On the eve of Inter’s crucial match at home to Benevento, Rafinha sat down with the Gazzetta dello Sport to discuss he’s adapting to life in Italy.
Topics of discussion included his ever-improving physical condition, the Champions League, Mauro Icardi, brother Thiago and his love of Italian pastries. Enjoy...
Rafinha Alcantara, let’s start with the question that every Interista wants to ask you: how are you feeling and how long will it be before you feel 100% fit?
“I’m feeling good now, I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy about my physical condition and I’m adapting to Italian football.”
Is it true that you still have to be careful after training sessions because your knee swells up again?
“No, it’s getting better now, these sorts of pains are fairly normal after months of inactivity. Everything is heading in the right direction though. I feel close to full fitness.”
When will you make your first start for Inter?
“Spalletti’s idea of using me off the bench so far has been very intelligent. Of course every player would like to play from the start, but between my physical recuperation and the need to understand a new style of football I think this has been the best approach.”
Are you ready to make your full debut tonight against Benevento?
“Personally I feel ready, but I haven’t discussed it with the coach. If he were to ask me to do it I’d be willing. Provided he asks me though...”
If it doesn’t come tonight your full debut will be against Milan. What opinion have you formed of the Milan derby from the outside?
“It’s a match the entire world talks about, it’s on a par with Barcelona-Real Madrid or River-Boca.”
What do you make of San Siro?
“It had already mesmerised me when it was empty; when you then put the fans inside it really is unique.”
Despite the team’s struggles there are 50,000 fans turning up every week and they’re asking you to be Inter’s saviour. Does that inspire you or scare you?
“I don’t feel the pressure of having to be the saviour... if anything it’s an extra motivation towards the fans who’ve given me a stupendous welcome. Every player at a certain level is under pressure, you just need to know how to use that as a stimulus. It’s something I need to perform at my best.”
You certainly haven’t found Inter performing at their best. In their last 10 league matches they’ve only picked up 9 points - how do you explain this current period?
“I’ve learned over time that in football, and not only in football, there are dynamic cycles and mini-cycles. When a negative period begins it’s never easy to reverse the trend. It’s certainly not an easy moment but with the quality we have in our squad we’ll get out of it.”
Would you be happy to lose the derby next week but with the certainty of qualifying for the Champions League?
This was the only moment of uncertainty during the entire interview. Rafinha agonises on his chair for a moment but then says: “No, I want to win the derby! Then the Champions League will arrive by itself...”
Explain to the fans why Inter will get back into Europe’s top club competition this time.
“Because I have a lot of faith in my teammates and I’m sure we’ll do great things.”
Inter’s midfielders don’t score goals, only Icardi and Perisic seem capable of doing so in this team. What can you promise personally in this sense?
“Well assists are as important as goals, Icardi doesn’t go through on goal by himself! Candreva for example hasn’t scored, but how many assists has he provided? And anyway, if you asked me whether I’d agree to qualify for the Champions League with just Icardi and Perisic’s goals I’d ask for the pen immediately!”
Speaking of Icardi, as soon as you arrived he’s pulled up with an injury...
“Mauro has assured me he feels good physically, and indeed he’s been called up for this weekend. Having spent several years together in Barcelona’s youth system I spoke with him before accepting the move here. He helped me out during my first few days as an Interista; even though he’s still young he’s a great captain. A real leader of this group.”
Could the fact you’ve known each other for so long help your understanding on the pitch?
“Being in sync with another person helps you do better on the pitch as well.”
What’s struck you most about Spalletti?
“Beyond all of his preparation I like direct people like him, people who say everything as it is to your face. We’d already spoken on the phone before I left Barcelona. We talked about his footballing ideas, he knows I can play in every position in midfield but also in attack. I even played as a false nine at one point in my career.”
Even though you’re only here on loan with an option to buy, do you see yourself in Milan next season whilst playing in the Champions League?
“Definitely, that’s what I’d like. I haven’t come here just to regain fitness and then go back to Barcelona, I want to stay here. Although obviously my future depends on Inter...”
What did Messi say to you before you came to Inter?
“Leo, but also Suarez and other players too, explained to me that I was going to an historic club that’s known all around the world.”
As soon as you arrived you explained how your footballing idols were Inter players.
“Indeed, I went crazy for Ronaldo and Adriano. Ronaldo because he’s Il Fenomeno. Adriano on the other hand gave the best of himself here and I never missed a single one of his matches.”
What kind of group have you found here?
“They’ve really surprised me for their physical condition and their quality. I have a lot of faith in them, we have everything we need to reach our objective of the Champions League.”
Who’s struck you the most?
“Cancelo. He’s really impressed me in training for how good he is.”
Your compatriot Dalbert on the other hand isn’t playing much.
“I knew about him already, he’s a very technical player. When you change countries and you don’t play a lot the most important thing is to regain confidence.”
What do you know about Benevento?
“I know Sandro, although we’ve never played together. From the videos we’ve seen this week I can see they play good football. Let’s hope that can be an advantage for us, given that most teams that come to San Siro sit back and don’t give you any space.”
Have you met Steven Zhang?
“Yes, we’re pretty much the same age. It’s striking how he interfaces with other managers who are older than him, but when a youngster is going places it’s only a good thing.”
“As long as the numbers allow it, Inter!”
Talk to us about the private Rafinha.
“I’m not superstitious, I don’t love the PlayStation, I like going to the cinema and playing the guitar. Although between training and the work I do at home it doesn’t leave me with much spare time. I’m taking Italian lessons, I’ll be able to speak it soon. I have a real sweet tooth and I’ve lost my head over some of the tarts here, in particular the crostata (ahem). It’s not easy to tow the line...”
What other sports do you like?
“Volleyball, my mother Valeria played it. Other than that basketball and table tennis. We have a table at home and we’re always playing each other on it.”
Speaking of your family, your father Mazinho played here in Italy. What advice has he given you?
“He confirmed to me that this is a very tactical league. A university of football. I’ve spoken to Dani Alves about it, he says he learned a lot here.”
Your brother Thiago chose to play for the Spanish national team, whereas you chose Brazil. Why so?
“He played in all of Spain’s youth teams whereas I used to go home to Brazil every summer. I’ve always felt more Brazilian than Spanish.”
Have you spoken with the coach of the Seleção Tite recently?
“No, having been injured for a long time I haven’t spoken with him for a while. Obviously I’d love to go to the World Cup in the summer, but I’m only thinking about doing well with Inter now.”
What would you do if the World Cup final was Brazil vs Spain?
“If my brother were playing and I wasn’t I’d cheer for Spain. Family comes before everything else.”
If you were both playing what would your father do?
“We’ve had a laugh about this, he said that he’d just sit down in front of the TV and try to enjoy the game.”
You’ve chosen to come to a footballing nation which is struggling at the moment. The Italian national team failed to qualify for the World Cup. Do you think there’s a real crisis or will we pick ourselves back up soon?
“It’s just a moment, the same thing happened in Brazil. You’ve won four World Cups and you represent football all around the world. And you’re not short of talented young players - I thought Pinamonti was in his twenties when I first got here, and then I discovered he was 18...”
Which Italian footballer do you think is ready to become a top player?
“Insigne. He’s super.”