Ahead of Sunday’s Derby della Madonnina, Joao Cancelo sat down with Gazzetta dello Sport this week to discuss how his first (and hopefully not last) season at Inter is going, as well as his affection for Milan (the city...), his thoughts on the Scudetto race and the unique bond he shares with his two dogs. And lots more besides...
“Reserved yes, but I wouldn’t say timid.” And yet when you ask him what’s harder between learning Italian and executing a defensive diagonal he bursts out laughing and covers his face, which has become all red, with his hands.
This is Joao Cancelo - a fixture in Inter’s starting XI ever since 12 December when he made his full debut against Pordenone in the Coppa Italia. Before that date, his lack of game-time meant he was always one of the first players to leave the Meazza with a slice of pizza in his hands, the Inter players’ most common meal after matches.
“It’s not a question of being selfish, no player is happy when he isn’t playing”, Cancelo explains. “I wasn’t disappointed because I wasn’t playing, I was disappointed with myself. But now my moment has arrived. I believe I’ve made the most of my opportunity and I always try to give everything for the team.”
How are Inter at the moment?
“We’re playing with a bit of anxiety, and I think this anxiety is contagious. We’re trying to improve and revert to being the team we were during the first part of the season.”
Is the team anxious about Sunday’s derby as well?
“Like we say in Portugal, you don’t play the derby: you win the derby. Gattuso is doing a great job at Milan. I’ve seen some of their matches, they’ve improved defensively and they’re a more compact unit now. Calhanoglu and Suso are two really good players. Milan have a lot of strength and consistency in midfield, they’re a good team.”
So are Inter...
“We’re a big team and we’ll try to win. We have the team to qualify for the Champions League. It’ll take a lot of work: it’s easy to talk but we have to prove everything on the pitch with facts.
“We’re working hard to try and reach this objective.”
Are you improving on a personal level thanks to Inter?
“La Liga is a more technical league than Serie A, but this is a harder league to play in. On a personal level I’ve learned a lot. It’s turning into a good season from an individual perspective and I hope it can also be a good season collectively.”
What kind of coach is Spalletti?
“He’s known all around the world, he helps us a lot. I’ve learned a lot of things from him, I’m very grateful for him. He’s ‘strong’, he makes you work hard and always tries to play good football.”
You’re a product of Benfica’s youth system...
“They’re the team that’s closest to my heart. After that I went to Valencia where I started to learn about the world of professional football, and they will be my Spanish club for the rest of my life. Now I’m at Inter, a great club with a completely different dimension and with very passionate fans.”
What is Portugal to you?
“I’m proud of my country, we’re a very small nation but we have a lot of quality players. It’s not a coincidence that we have the best player in the world at football [Cristiano Ronaldo], futsal [Ricardinho] and beach [Madjer]. We’re European Champions in football and this shows you how we’re a humble nation that manages to have its say on the big stage.”
You’ve been coached by Cesare Prandelli [at Valencia]: what did he leave you?
“As well as the impact he had on my career as a coach, what struck me the most about him was the person, a great person. He gives you confidence.”
On Sunday you’ll come across Andre Silva. Have you been talking to each other this week?
“No, it’s been silence during these last few days! He’s a brilliant guy and a great player, but we can’t speak at the moment.”
If I show you a picture of your dogs, Prince and Tyson, what do you say to me?
“[With a loving look in his eyes] They’re like my children, they live in Barreiro [the town in Portugal that Cancelo is from] and I miss them so much. It might sound absurd but I’d give my life for them.”
What do you make of Milan as a city?
“It’s blown me away, it’s beautiful. Compared with Lisbon it’s missing the sea and it’s colder, but walking around the Duomo and up to the Sforza Castle is stupendous.”
Have we seen everything of Cancelo?
“You can always improve. What’s important is the team and that I can help them to reach their objective.”
Do you feel like a privileged person given your profession?
“Of course, there are very few people in the world who can do the job they like and earn a lot of money at the same time. But I’ll never forget my origins. Fortunately I can help out my Dad and my brother.” [Cancelo’s mother, on the other hand, tragically died in a car accident back in January 2013].
What do you think about the Scudetto battle?
“I like good football and for me Napoli are a team that play it. Juventus meanwhile are very good at defending, they’re a typical Italian team who are difficult to play against. I’m a fan of Koulibaly - excluding my own teammates, obviously.”
Milan, Napoli and then Sampdoria: is it better for Inter to have a tough fixture list?
“I think so, yes. The small teams can you cause lots of trouble, they defend well and they have quality players. The big matches are always tough, but you always have space to play and you’re playing in front of a big crowd.”