Alessandro Florenzi: I can’t wait to start playing for Roma again

In a long interview with Walter Veltroni of the Corriere dello Sport, Alessandro Florenzi spoke about a range of topics. The full interview follows below.

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My first question is, how are things?

All fine. Things could definitely be going better, given the last few months. Now I’m focused on my recovery, but I’m obviously not going to give myself a deadline for that. When I’m feeling good, I’ll be back on the pitch. And I can’t wait for that, because I’ve missed playing a lot.

Tell me about the first injury

The first one was against Sassuolo, when I was going for a high ball. Someone gave me a little push from behind and, when I fell, my knee ligament gave way. The second happened while I was training with the guys from the Primavera. I twisted and injured myself again. I thought I was fine again, but I wasn’t. I went onto the pitch with the idea in my head that nothing had happened, that I hadn’t been injured before. I was in a hurry and wanted to start playing again. Maybe that was my mistake: returning from injury and thinking that I’d got past it all. Instead with a cruciate injury, you have to know that it makes its mark on your life and, from that moment on, you have to work every day knowing that you’ve gone through that injury. You have to know that for the next 10, 15 years, or as long as God wants me to play football, that every day you need to remember you’ve had this injury, and that you have to take account of it every day to ensure that it doesn’t happen to you again.

Are you working in the gym now?

I’m in the gym every day, it’s tough. But I know that when it’s over I won’t be able to say: “I won’t go to the gym any more because I’m fine”. I have to get it into my head that I need to do something every day to make sure my knee is fine, that the muscles are fine. Otherwise I’ll have a short career, and I want it to be a long one. That’s what I really want so I will work as hard as I need to.

What was the second injury like psychologically? Worse than the first?

Yes. It was worse than the first because I didn’t expect it. I really felt the first one. It was a huge, piercing pain in my knee. You know what it is immediately and you tell yourself that it can happen. But not the second, I felt too good to think it could happen. Psychologically it was a shock. I can’t deny that, because otherwise I’d be lying. Fortunately my wife and my daughter have been there to support me with love since that 28th October, when I had my first operation. And then my family – my mother, my father, my friends who have stayed close to me – invaded Villa Stuart for days. The clinic shuts at 10 and they were still there at 2 in the morning. I’ll always be grateful to all of them.

To anyone in particular?

You won’t be surprised but I have to thank my faughter. She doesn’t know, she’s young, but she’s already saved my life. It was hard: you have the operation, you’re in pain, you can’t bend over, you can’t go for a run, you can’t do what you’ve done every day of your life, the thing you’ve done ever since you were a child and made you fall in love with this game. You go home and she doesn’t know anything, she sees you, she spreads her arms and she smiles. I’ll say it again, she’s saved my life, she’s saved my life and she doesn’t know it yet. It’s a wonderful thing to be thankful to your little girl.

How far away were you from returning when you got the second injury?

Not far. There were 20 days until the game against Palermo. I had another 20 days of work ahead and then, since there were no Primavera games during that period, we’d decided that I could be selected in the first team squad again. Rome’s newspapers, who are always very active, thought they already knew my recovery plans, but we nearly fooled them because no one expected that I would be back in time to be included in the squad for Palermo. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out like that. But that’s history now. So we should think about the future.

What did you think about what happened to Pepito Rossi?

When I read about it I didn’t want to believe it. That’s the truth. I got to know him when we were both playing in the national team under Prandelli. He’s a simple, straightforward guy, and he’s a guy who doesn’t deserve everything that’s happened to him. So let me offer him, with huge affection, the best of luck, I’m sure that his strength of will and his desire to play football will see him through yet another injury.

You spoke about your daughter. How important was the birth of your child?

It changes you. My wife and I were always conscious that we wanted to have a child while we were young. In fact I was 25 and she was 23, so we were very young. We’ve been together for 9 years, so we were only little when we first met. After 5 or 6 years we already wanted a child together. We just didn’t have a house, so we couldn’t give it a home. Then we got married and we soon had this little child that has changed our lives. Changed for the better, for sure. It changes your life, it makes you more responsible. It changes the most important thing, your priorities. You don’t matter any more. I’ve had this injury but that doesn’t matter. If she’s not well then I run. She is what matters. When she’s well then we know we’re all well. When she’s fine then so are me and my wife. They are what matter to me now.

Did you meet your wife at the stadium?

Yes, that game I was going to the curva, and we met there because so was she. We were friends on Messenger, because people were still using that then, but we didn’t know each other, we’d never spoken to each other. We got to know each other in the curva. Then we started going out and by 24th February we were in, in inverted commas, a relationship.

Were you already playing football?

I was in the Primavera. I was still just Alessandro. I jokingly tell her that she had this privilege that no other woman could have. She got to know me when I was Alessandro, not when I was Florenzi.

The story of your grandmother… Had you decided before the game to go up to her in the stand?

I’d thought about it, then when I got out onto the pitch I had decided. Because she doens’t know anything about football. She just came to experience the joy of watching her grandchild play. No one was expecting me to do that, because I hadn’t told anyone I was going to. I only jokingly told her, on the phone: “Watch out if I score because I’m coming up, no matter what”. Then when I scored, I asked myself, “Look, do you know where she is? Go.” Of course I was booked for it. I hadn’t considered that it might cause problems for her though, because then journalists went to her house for days ringing the doorbell. Obviously she didn’t open the door to any of them, because we’re used to that by now. But I would do that again a thousand times, to make her happy a thousand times.

Why is your grandmother so important to you?

She and my other grandmother have always been very important to me. They are points of reference for me. My other grandmother lived with us and died when she was 90. I loved her a lot. Let me tell you what I mean: it was me who changed her incontinence pads. She took my brother’s room, my brother’s bed. I was in the bed next to her and sometimes she’d wake up in the night, she had Alzheimers. During the night she’d say Sandro can you take me to the bathroom? I’d get up, I’d take her to the bathroom, and I’d do everything I needed to. My other grandmother who was at the stadium has done so much for me, ever since I was a boy. She brought up four children, and she really did a lot for all of them, so it only seemed right and appropriate that I did that for her.

What do your parents do?

They had a bar in a sports centre for over 20 years. Then we opened a restaurant, but my father didn’t come to watch me play any more because he was busy working at the restaurant. So then I told him: Dad don’t do this any more, enjoy your grandchildren, go out on your bike, which he loves. My mother has a lot of other things to do, mostly being a grandmother. I think that’s the best job in the world – she has two other grandchildren, my brother’s children, two wonderful kids, so she doesn’t miss working.

What is your first memory about football?

My first memory of football is a shipping container. It was at the sports centre in Acilia. There were football pitches there, and nearby was this container: behind the container, there was a hardstanding made of pozzolana. I spent my childhood there. After school I’d go to my mother, who worked at that sports centre. My mum knew that, between 5 and 8, I wouldn’t leave that space behind the container. At the end of the day my father would whistle and I’d go back to them. Actually he had to do a bit more than whistle, because I liked playing football. And I never wanted to stop. Like today, in fact.

When did you move from pozzolana to a grass pitch?

I went to Lodigiani when I was 9, I spent 2 years at Lodigiani. Then a funny thing happened. Both clubs who play at the Olimpico spotted me. I went to Formello first and then I came here to Trigoria, I spoke to Bruno Conti and as soon as I cam out my father asked me, “Ale what do you make of it here?”. “Dad I’ve decided, I’ve met Bruno Conti and I’ve chosen. When we went to Formello no one spoke to me. We came here and Bruno Conti spoke to me. I’ve chosen, I’m staying here.”

How old were you?

11. Now I’m 26. I spent a year at Crotone, so I’ve been here at Trigoria for nearly 15 years.

What was your bedroom like as a child? What was there that was about football?

There were hundreds of footballs, there were pictures of Francesco, and there was a shirt, which my dad bought me, with Balbo’s name on it. I had a shirt with Francesco on it too, of course, and Balbo’s shirt, and loads of teams’ footballs. If you wanted to make me happy you just had to give me a football. It didn’t matter what team it was, I wasn’t fussy, I just wanted to kick it, not think about it. I always had a football at home.

What position did you play as a boy?

I played up front. I played as a second striker or trequartista. I was a trequartista at Lodigiani, and then I moved to the right wing at Roma, on the right wing of a 4-4-2. I never played with the Allievi Nazionali, I was always on the bench. Then Stramaccioni came in and he put me in central midfield. Then I played in a three man midfield with the Primavera. I started playing everywhere when I went to Crotone. Menichini had spotted me when I was playing with the Primavera here and desperately wanted to sign me. I didn’t have to think twice about going there. It was a fantastic experience. It really made me grow as a man.

It was the first time you had been a long way away from Rome and your family…

It was my first experience being a man, because I left everything behind me. On 15th August my family, my girlfriend were in Crotone, then the same day, suddenly, they had gone. They needed to work, Ilenia needed to go back to school, and I was alone on the bed. I didn’t sleep that night. I remember it as though it were yesterday. I thought, what do I do now? Now I start to become a great player.

How old were you?

I was 19.

You are a strange player because I think you’ve played in every position possible except for goalkeeper. Maybe you haven’t played centre back yet…

I even played there once for Crotone when we were down to 9 men, against Varese. Given what a state we were in, I said, “I’ll play there, what do I need to do?” I won’t go into detail but it was 2-0 to them, I came out of defence, marked by half the city of Varese, and I scored. But the game was already over by then.

How would you define yourself? What do you feel is your position?

I don’t know. I’m not joking. Without sounding presumptuous, I have this ability to find the quality, the knowledge to know what I can give the team, in any position I play. Maybe someone will tell me to play in midfield. OK I’ll play in midfield, but with my qualities, with what I can do, with what I can give the team. That might be an extra run forward that could lead to a goal. I like playing full back or wing back, because you’re playing completely your own game there. For example, you have a lot more time to think as a full back compared to midfield. I played for a year and a half as a full back, then I went back to playing midfield. I won’t say that it surprised me, but I realised that I needed to play more quickly because I suddenly had half as much time as I used to. As a full back you have the chance to control the ball, and to think more about what you want to do with it. You often don’t have that luxury in the middle of the pitch, you have to play first time. But, gradually, I’ve learned to enjoy playing there. As I have playing anywhere.

Will you stay at Roma for ever? Do you want to imitate De Rossi and Totti?

That’s a good question. I don’t know, to tell you the truth, because it’s difficult to say. Lots of things change, lots of factors change, maybe in your character, maybe in those of the people who are around you. I definitely want to follow the path set by Daniele, by Francesco. They are unique. They’ve done some incredible things. Francesco and Daniele are the heart of Roma and I don’t think I’ll ever do what they’ve done. So I’d say maybe yes, I would like to. But it’s not a given. I won’t rule anything out, I can’t do that. It would be nice to play in other places as well, to discover them and get to know them. But in the end I tell myself that it would be great to spend my entire career in Rome. There’s always that part of me that says it would be good to do what Francesco and Daniele have done. That’s partly because, for now, it’s only the three of us who can tie their football careers to Roma and only to Roma. It’s difficult for anyone else to do that, not soon anyway. Maybe Cristian, Francesco’s son, will be another, but you never know. I take every day as it comes and I’ll see what happens.

What did Totti mean to you as a boy and what have you since discovered about him here at Trigoria?

He was an idol to me as a boy. Later on, when I was a bit older, so was Daniele. One of the first memories I have of Francesco is the goal he scored at home to Livorno. He jumped over the advertising hoarding and I was sitting behind it as a ballboy. And then when he scored 107 goals: every kid had a shirt with that number on. I’ve still got mine at home. When you’re in the same team as him, Francesco is like a brother. You talk about everything, you joke with each other. Sometimes you don’t think of him as Francesco Totti, you think he’s just Francesco, an incredibly normal person. Then you see what happens outside of Trigoria when you say his name. The same thing happens when you talk about Daniele. I’m possibly even closer to Daniele [than Francesco]. We go out together, our wives are friends.

I understand he was very close to you after the injury

Daniele… it was him who told my parents and my friends that I’d done my cruciate, the first time. Because after Sassuolo, instead of going home, he got off the plane and came to Villa Suart. That was something that not everyone would have done. What Daniele did then will stay with me for a long time. The doctor wanted to go and tell my parents and my friends, but Daniele said no, don’t go, I know how to tell them. And he went and said, “Relax, Alessandro has got an injury but it’s not a problem.” My mother relaxed, so did my father, which was partly because they’d been told by a player and a person like Daniele, who they trusted. These are things that make you understand what sort of a person Daniele is.

Not much is said about Alberto De Rossi, the Primavera coach, who I think is a very important figure in football in this country. Shall we talk about him for a moment?

He’s a great person. Alberto has been – and still is – an important person to me, because if I ever have to ask for advice, I like to talk to him because he’s a football man. He’s been part of football for over 20 years. He has overseen all the great talents of Roman football. More important than what he knows about football, he has human values. When we won the Primavera title we had a very strong team, 10 of those players are now playing in Serie A or Serie B. Alberto told is, “Yes, it’s good when you win because it makes you proud, but what makes me happier is seeing a boy I coached for three years who is now playing in Serie A.” Then I give them to the big boys, as he always says. He’s a truly special person.

Who is the most important coach you have come across?

There are many coaches who have taught me something. Not just one in particular. I could say Zeman, who gave me my debut in Serie A. He took me when I was young and made me part of the squad. I could definitely say Rudi Garcia, I could also say Spalletti or Conte, who took me to the European Championships and played me. All of my coaches have given me something. For example, why Rudi Garcia? Because Rudi Garcia played me at right back. Menichini taught me a lot when I was in Serie B, he made me into a different sort of player – that season I scored 11 goals. All my coaches have given me something, not just technically, tactically, or about football. They’ve all taught me things that have made me into the man I am today. I thank them all individually. Not one above all others.

Away from Roma, who is the best player you have come across on the pitch?

That’s easy, because we’ve played against Barcelona.

Messi?

Without a doubt.

Who do you think is better right now, Messi or Dybala?

Messi. Paulo is really good. But if I have to choose I still prefer Messi. But he isn’t my favourite player.

Who is?

It’s a bit strange. It’s Fabregas. I played against him at the Euros. At the end of the first half, I still remember now, I said to him, “Could I have your shirt? You’ve been my idol ever since I started playing.” And he replied, “Sorry but how is it possible for me to be your idol if I’m 3 years older than you?” I said to him, “But you started playing at 16, and I only started at 21 – there’s 8 years difference.” He was the example I followed. Ah, I’ve just remembered something else. One day when I was at home after my second injury, the telephone rang. I answered and I heard someone say in English, “Hi Alessandro, it’s Cesc Fabregas.” I asked my wife for a glass of water, because I suddenly felt queasy. He had asked Paolo Bertelli, Chelsea’s fitness coach, for my number. I’ve only ever felt like that once before when Ligabue, my favourite singer, wrote to me after my first injury.

What did you think of Juve-Barcelona?

Juve were really good. You could see how compact they were as a team. It was the same against Napoli. I thought Napoli actually outclassed them in many areas. On Tuesday though, they really played together as a team, and were really aggressive. The problem is that Barcelona have got used to scoring 6 goals, so the Bianconeri will have to be careful because it will be a different story when they go there. Even though Juve have an excellent defence. They also have an incredible goalkeeper, so they have a good chance of qualifying.

How did you score that incredible goal against Barcelona?

Like this. I had seen the goalkeeper was out of his goal. I knew that he was out of his goal. I looked up and I’d seen two defenders were following Dzeko. The goalkeeper was a long way out and I thought, if I give it to Edin they’ll win it off him. So I said to myself, I’ll try it. I thought all of this in a second, but you can see in the replays that I lift my head up, look at the two of them and see the keeper out of his goal. It was only then I thought to do it: the worst that could happen was that I’d miss, they’d get a goal kick, we’d reposition ourselves and start again. It was partly instinct, it was partly technique, because without that I couldn’t have got the ball there, and it was partly luck, because without that it would have hit the post. We’re talking about 5 centimetres. Football is about centimetres. There was instinct, there was a bit of technique, there was just the right amount of luck because, if you watch it again, it could have been the goal of the year. But not for FIFA, because Brazil is bigger than Italy so I lost to a Brazilian player who wasn’t even playing any more. That was a joke.

What did Francesco Totti say to you?

“You weren’t trying to do that – come on, you can tell me…” He took the mick out of me. He’s always like that. But then I said I was brave to try something like that.

Is winning that difficult in Rome?

Unfortunately that’s what history says. We’re different. Because one day in Rome you’re a champion and the next you’re the court jester who can’t even play a simple pass. Unfortunately that’s Rome. If we can change this mentality maybe we’ll win something big, because the fans deserve it, the city deserves it. But the atmosphere doesn’t help. How many radio stations are there in Rome that talk about football? How many websites are there that talk about Roma every day? It means that people are talking about the team all day. All day means that 30 different people say 30 different things, people then talk about what they say. This doesn’t help. At the same time you know that if you win 3 games in a row then it becomes a cauldron of passion and emotion. When you win here it’s like winning 3 trophies anywhere else. Because then the city goes mad with joy and happiness.

Do you still believe in the scudetto?

Why not? Until we are mathematically out of it I won’t stop believing. There are 7 games left. We have to try to win all 7. By thinking one game at a time, by thinking we’re a good team who can beat anyone. Obviously, we need other things to go our way too. But we have to keep believing.

What does the derby mean to a Roman player?

It isn’t a game like any other. It’s a game that becomes a part of history. Although compared to when I played my first derby, you feel less anxious. When a new player arrives in June, they have to know what date the derby is. I often speak to Ciro Immobile, and he said to me, “Mamma mia, it’s incredible how passionate it is.” I said to him, “You’re telling me – when I play I feel more nervous than when I was taking my exams.”

How much do you want to play for Italy again?

A lot. I want to play for the national team again. I want to play for Roma again. I want to play football again. Soon. I’m constantly thinking about it. No one can stop me thinking about it. I’ve been a bit more tense in the last 6 months. I’ve been a bit more stressed. I miss going onto the pitch, the adrenaline of the game, the pre-game, the post-match. I haven’t experienced those feelings for 6 months. I miss it a lot. I miss that excitement.

When do you think, roughly, you’ll be back?

I hope I’ll be OK for the start of next season. It will have been 7, 8 months by then, so I’m giving myself lots of time. I hope I’ll be fit enough so I can help the team.

What do you miss most?

Going out onto the pitch. Even just for a warm up.

If you could take just one shirt with you to a desert island, just one, which would you choose?

I would take my first. I’d take the number 48 I wore for Roma-Sampdoria. I only came on for 3 minutes, but I achieved my dream on that day: making my debut in Serie A.

What do you remember of that day?

Obviously I didn’t think I would play. I’d been on the bench for a 2 or 3 games already. At one point though, when we were 2-0 up, the coach said to me, “Ale get ready, you’re coming on.” Then I saw I was coming on for Totti. Francesco didn’t say anything to me at the time. His smile was all I needed to relax. Then I ran, just ran. I never touched the ball. For 3 minutes. I just went onto the pitch and ran. But that was enough.

What makes you proudest: being on football stickers or being in Playstation games?

Playstation, 100%. Actually I have to thank them because they’ve finally changed my photo after several years. It used to be a photo of me under Zeman, when I had short hair and didn’t have the beard. I was 18 years old then. Now they’ve put my national team photo up instead. I’m more like me now.

What do you do on a weekend now?

I give them almost exclusively over to my daughter now. I hardly saw my daughter in the first month and a half. When she was born, my crazy partner brought her to me in Montpellier, where I was training with the Italy squad. My daughter flew when she was just 18 days old. That day I was told to get off the bus but they didn’t tell me why. I did it even though I didn’t understand why, I couldn’t see anyone. Then I turned around and I saw her there with the pram. It was a wonderful moment.

Is there anything in particular that your parents told you during your career?

Ass. That’s what my dad always says to me. And when he says that it means I’ve done something good. He’s hardly ever said ‘bravo’ to me. He’s said it a few times, but he started a bit late. At the start of my career, I said, “Dad did you like my assist?”; “Yes, but it was nothing special. You should do it 3 or 4 times a game.” He taught me never to be satisfied with myself. To always aim for the top. To never give up in the face of difficulty. Which is what I’m doing now. I’m working every day to start playing again. With the same enthusiasm as I had in Acilia. On that pozzolana hardstanding behind the container.

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