Roberto Gagliardini is not having the finest season of his career to date, it would be fair to say.
After a scarcely believable start to life at Inter in which it appeared he could do no wrong 2017-18 has been a bumpy ride for the Italian, in which the downs have comprehensively outnumbered the ups, but Sunday’s performance against Napoli suggested (if not confirmed beyond all doubt) that the real Gaglia may finally have reawoken after months in hibernation - something which could only be good news for Luciano Spalletti and co. as they enter the final two months of the Serie A season.
While we wait for this weekend’s match away to Sampdoria to provide us with more information in that sense, Gagliardini sat down with Tuttosport on Thursday for a long interview in which he discussed Inter’s poor recent form, his own poor recent form, the need to avoid a repeat of what happened last season and much more to boot.
(NB: There’s no screenshot of the pages the interview comes from this week because it’s Tuttosport, and we’d rather not contaminate this lovely site of ours with an image of that excuse for a newspaper; the tone of some of their questions is enough to make me shiver as it is. The dialogue below has been taken directly from Passione Inter.)
Roberto, after an lightning start to the season you’ve only won 2 of your last 12 league games. Can you explain to us what’s happened?
“We’ve slipped into a period in which we’re no longer able to show what we’re really capable of. We honestly don’t know what’s happened, otherwise we’d have found a solution. Luckily we’re coming out of the malaise now as the performance against Napoli showed - we were a more compact unit on the pitch, more of a team.”
Could it not be that you fell apart after realising that you wouldn’t be able to win the Scudetto?
“No, because since the very start of the season everyone at the club has been clear that our objective is reaching the Champions League.”
You never miss a trick when you come up against the big teams.
“That just goes to show that this team has the quality and the potential to finish in the top four. One thing we need to improve though is the way we approach the matches against the teams lower down the table - our approach always has to be the same.”
You’re a big basketball fan: which team do Inter remind you of?
“I’d say Cleveland: last year they made it to the finals, two years ago they were champions while this year they’re not doing so well. Unlike us they’ve obtained some great results over the last few years but I see Inter in Cleveland for the potential this team has.
“All that we’re lacking is the consistency to fulfil this potential throughout an entire season.”
Do Sunday’s opponent Sampdoria count as a big team?
“They’re a team that has everything to fight for the European places. They come into this match off a terrible defeat [last weekend’s 4-1 reverse at the hands of Crotone] and it’ll be a very difficult game for us.”
Is having Milan this close to you in the table again another problem to deal with or an extra stimulus? Finishing ahead of Gattuso would probably be like a mini-Scudetto for some fans...
“We only need to concentrate on ourselves and on finishing inside the top four. It would be better for Milan not to be inside the top four but if they did end up there the important thing is that Inter are in it as well. And anyway, I wouldn’t turn finishing ahead of them into any kind of Scudetto...”
Without wishing to show any disrespect for Icardi, do you dream about becoming Inter’s captain one day?
“Absolutely... it would be an incredible honour, a dream come true. Obviously it’s not an objective I’m pursuing in the short-term, though: at the moment it’s nothing more than a suggestion because Mauro is our captain and he’s doing a great job, he’s a massive player for us.”
What’s Spalletti brought to Inter that wasn’t there beforehand?
“His charisma, a very vertical style of play and a predisposition towards a passing game that we’ve not managed to consistently put into practice in all of his matches. Other than that he’s also brought all of his experience, which is helping a lot of us.”
Experience which has helped you keep yourselves afloat even during this difficult phase of the season, I’d say...
“Spalletti has certainly helped us but that first and foremost has come from us, because we know just how important this season is; we know we can’t lose sight of our objective. After what happened last season we feel as if we’re at a crossroads: this year is vital because we cannot afford to screw up again.
“What happened last season must never happen again.”
What’s the midfield position you feel most comfortable in?
“It makes no difference to me: what matters is what’s going on inside your head, the mental approach you take onto the pitch.
“The fact I never score certainly doesn’t help me sleep at night: I know goals are one of the things midfielders have to provide but given my characteristics I concentrate more on defensive work, giving the team balance and helping them restart attacks.”
Who’s your role model?
“I’d say Zanetti for everything he did on the pitch and also in terms of leadership. The players I like in particular are those who represent something and he was the top for Inter.”
Another player you like for sure is Iniesta. Yet when you went to Turin last season to see him in the Juventus-Barcelona match it opened a real can of worms... seriously Roberto, why do you players even bother with social media these days given that all people ever do is insult you?
“Social media is part of our everyday lives now, the way people communicate with each other has changed and it’s only right that everyone has the freedom to say what they want. Then it’s up to whoever’s reading these messages to understand why they’re writing to you in that manner: when Inter are winning, for instance, I become a hero for everyone, whereas when they’re losing... but this is also a sign of the hunger people have for football in Italy, and I think ultimately that’s a good thing.
“Going back to Juventus-Barcelona, I do this job and I’m happy I went to Turin to see that game.”
You’re one of the spokespeople for Italian football’s next generation, the group of players that is tasked with reviving the fortunes of the national team after the disastrous failure to qualify for the World Cup. How much of a burden is that responsibility?
“I don’t know how much of a burden it is, but there’s definitely been a nice reversal of the trend recently: at last year’s Under-21 European Championships there was a group of players who’d already had a lot of game-time in Serie A and that’s crucial for the national team.”
What kind of coach is Luigi Di Biagio?
“Prepared, very determined to demand certain things during training and with a clear idea of how he wants to play football.”
The next two Atalanta players ready to fly the nest are Caldara and Spinazzola, both destined for Juventus in the summer: do you think they’re ready to make the jump?
“Yes, they’ve both had two great seasons now and they’ve already had a taste of European football under Gasperini. They never let you down week in week out, they’re good lads with the right mindset and they’re absolutely ready for a big club.”
Is there another Atalanta player that you reckon is destined for great things?
“They’re all friends of mine... don’t make me give names.”
You owe a lot to Gasperini: how do you explain his failure at Inter?
“I know a great coach who’s done brilliant things in Bergamo, I don’t know what went wrong when he was here because I wasn’t there. For sure he’s found the perfect place for him to impose his style of play at Atalanta.”
What’s your biggest strength and your biggest weakness as a player?
“At times I need to be quicker on the ball, read what’s going to happen in advance to speed up our attacks. Which incidentally is what Spalletti is always talking to me about as well. As far as my strengths are concerned, I’d prefer to leave it for others to say what they are.”
Do you like watching football on TV?
“Especially when some of my friends are playing.”
But is there a team that catches your eye in particular as a viewer?
“Well, yeah... without a doubt that would be Manchester City.”
What’s your dream as a footballer?
“Since joining Inter I’ve understood that there’s everything here to return the club to where they deserve to be in Italy. I hope to be part of the group that brings the Scudetto back to Inter and does well in the Champions League.”