Federico Balzaretti: Roma-Fiorentina will be a spectacular match

AS Roma Match Program (F. Viola) He ended his career at Roma, but he also spent part of his career in Florence. It may have only been for 6 months, but his time there left its mark. “I had a long career, and they were the only team I ever left in January,” says Federico Balzaretti, who is now part of Roma’s backroom staff.

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What do you rememeber about your time with the Viola?

I joined them from Juventus with high hopes. I joined a fantastic group of players, possibly the group of team-mates I remember with most affection. I settled in very quickly and the team had an exciting season, qualifying for the Champions League and reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League, only losing to Rangers on penalties.

So was the problem with the coach, Prandelli?

At that time he hardly played me at all, but then I played under him for 4 years in a row when he was in charge of the national team. It’s the only time I’ve ever moved clubs midway through the season, but the coach and I talked honestly with each other and he told me that if I had other options then moving would be the right thing to do, and it was. But I can’t fault the squad, the club and the city, they were all fantastic.

What sort of game do you think it will be at the Olimpico on Tuesday?

It will be a spectacular game. Both teams play great football, with precise ideas and a clear identity. Both teams will have technically gifted players and will try to play their own game. It will be a difficult game for us, but we’ve got a good chance of picking up points as well.

Who will dominate the game?

We’ll try to dominate possession, but that’s what they’ll want to do as well. If I had to identify one weakness, it would be that they often leave themselves vulnerable at the back when they lose possession further up the pitch. We must be ready to exploit this as soon as a bit of space opens up at the back.

Psychologically speaking, how will both teams approach the game?

They haven’t lost for some time, but we’re in good form as well despite the defeat to Sampdoria. In football everyone obsesses about the result itself, but we dominated that game and we were in front until the last 10 minutes [20 minutes, ed.]. The team are in good form, as the coach says, and are continually improving and becoming more solid.

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What are Fiorentina’s strengths?

They press high up the pitch and have some talented players. The strikers are able to create space for themselves, and I’m enjoying watching Federico Chiesa’s excellent season – he’s a young player who is showing great character in his first season in Serie A. Personally I also like Vecino a lot, and they also have Borja Valero playing in midfield as well…

What do you think of Paulo Sousa?

I think highly of him, although I don’t know him personally. He has some very modern ideas about the game. He transforms his system between the attacking and the defensive phases. He’s an attentive coach, and rarely shows his hand.

On the subject of coaches, you turned down Spalletti and Roma in 2005 when Torino went bankrupt and decided to join Juventus in the end instead

That’s true, I was very close to joining… It’s a great shame that I was never coached by him. In the end it was a family decision for me, my first daughter was born a fortnight later and I decided to stay in Turin, although it was a big move to go from Toro to Juventus.

What has Spalletti brought to the group since his return?

A lot. He has improved the players, he’s given them greater conviction. I like everything about Spalletti. He’s extraodinary, both technically and tactically.

How far can this group of players go?

It’s hard to say, things can turn on the slightest thing in football. This season the coach has built – and is continuing to build – a competitive team. These next 2 months will decide everything, but I believe this team is ready to face this run of big games. We’ve done a lot over the last year, only Juventus have done better than us, but they are on another level at the moment. We’re up there though and we can compete with everyone.

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