The Croatian midfielder, a summer signing from Dinamo Zagreb, describes his experiences with his new club as he plays in the 2018 International Champions Cup in the United States…
‘I said, ‘Even if I play right back, it’s no problem! I play for AS Roma, I’ll play wherever!’
Part II: July 27
Tough night in San Diego
Obviously the result against Spurs was not the one that we wanted, but I don’t think we should read too much into it. We tried something out there, we looked at a lot of players to see how we are all doing so far in pre-season. And we created chances. Personally, being on the pitch for the second half, I thought we played well. Of course the result is what it is, but I think it does not explain properly how the game was.
From a personal perspective, I thought I did pretty well - especially as it is a few years since I played against a really, really big team like Tottenham. I didn’t get nervous, but before the game started I was definitely feeling the anticipation, the tension - I had goosebumps again. I really do get goosebumps a lot. Before the game I was looking around, thinking, ‘Wow, thank you God I am going to play in this game.’ But once it started, and I came on, I was feeling nothing but focus. I just told myself, ‘Come on Ante, just play. Play.’
I spoke to the Mister the day before the game. He said to me, ‘I want you to play on the left in attack, is that a problem?’ I said, ‘Even if I play right back, it’s no problem! I play for AS Roma, I’ll play wherever!’ Then he spoke to me a bit about what I specifically needed to do, which helped me a lot. Because in Croatia I have played in that role, but in a narrower position - not high on the left as he wants from us. Then during the game he was talking to me a lot as well. He always was saying to me ‘Vai, vai, vai!’ to apply pressure on the defender. And I need this, to learn to do it every time. Because that is how we play at Roma, high and with pressure all the time. I know I have to improve and I want to improve - maybe one day I will be like Kevin Strootman!
“The game was also amazing because my shirt had my name on it for the first time. I was really excited for this, I had the goosebumps again! What was amazing was it had the accent on the ‘C’ too. I wasn’t sure that would be there. I have the shirt back in my room, it is another one I will keep for sure.”
Getting the good press
“It is not easy with the language anyway, but I don’t really read what is said about us or me in the media. I didn’t in Croatia either, because I had a few issues with my comments being reported the wrong way. People were saying I was arrogant, because of the wrong stuff they were reading, when really that is the absolute last thing I am. It was the worst feeling ever for me: you can call me anything, but I am not arrogant. My family, my friends I have always had, they know. So then I tried to stop reading. So really the only things I see now are on Instagram - when guys say, ‘Nice skill Ante Coric’ with a video, or ‘Molto bene’ on a post or similar.
“But I did hear Kevin Strootman talking about me, the other day, saying I told him I wanted to nutmeg an older player in training - but that I had to stop myself. It’s true. I have actually nutmegged a few players in training. I nutmegged Javier Pastore - but it wasn’t good for me. I apologised to him straight afterwards, because he is a huge player and I have incredible respect for him. And afterwards I said to myself, ‘No more’. Because on the pitch it is a reflex, you know: I am just thinking instantly of the quickest or fastest way to move the ball, and sometimes the nutmeg is the best option. But after two or three times I said no more - because these are big players that I have huge respect for. Better to lose the ball in training than send the wrong impression. I don’t need to show this sort of thing in training - I need to show it on the pitch.
“I didn’t hear that the president said nice things about me on radio the other day - not until just before I wrote this diary, at least - but this is the sort of thing I want to hear! This is very nice for me, the sort of thing I want to strive to earn more of in the future.”
“I saw the fixture list being announced on Thursday. It’s a good schedule, I think, although a difficult one. Torino first up; I watched a lot of Serie A last season so I know they are a really strong and dangerous side. They play a little bit like us, with aggression and pressure, but perhaps more on the counter-attack. So they will be dangerous. I am already really excited for this game. Before that there is Barcelona and Real Madrid, of course, but Serie A is what we are building towards. It’s exciting to see the fixtures, to see when you will go to the San Siro, or to experience the first derby. I just hope I will be fit then, I will be selected in the squad, I will be able to experience this. I get goosebumps - again! - just thinking about it all!
“In general, the days here are exhausting - but we do have some time off, particularly after lunch. Usually I spend the time sleeping! We do some fun stuff too - like the Tennis Ball Challenge the other day. My score was not great, but I was aiming to entertain rather than rack up a score. I was using the instep, you know, doing it in style. Football is about beauty and results. If I had done it boringly, done it safely, I would have got 80 or 90 easily. But it is not just about this.
“In the evening, after dinner, we have a bit of time before curfew and me, William Bianda, Justin Kluivert and Patrik Schick usually pass it playing Fortnite or FIFA. Fortnite is really not William’s game though. He is actually quite good at FIFA - he has no chance against me, but he is still decent – but Fortnite is really not his game. Am I the best at Fortnite? I would never say this - like on the pitch, it’s for others to judge. Perhaps you should ask Patrik or Justin. But, let’s just say, I think I would be mentioned in the conversation.
“But the days are passing so quickly. For three days I was excited about the Spurs game. And now we have Barcelona. It’s amazing. I can’t wait.”
‘He is my true brother – my brother from another mother’
Part I: July 24
An American adventure
This is my first ever trip to the United States - I've never been here before. Of course I am excited to visit a country I have always heard so much about, but really most of all I am excited because I am coming here with AS Roma.
Roma is such a big club, and to be coming to America with this club just something amazing to me. I am very happy to be with this team; the players, the staff and the coach are all amazing. I have not been here long but so far everything is great – I hope it will stay like this.
I really cannot wait for the games, and to play against some of the best sides in the world; Tottenham, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Right now, to just be a part of the team is a pleasure for me - because I am young, I have time to find my place. But if I get the chance to play in these games, and show what I can do, then that is even better for more - and even better for everybody who has put their trust in me too.
“I have already had a little taste of what it is like to play for the club - and I was amazed at how many fans came to watch our games against Latina and Avellino. To be honest, I was a little bit shocked. In Croatia for friendly game there is nobody - nobody even knows you are playing. But we had like 5,000 fans in Frosinone for the match against Avellino – it was really nice. It was the same at Stadio Tre Fontane too, for our open training session. I have never seen anything like this before, to see so many fans out for a training session. It reminds you how big this club is.
My first Roma shirt, I have it in my room. I will take it and put it in my bar in Croatia. It means a lot at me. I just get the goosebumps thinking about playing Tottenham – or the pelle d'oca as the Italians call it.
Learning the Italian way
I came to Trigoria for pre-season before the other players turned up. It was just me and William Bianda to start with, and we did some stuff to pre-preparation before the preparations in Rome. We ran a little bit more than the other guys, because we were here early. Then the two weeks in training camp were incredibly hard work; but it was good for us and me especially because I need the hard work. It was really, very very nice.
Training is certainly harder than I have experienced before. It was much easier in Croatia, much less tactical in the way we approached it. Here the tactical element is far and away the most important thing, and I have to work on this a lot to make sure I keep up with what the coach wants.
The pace of training is very fast, so quick and the ball moves so rapidly. At first that was a little bit hard, but after a while it comes to you. I can adjust quickly - I think perhaps it is for others to judge but after a few days I felt I had adjusted quite well. I like the fast style of play, I like having to see things quickly, and I like the way the coach wants us to be in the ‘little spaces’ to affect the game. It is amazing for me.
Learning from my teammates is great for me too. When you see Daniele De Rossi, how he passes, you cannot help but learn something. From nowhere, were you think the ball is lost, he makes a chance for us with a brilliant pass. It is amazing.
Then there is Edin Dzeko; however you give him the ball he holds it up, or he turns and scores. Today he scored a hat-trick in three minutes in our training game – it is not possible. His level is incredible. It motivates you, inspires you and gives you something to learn from.
A new friendship
As I said before, I arrived before all the other players for pre-season – and so did William Bianda. We were put in a room together at Trigoria too. At first William did not speak any English, and really did not speak at all, but after three days or see we were using Google Translate and starting to have some conversations. And then he started to speak better and better and better, even if he always asks things like ‘How is? How is?’ or ‘What is? What is?’.
But you can understand him, and he is getting better and better every day. He can speak English now, it is a bit broken but you can understand him and he is slowly getting more fluent.
Me and William are both learning Italian with Claudio Bisceglia, the club interpreter. I understand Italian really well already, certainly much better than I thought I would. Football terms, I understand about 90% of them already I think. Speaking is a little bit harder but maybe after two or three months I will be able to speak it well.
I room with William at Trigoria, and I am rooming with him here on tour – and we even sat next to each other on the plane over. He is my true brother – my brother from another mother, even! We are like new best friends. We are going through this experience, this new adventure, together - and we will see how it goes. I just hope we will play together for a long time.
To relax after a day of training we usually play FIFA. I am not sure I should say this but… okay, I’ll say it - I win against William basically every time. But he gets mad so, occasionally, I have to give him something. I am really, really a lot better than him. I think in France maybe they don’t play FIFA so well, the level is not that high. Maybe, like with his English, he will improve as the tour goes on!