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Handanovic: “Missing out on the Champions League? We’re not even thinking about it”

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Samir has his eyes fixed firmly on the prize.

AC Milan v FC Internazionale - TIM Cup Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Astori, Napoli, Icardi, transfer talk and, of course, the race for the Champions League: find out what Samir Handanovic had to say when he sat down with Corriere dello Sport on Tuesday afternoon.

Particularly interesting were his comments towards the end on how ongoing transfer speculation surrounding Inter since Christmas has ‘destabilised’ the team, and how everyone around the club needs to learn how to deal with it better.

Do you think that was a general message to the ‘ambiente’, or was it aimed at someone specific? Personally I’m not 100% sure...

Corriere dello Sport, 7 March 2018, p. 10-11.

Handanovic, when you think about what’s happened to Davide Astori what goes through your mind?

Sporting CP v Fiorentina - Pre-Season Friendly
Davide Astori’s sudden death has sent shockwaves through Italian football.
Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

“Everybody is talking about it at the moment, but for how I am and out of respect for his family this is the moment to remain in silence. We were in the dressing room on Sunday morning and we couldn’t believe what we were being told. ‘How is that possible?’ we were thinking.

“The guys who had played with him at Fiorentina [Borja Valero and Matias Vecino] confirmed to us that it was true and it was a shock for everyone. It could have happened to any one of us and it reminds you what the important things in life are.”

Serie A will return to action on Sunday. Do you expect Napoli to be more fired up than usual after the defeat against Roma?

“I don’t know. Wherever they go they always play the same way: they lost at home to Leipzig but then they went to Germany and did really well there. People shouldn’t take a negative result to mean that they deserved to lose because not every game starts and finishes the same way.”

Napoli lost back-to-back games between Serie A and the Champions League at the start of December, but they haven’t lost two league games in a row since October 2016. Concerned?

“We need to focus on ourselves, not on the others. We know Napoli fairly well, we know how they play and what their strengths are.”

What in particular do you fear about them?

“They’ve been working with the same coach for three years, they play as a real team and there are very few changes to their starting XI from game to game: all this means they know each other very well. They play with a maximum of one or two touches, they enjoy themselves and they know exactly what to do.”

SSC Napoli v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Samir Handanovic will be hoping for another clean sheet against Napoli on Sunday evening as Inter host the Partenopei at San Siro.
Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Is Sarri’s football the best football in Italy?

“In Italy without a doubt, and it’s also one of the best 2-3 styles of play in Europe alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.”

How do you stop this Napoli team?

“That’s a question for Spalletti to answer! I’m not saying anything.”

Callejon, Mertens and Insigne: who would you take out of their front three?

“I’d take out... Sarri, because it’s through working with him that those three players - but also others like Allan, Koulibaly, Zielinski and Hamsik - have improved and become so good.

“It’s Sarri who has unlocked their potential and enabled them to make such a leap.”

What do you remember about the 0-0 draw at the San Paolo?

“We had a decent game in which we didn’t have the final pass or the ability to keep hold of the ball a bit more. You can’t allow Napoli to get their passing game going otherwise it becomes very tough against them.”

Can Sarri take the Scudetto off Allegri?

“I don’t know. It’ll be an open fight right to the end but I’m not going out on a limb either way.”

Who deserves the Scudetto more?

“That the league table will tell us.”

Would not reaching the Champions League yet again this season be a failure?

Cagliari Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Inter haven’t been the same team since demolishing Chievo at the beginning of December.
Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images

“It’s an eventuality that we’re obliged to not even take into consideration. We need to react and return to being the team we were during the first few months of the season.”

What rating out of 10 would you give the team if they did qualify for the Champions League?

“You can’t give a rating now imagining how the season might finish in three months’ time. Let’s wait and see.”

Who should Inter be focusing on as their main rival between Lazio and Roma?

“A professional doesn’t think about who he has to overtake but about reaching his objective.”

Are you satisfied by the season Inter have had so far?

“If you’d asked me in December I’d have said yes, and I’d have added that we need to stay concentrated right up until the end. Now I’m a bit less satisfied. You have lots of ups and downs during a season and this is undoubtedly a negative moment that we have to overcome.”

If someone had told you at the start of the season that you’d have 51 points after 26 games, would you have taken that?

“I don’t make calculations or predictions like that. I have an objective to reach, Champions League qualification, and we all have to work towards that.”

Were you amongst those dreaming about Inter fighting for the Scudetto earlier on, or were you aware like Spalletti that Inter’s true dimension was competing for a place in the Champions League?

“It was right to dream at that moment in time, not even I was... immune from doing so, but in my head I’ve always had the Champions League as the target, the objective set by the club.”

What were your biggest attributes during those first four months of the season?

“Our compactness and collective mentality.”

And what’s happened from mid-December onwards?

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

“It was to be expected that we would have a dip in form. We need to make sure that all the transfer talk - and I’m referring to talk about contract extensions, about players who might be coming or going and and so on - doesn’t distract us from our work on the pitch, because talking about all these things now only destabilises the environment around us.

“Media speculation is part of the ‘circus’ around football, but we at Inter have to learn how to dismiss all of it in a clear and strong manner. Everyone gets whisked away too much by these things at times. During a season one has to defend and protect the group that’s already here.

“It’s counter-productive having to continuously hear about signings who are going to replace those who are already here and giving everything for the shirt. All of this has disturbed us a bit if you ask me.

“I think players should always focus on just being players, but I’m only saying this in order to give my contribution.”

Do you have any regrets thinking back at the season so far?

“The goals we conceded in stoppage time in Firenze and Ferrara. Our confidence levels would be higher having won those two games.”

Has there been a change in mentality since Spalletti’s arrival compared to previous negative seasons?

“Yes and I think it’s evident.”

How do you judge your own season so far?

“I can have an idea now but it’s after the final game that you sit down and take stock.”

What’s the best save you’ve made this season?

“The one on Bonaventura in the derby.” [Remind yourself below if you don’t remember it...]

And the goal you could have avoided conceding?

“The second against Sampdoria at San Siro. Luckily we won anyway.”

If we ask you for an appraisal of your six years here in Milan, are you disappointed never to have played in the Champions League?

“Inter’s history and prestige speak for themselves and tell you where this club has to be every season.”

Can Icardi finish this season as Serie A’s top-scorer?

“Individual records have to be the last of our thoughts. We need goals from everyone to reach our objective.”

What would you say to those who believe your dressing room is no longer united?

“That it is united and that nothing has changed since December. All these negative voices start emerging because our results aren’t what they were beforehand, but the way we train and spend our time together hasn’t changed.”