After making an emotional return to the San Siro pitch ahead of Inter’s draw with Napoli on Sunday evening, Triplete hero Maicon sat down with Gazzetta dello Sport this week to discuss his Inter team, the current Inter team and this summer’s FIFA World Cup.
How important was Roberto Mancini in restoring Inter to its former glories a decade ago? What’s it like to work under Jose Mourinho? And what was it like to be in that dressing room back in 2010? The answers to those questions and more can be found in the dialogue below.
Did you enjoy the game on Sunday? A good ‘welcome back to Milan’ present?
“I enjoyed it a lot, despite it being a 0-0 draw. I saw a lot of interesting tactical ideas and a good Inter performance against a team that’s above them in the table.”
Are you impressed by Maurizio Sarri’s brand of football?
“Napoli play the best football in Italy. I’ve seen a lot of their games while following Serie A from afar and now I’ve had the chance to admire them in person.”
The fact that Inter haven’t conceded once against them in 180 minutes this season must be a good sign then...
“Inter’s defence is working very well - otherwise you wouldn’t stop a team like Napoli from scoring twice in a row...”
Who stood out for you this weekend?
“Skriniar. Fantastic in the heart of the defence, really good.”
Will the fight for the Scudetto go right down to the wire this season?
“It was a two-way fight while it was Napoli who were ahead... now though, knowing Serie A, I think Juventus are favourites. They have a positive mentality and it’s difficult to overtake them. It reminds me a little of the 2009-10 season, when Roma overtook us and then we came back past them to win the league.”
Speaking of Roma, you were coached by Spalletti for a while in the capital [during the second half of the 2015-16 season]: what memory do you have of him?
“A more than positive one. Even though we didn’t work together for long I have a pleasant memory of him. He’s an excellent coach, he hammers away at you every day on the training ground. The Inter players can rest assured that even after getting a good result against Napoli they’ll be working a lot this week. Oh how they will work this week...”
Inter started the season well but since then they’ve become bogged down. How do you make it out of these periods?
“By staying united, being a close-knit group. Even when you’re not necessarily a close-knit group outside of training. The important thing is that when you’re fighting you’re doing it as a tight unit and for the good of the team.”
Is that kind of team spirit the key to Inter getting back into the Champions League?
“I think you have to take things game by game, without thinking about the final objective. One step at a time. Serie A is a really hard league, even when you’re playing against the teams at the bottom; there are several games from this season which prove that.”
Of all the coaches you had during your career there were two in particular that had a real impact on you: Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho.
“Mancini rebuilt Inter both technically and mentally, he genuinely redid everything. Including at club level.”
“He applied the finishing touches, he put the icing on the cake. He was the best coach I ever worked with.”
What kind of things did he say to you?
“He only spoke to me twice but those two occasions were enough! When he first arrived at Inter he gave all the players a sort of handbook about our conduct, outlining what we could and couldn’t do. One or two people didn’t bother to read it; let’s just say they made a mistake in not doing so...”
What sort of player do you have to be in order to be coached by him?
“You have to have a super-strong mentality. Otherwise you won’t be able to play for him and with him. He would tell you what you needed to do and then during matches everything would come off. It made you think ‘he was right, then’, which would increase the faith everyone had in him.”
You were one of the Triplete heroes: what was that Inter team like?
“It was the perfect world, at times we only needed to look each other in the eyes to understand each other. You don’t get very far with too many words, you need facts.”
Inter have just celebrated their 110th birthday: how would you explain Inter to a child?
“I’d tell them that it’s a special family. President Moratti is unique, unrivaled. I’d tell the child to always support Inter.”
You won two Confederations Cups and two Coppa Americas with the Brazilian national team, but you never won the World Cup: how so?
“I never had much luck in that competition, it’s very strange. After the group stage it’s like you start a whole new tournament.”
In South Africa 2010 you were knocked out by the Netherlands in the quarter-finals...
“Yeah, with a header from Sneijder - how can you possibly concede a header from Wesley who’s 1.70m?!”
The 2014 semi-final with Germany meanwhile has gone down in history...
“That 1-7 will follow us around forever, people are always going to mock us for it. When I got back into the dressing room at full-time I felt like I hadn’t even played. I’d like to play that game again, it wouldn’t end the same way.”
Who’s going to win it this year?
“Brazil, although I like Argentina’s team too. The Europeans on the other hand don’t scare me much.”
You’ve retired now after your brief spell with Avai: what’s next for you?
“Nothing relating to football, it’s changed too much. I don’t see myself inside this world any longer.”
Do you still feel like a fortunate child?
“Fortunate and competent. I’ve become a man now, a man who has no regrets.”