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The Big Interview: AS Roma x Gianluca Mancini

Gianluca Mancini has experienced a number of huge milestones over the last 12 months - making his international debut for Italy in March, then completing a long-awaited move to Roma in the summer.

From the outside, the 23-year-old's rise may seem distinctly rapid - but the defender himself insists his ascent has been the eventual pay-off from years of hard work.

In our latest Big Interview, Mancini explains all the sacrifices and trials that got him to this point - and why he hopes it is still just the beginning as far as his career achievements go...

What was Gianluca Mancini like as a child?

"I was born in Pontedera but I grew up in Montopoli. My family had a business producing apples and pears. I grew up in the countryside, together with my friends and cousins. I played a lot of sports as a child – I tried them all, eventually choosing the path of football."

What are the other sports you tried?

"Almost all of them! I was bought a basket, so that I could play basketball at home, but I wasn't in a real team. I tried swimming and cycling. Then aged 8 or 9 I realised that football would be my sport."

It's been said that you were discovered by a coach while playing with other children at a party in your town. Is this story true?

"I was seven and my father thought I was too young to play in a team. This coach, Giuseppe Aurilia, who was a friend of the family, saw me with the ball at my feet and said: 'Why don't you join our team?' My parents initially didn't want me to, but he said: 'If you don't bring him, I'll come and get him.' Then they were won over. The pitch was really close by and I could walk there through our farm land."

In which age group did you begin?

"In the junior side. Then a scout from Fiorentina saw me play. After a four-day trial in Florence, they took me on. I worked my way through the ranks there, from age 9 to 19. Every season would come to an end and I’d be afraid of not being kept on – that’s how it worked in those age groups. However I managed to reach the Primavera team. It was a great period of development, both in football and personal terms."

Did you move to Florence?

"No – I stayed at home because I wanted to be close to my friends.  I used to get a bus to football, or my mum would give me a lift when she wasn’t working. It was half-an-hour away."

Was there a moment when you thought you wouldn’t manage to become a professional footballer?

"Before moving to Florence I was a little hesitant. I remember an evening when I was full of doubt. I didn't want to move away from my friends. Then the next morning I told my mother that I had chosen to go for it. My parents never pressured me and always allowed me to make my own decisions. My mother does not know much about football and my father has never gone over the top praising me. I was lucky in this sense, because sometimes parents press too hard and make their children believe things that are not true. I’ve experienced this whole journey with absolute calm."

Have you always been a defender?

"As a youth player, I played everywhere and rightly so. During my first year in Primavera, I was moved back into defence and, luckily for me, I haven't moved from that position since."

Does your eye for goal come from your experience of playing in a more advanced position?

"I'm not sure. As defenders, we often score from set-pieces. Even if you're lucky enough to play with team-mates who deliver good crosses into the box, you still need that ruthlessness to be there at the right time. When I'm in front of goal ahead of a corner or free-kick, I always say to myself, 'I'm going to score here.'"

When did you think that you'd finally made it?

"I don't want to be the type of person who's overly humble, but at the same time I don't tell myself that I've made it, even today. I'm young and still have a long way to go, although I am aware that I've joined a huge club. Of course, I thought about that when I made my Serie A debut in Florence for Atalanta away to Fiorentina. That was a dream come true for me, but there's still so much more to come."

Was your debut against Fiorentina emotional?

"It was a sign of destiny. I grew up there and so many friends came to watch me play. The people who saw me develop were there. It was a fantastic feeling."

You had a stint at Perugia before joining Atalanta. What did you learn from that time?

"It was a crucial experience for me as I took my first steps from the youth ranks into a professional league, with players who were older than me and had more experience under their belts. I was also far from home for the first time. I was used to always being close to my family, friends, and girlfriend, so when I suddenly found myself a long way away from them, I didn't feel comfortable.

"It was all part of the learning curve, however. I gained a better understanding of what professional football is like and it was a fantastic experience. Pierpaolo Bisoli was in the dugout and he taught me so many things. I didn't play initially, I was young and the coaches have to be careful not to burn you out. In January, there was an opportunity to go out on loan, but I decided to stay there and ended up finishing the campaign with 14 appearances to my name."

You met your idol Marco Materazzi while you were there, didn't you?

"Yes, one of my tattoos has a link to him and a masseur at Perugia sent him a photo of it when he found out. Marco replied to him promising to meet up with me once he was back and that's just what happened. My squad number is 23 because of him and because it's the day of the month when I started going out with my girlfriend."

You then went on loan to Atalanta in January 2017. How was your time under Gian Piero Gasperini?

"After another six months at Perugia, I moved to Bergamo in January. I was convinced that things were going really well in Serie B, but that wasn't the case [when I moved]. It's such a big step up. Gasperini completely transformed the way I work both mentally and physically. Training sessions were so intense and I didn't think I could handle it initially, but it's all just a matter of getting used to new things."

Is there a game in your career that you remember particularly fondly?

"The 4-1 win over Inter for Atalanta in Bergamo. Beating a top side was simply wonderful. The most emotional moment, however, was my debut for the national team. It was a unique experience. When the national anthem was playing, I was welling up and just couldn't believe it. I was alongside players like Marco Verratti, Alessandro Florenzi and Leonardo Bonucci. I'd been watching them wear the shirt for years and I was suddenly by their side."

Are you targeting a place in the squad for the Euros?

"Playing for your national team is the very best thing of all for a footballer, but everything hinges on what you do at club level, so I'll give my all to try to earn a place in the squad."

How has your life changed over the last few years since you've been playing in Serie A?

"Even today, I'm still the same Gianluca I've always been. Obviously I can see that things are changing and when I head back to where I'm from, people ask me for a few more selfies nowadays. Whenever I'm there, I always go to the bar where I grew up with my friends and I'm the same Gianluca as before, I'm the same."

Who's your best friend?

"My best friend is called Albano and we've always played football together. Then there's Lorenzo, my cousin, who is like a brother to me. We grew up together in the countryside where I lived with my parents."

Who are you closest to in football?

"I've had a good relationship with everyone so far. I'm back with Leonardo Spinazzola again, having played with him for Perugia and Atalanta, where we were room-mates. I was very close with Mattia Caldara at Atalanta."

What's the ideal day for you?

"I like to go out with my girlfriend Elisa and then have dinner with her at home because she's the number one cook around. If friends come to visit, we go out a bit more, but in general, I like spending the day relaxing."

Had you ever visited Rome before joining the club?

"I came here for three days with my girlfriend some time ago and we had a good wander. It's a special city and every street contains something unique."

What were your thoughts when you found out the offer from Roma was on the table?

"When my agent told me about the offer, I immediately said to him without any hesitation that I wanted to come. So many top players have played for this club and it's an honour to be part of it. I've always liked the club and there's a magical feeling to the city itself. The fans are fantastic and I'm proud to be playing my football here."

What sort of impression has Paulo Fonseca made on you?

"A very good impression. He's sure of himself and his ideas. He's very direct and tells you openly if you're doing well or badly. It's just the start, but he's certainly made a good impression on me straight away. He talks to us a lot as a squad and individually, which is the way it should be. I must say I couldn't believe how intense training was over the first few days. That's how you need to train to be in top shape for the start of the league campaign."

How have you found it with your new team-mates?

"It almost feels like I haven't changed clubs. My team-mates are excellent and have welcomed me with open arms. I already knew many of the Italian players. I've been watching Aleksandar Kolarov play since I was little. He always impressed me when I used to watch him on television and he's even more impressive in the flesh because of his character type. He always knows the right thing to say at the right time."

What's the best piece of advice that you've been given during your career and who was it from?

"My dad has always told me to give absolutely everything in training. 'Keep your head down and work hard,' and I've always listened to him. You can't take your foot off the gas after a good performance because football is full of sharks."

Do you have a message for the fans?

"They'll always see total commitment from me in this shirt. I'm proud to be here and we must try to create something new in order to achieve our big targets. We have a young squad that is just starting out, but we'll be fully committed in training and in matches."

 

Check out earlier entries in our Big Interview series:

AS Roma x Aleksandar Kolarov
AS Roma x Nicolo Zaniolo
AS Roma x Jim Pallotta

AS Roma x Cengiz Under
AS Roma x Paulo Fonseca
AS Roma x Leonardo Spinazzola

 
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