a great battle. It’s like two lions constantly trying to out-roar each other to become King of the league. Allegri and Sarri would both deserve to win the Scudetto. Juventus don’t have the presumption to think that they’re better than the others, even after winning 6 titles in a row, while Napoli take strength from their style of play and therefore have the belief that they’re not inferior to anyone.”
Following Totti’s comments about you last week and your response in Friday’s press conference, what will you say to him the next time you see him?
“If we keep talking about Totti vs Spalletti then people will start closing the turnstiles outside the stadiums out of protest... I think everyone is a bit tired of this story. So let’s not talk about it anymore.”
Why is it that not everyone in Rome loves a coach who in seven years there won three trophies and oversaw so many successful league campaigns? Do you not think that, for the work you did and the results you obtained, your relationship with the city should be a little different?
“When you accept the responsibility of having to make big decisions - including the most unpopular ones - for the good of the team, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up displeasing someone and losing their support. I repeat, if I’ve made mistake then it’s to have always worked with Roma’s best interests in mind. After that everyone can draw the conclusions that they want. My own conclusions enable me to feel like I have a clear conscience, because I know that I always gave 100% of myself, perhaps even more.”
De Rossi has said that in the future he’d either like to become your assistant or Di Francesco’s assistant. Would there be a place in your coaching staff for him?
“Given the absolute quality of my staff, I would say that only champions like him have a chance of making it in.”
If the FIGC thought about asking Spalletti to become the new Italy coach, how would you respond?
“That my future is always within whatever I’m doing and the team that I’m coaching currently. It’s difficult to reach your objectives if you’re not completely inside your own future. At this moment in time my future is to take Inter back into the Champions League.”
Who’s the right man for the Italy job?
“Ancelotti. He has everything that people would like.”
Did you expect Gattuso to do this well at Milan?
“I don’t know him as a coach, but I’d like to congratulate him for what he’s doing. As a person he’s certainly likeable and direct.”
What it is about coaches from Tuscany that make them so special? Allegri, Sarri, Spalletti, Mazzarri, Lippi...
“To answer this question we need to go back in time a decade or so, to when there were lots of important Tuscan clubs on the footballing map: Fiorentina, Siena, Livorno, Pisa, Empoli, Massese, Carrarese, Arezzo, Pistoiese, Prato, Lucchese, Pietrasanta, Cuoiopelli, Rondinella, Viareggio... all clubs that have given coaches the chance to gain important experience for their careers. We also mustn’t forget the Coverciano coaching school - all of Italian football’s greatest coaches have come out of there.”
What’s the dream of your career?
“My dream as a coach is to play a game of scopa [an Italian card game] with the President of Italy on the flight home after having won a final.”