We've rounded up a few key comments from the 23-year-old...
HIS LOVE FOR FOOTBALL
“My dad has always had a massive passion for football, and he passed that on to me. My first memory of a ball is from at our house by the sea. I would spend hours, with him, playing ‘pass and shoot’ in the garden. We lived in Cinecitta, he worked at Banca d’Italia and he would sometimes bring me into the branch where, in the summer, I would spend whole days kicking a ball up and down the place. It was an obsession. My sister used to hate me because she said I would break her dolls to use the heads as balls. I can’t say she was wrong. I was mad about any kind of ball.”
HIS FIRST VISIT TO THE OLIMPICO
“I was in the Curva Sud, with my dad. The first time we went he was flabbergasted. I must have been about five, no older. He remembers that, unlike the other kids, I would sit there focused on the action, watching every moment without ever saying anything. I was absorbed in it. From then on football became every part of my day. I would collect the Panini stickers avidly. The first ones I wanted were always the Roma ones. Actually, the one I wanted above all others was one of Francesco Totti. I spent a lot of my parents’ money buying packets of tickets for him, but I couldn’t find one. And I never did.”
HIS FIRST TIME AT TRIGORIA
“I remember when the letter arrived at our house, telling us that Roma wanted to take me on. For two or three days I kept on just staring at it. It didn’t seem real. You can imagine what it would mean to a nine-year-old football-mad kid, to know that the team he loved wanted to sign him. I was stunned that my dream was coming true. I brought my parents with me [to Trigoria], obviously. I had to sign a form, it wasn’t a contract. I signed it with a child’s handwriting. I wasn’t even 10 at that point. It was then that I first met Bruno Conti, an amazing person, someone who I’ve remained close to.
"From then on, at least until I passed my driving test, my mum and my dad always took me to training. They would wait for me in the car, or maybe they would go and get a coffee with some of the other parents. At Trigoria the kids go in through the third gate, the youth academy entrance. I never could have imagined that eventually I would come through the first one, the big one, the one for the first team. I still think about it now every morning when I arrive in my car. And it always makes me thankful for the efforts and sacrifices my parents made.”
HIS HEALTH ISSUES AS A YOUNGSTER
“It all stemmed from the mononucleosis that I picked up in the changing room. It’s an often symptom-less illness that created a couple of anomalies in how my heart functioned. There were imbalances, which my heart compensated for by beating faster. A normal person could have an active heartbeat of 400 or 500. Mine was 20,000. Every exertion became painful. It was decided I should stop playing: the initial diagnosis was for six months. But I knew my body and every evening I would put my hand on my head and count the irregular beats. I recognised the arrythmia and would count the frequency. I’d use the stopwatch on my phone and, with my hand on my chest, would try and see if things were getting better. I was in a hurry to get better.
"After four months I realised that the arrythmia, having got better, had finally gone completely. I called my parents and then we underwent some more tests. They came back positively. It was amazing. I was back on the pitch soon after but, in my first game back, I suffered a broken metatarsal. I was out for another three weeks. Those felt like an eternity to me, after the four months with my hand on my heart.”
THE ROMA CAPTAINCY
“It’s a very important thing, it means you have to impress on the others what it means to play in Rome, for Roma. Right now Florenzi is the captain, and no-one knows about all that better than him. He knows how to transmit that sense of identity and knows how to understand and motivate his teammates the best. If this squad right now is growing then it’s in large part thanks to him, and to Dzeko, to Kolarov and others.”
“I learned so much from him. When he was on the pitch I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s one of those players that, on their own, are worth the price of a ticket. He helped me to understand a lot of different things, he helped me find the right attitude. His experience, as both a footballer and a person, was really helpful. He picked me up during the tough moments. At 21, being welcomed by Totti felt surreal.”
TO BE A ROMAN AT ROMA
“It’s a big responsibility. You feel a responsibility to make the fans happy. I know how much it means considering what football means to my family. I know from my father. Luckily my father worries more about me than Roma… at least, a little bit more! I try to transmit that same hunger to my teammates, what it means to play here. Nothing annoys me more than indifference or superficiality. Fortunately in this squad those attitudes don’t exist. Everyone knows how important it is that they give 100%. You can win, you can lose, but you must come off the field without any regrets.”
“Winning is difficult anyway. The only thing you can do to win is to work, to be focused, professional and create a spirit inside and outside the dressing room that is positive and resistant to the external pressures. Now we are improving in that regard, we’ve made some important steps forward. I don’t know if we will win something or not but it’s a different atmosphere now. I’ll say it again: to win you have to put in the work. I am convinced that a player can only play his best on Sunday if he’s worked hard every day during the week in training.”
ON PAULO FONSECA
“This year we have a coach who, in my opinion, must be among the five best in the world – not just in terms of his tactical knowledge, but his character, for the positivity he brings to the group. He and his staff take care of every aspect, and they make it clear that there is no messing around here. There’s never been a group like this here. We are friends, we are united, we all help each other. I know that we are expected from us. I am confident that, if we keep working hard, we can achieve a lot.”
ON THE JOY OF AN ASSIST
“My teammates have learned that about me: when I have the ball everyone makes their runs, no-one comes towards the ball. That’s stuff we work on in training too. A lot of people make fun of me for it, but for me an assist is just like a goal. If the ball arrives, if I see space, a route for the pass, it’s all instinct. It’s split-second stuff, where you have to decide. In my opinion the very best players are the ones that can take those decisions and risks even in the toughest spaces. De Bruyne is a player like that, he never makes a mistake. If he goes for a pass, it’s because he thinks he can be pulled off."
ON HIS FUTURE
“I always try to be honest: words are always analysed and judged, so at least they can judge what I’m really thinking. If it will one day be possible to compare my career with Francesco’s or Daniele’s then that would be a huge honour for me. Right now I want to stay here forever, but clearly that also needs to be what the club wants.
"I am very ambitious, I expect a lot of myself and of others. For me it would be perfect if I stayed here forever. I am proud of Roma, and I think the club can continue to grow. Some have said that winning one league title at Roma is like winning 10 elsewhere. But I want to win 10 titles, not just one. Ten that are worth ten.”
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