What have you impressions been of the squad since they returned to training after the winter break? And what fitness updates can you give us?
“Rui Patricio can play. He didn’t train yesterday, or the day before that, because of a back problem. But he trained today. Tomorrow he’s able to play. We don’t have Daniel Fuzato [due to Covid]. We have Pietro Boer and Davide Mastrantonio as the back-up and third options.
“The players had a week off but then a week of work too. We’ve put in some good work. It’s 15 days without a game and that always affects your intensity levels and match sharpness a little bit. But we are doing okay. The only player that is really still recovering from an injury is Leonardo Spinazzola.
“Other than a few problems you all know about, a few Covid issues, we are prepared. After 15 days without a game perhaps it is better to return to action with a game like this one; because you don’t need any help getting motivated and focused for it. It’s enough to walk out at San Siro to face a side like AC Milan. That alone makes it pretty easy to find that motivation and focus.”
You are writing the history of this club – there’s already the sense of a Roma before and after Mourinho. But, on that sort of note, are there any clubs in Italy you don’t think you could go and coach because of the rivalries involved? And, on a separate note, has the issue of potentially unvaccinated players been resolved now?
“You are being too kind when you say there is a Roma before me and one after me. I don’t see it like that. In order to really write the history of a club you need to win trophies. That’s the only method that I know of. You can do a great job without winning trophies, that’s definitely the case. There are lots and lots of coaches who do amazing jobs without winning trophies to go with it. That’s definitely possible. So that’s why I can say that I do feel like I’m doing a good job here. Nevertheless, to really write the history of a club like you say, then you need to win trophies and we don’t have any of those just yet.
“Fair enough, it’s only been six months, but we are still a long way off doing that. As for coaching other Italian clubs, we are professionals and so it’s tough sometimes to say outright that we wouldn’t coach another side. But I guess there are clubs that you could probably rule out. And that’s not meant in any sort of disrespectful way. You would say no because of the history you have with the clubs you have coached before. For example, after 2010 [leaving Inter Milan] the first Italian club to talk to me about a role was not Roma. To give you an example. Roma was an offer I could accept but the other was not. And that’s not to be disrespectful. So, for example, I could never coach Lazio.
“But I will say it again: that’s not being disrespectful. It’s a club from the same city with whom I’ve always had a good rapport. It’s just to say that it would be impossible for me and assuredly they would think the same way too. There is always a certain amount of professional respect involved. Milan, who we will face tomorrow, are a club I have never had a problem with. Perhaps there has been a joke here or there, but nothing excessive. So even from that base of professional respect there are clubs I could never coach.
“As for the vaccine question, these are private things. The players have the right to protect their privacy. So for us these things are secret. A few players had Covid last week and they asked for it to be kept private – and we respected that request. And the same goes for any player who might not be vaccinated.
“However, the rules are the rules and the law is law. From the very moment when the Italian government make a ruling, that ruling needs to be respected. So from that moment, if we might have an unvaccinated player, then clearly we would want that player to be on the right side of the law in order to be able to play and do his job. But I don’t think that we will have any internal issues. I don’t think so.”
Can you say anything about the potential signing of Ashley Maitland-Niles, even if nothing is official just yet? Will you be expecting further presents from the club in January?
“As far as Maitland-Niles goes I don’t feel in a position to talk. No-one has told me officially that he is our player. Right now he is not our player. I will be happy to talk about him when it is made official. What I can say is that he grew up not far from me – in the sense that he came through the system at Arsenal while I was at Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United.
“The nature of our transfer approach this month is well-known. Our business in the market – to give you an example – won’t be like that of Atalanta or Fiorentina, spending €20-25m on a player. We have to look for one or two players on loan that can help balance out the squad a bit. Rick Karsdorp has played basically every minute of every game. When he didn’t play, against Inter Milan because he was suspended, we didn’t look like a time. We were unbalanced, lost out there … we’ve had Ibanez play there and other players. So a right-back is something we really need.
“That is what Tiago Pinto and the club are working on, trying to find the right profile of club and player where a loan deal might be possible. An option that the club thinks could be a positive for all parties; that they might be able to play if they aren’t playing where they are no. For Maitland-Niles, when you look at the Arsenal squad then Tomiyasu is the starter, and then they have the experience of Cedric Soares and there is also Calum Chambers. They have three or four options for that position. It’s true that we are trying to do the deal but we will have to see if we are able to get it across the line.
“Other presents? If one arrives then we will already be able to breath a little easier. And if we are able to do that deal in the first week of January, then there is always reason to be hopeful that someone else could come in later on in the month.”
Is Lorenzo Pellegrini ready to start the game tomorrow? And do you think he can fit in alongside Jordan Veretout and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a midfield five?
“Pellegrini has recovered. And that is down to him, to Carlos Lalin and a few of the other physiotherapists – because he didn’t have a holiday like some of the others. He took four days fewer. And then he went hard in those four days. Since we have been back he’s been fine, no problems. So he can play, yes. Can he go the full 90 minutes? I don’t think so. Especially as we have another game coming up Sunday. But I think he could start the game without any real issues.
“How will he fit in with the other players we have in midfield? It’s not a problem I’ve had. It’s a problem that I would like to have. I don’t like not having options. So if we have a few midfield options – along with Gonzalo Villar and Edoardo Bove, who could also play – then that can only be a good thing for us.”
Given the growing number of positive Covid cases in Serie A, do we risk seeing matches played in unfair or unusual situations? Would it be right to stop things? And, on another topic, do you think Tammy Abraham could eventually reach the level of Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
“I’ll start from the last question. I don’t like comparing players – especially when we are talking about a player that has done amazing things in his career alongside another that has to build his own legend. It’s a bit like Portugal in the 1970s and 80s, when any young player who scored two goals was suddenly the new Eusebio. We are in 2022 now and there has still only ever been one Eusebio. So leave Tammy alone, let’s not make comparisons between him and Zlatan. Zlatan is Zlatan and his journey is completely different to Tammy’s.
“Could the league become unfair? I don’t like to say that a result is ‘unfair’ if a team loses with three or four injuries or absences. We played against Napoli, Lazio and Spezia with four or so players out but that doesn’t mean those results were false. The rules are the rules. If a team did not have a goalkeeper available then I think that would perhaps be different and it would be unfair to make them play. If they had to put Gianluca Mancini in goal, just to give you an example, then perhaps then it would be unfair. But the rules are the rules. If you have enough players available then on you go.
“We cannot say we are a squad with a host of different options. If we are without four or five players then we can’t say, ‘For us this is not a problem’. No, for us it is a big problem even when we are only without one player. If you have the minimum possible number of players available to play in a game then that is enough. According to UEFA, that means 13 or 14 players including a goalkeeper. If you have that, then you have to play. I just feel sorry for the supporters and those who go to the stadium. Beforehand 75% of the capacity were allowed and now we are back to 50%. So I am sorry for those fans.”
Tomorrow will you set out your side similar to the way you played in Bergamo? Looking to contain the playmakers? Or will you try and press Milan?
“I have to say I really like this question, because it’s a question from someone who has clearly watched the games and understood the action. But if I go and tell you that we are going to press them here or there then that would be giving [AC Milan coach] Stefano Pioli a great advantage. What you have said there is true; it’s a good question but the answer unfortunately has to be a bad one.
“Obviously we have analysed all of their games looking for ways to improve our play and pick up a different result to the one we got in the first meeting this season.”