Empoli haven't had an easy start but they'll be highly motivated. What sort of team are you expecting to be up against?
“It's more important how you finish than how you start. I'm sure they're not panicking because they're in a bad league position. That's not the level they should be at and they won't end the season there. I expect to see an ambitious but relaxed team. It's true that we've won all four games against Empoli in the last two years but I don't remember any of them being easy. They're a well-drilled team who are playing a different way this year but with the same coach and they could easily switch back to last year's system. They're able to do that. In the two days we've had to work with our players, we've done so giving Empoli the respect they deserve, but of course with the aim of winning our first league match.”
Roma are now starting a 35-game season. Before signing Romelu Lukaku and Sardar Azmoun you said Roma could aim to finish between fifth and eighth. How has that changed with the new signings? And how is Chris Smalling doing?
“You're always negative. Fortunately we're more positive. Smalling is and will continue to be a key player for us. He has such a mature head that even before you start talking about the mistakes we've made he already knows exactly how to analyse his own performance. It's very easy to communicate with a player like that. Sadly I don't think he'll be available for selection tomorrow. We'll see how training goes today. He might be able to make the bench and help out if we need him but there's a strong possibility he won't even make the squad.
“As for your first question, it's one thing talking with you guys before the end of the transfer window and another thing afterwards. Roma have brought in two strikers and it was very, very difficult, if not impossible, to sign two players like Romelu and Azmoun. If we have everyone available and in good shape, we're a different team.
“Maybe you've forgotten but in the first two games we played with [Andrea] Belotti and [Stephan] El Shaarawy and no alternatives, not even on the bench. In the third game we had Romelu for 10-15 minutes. Now of course we're looking to get better and better.
“We have a good set of strikers, not just Romelu and Azmoun. When Azmoun joined us his condition wasn't at all good after a long injury and not having trained with the team. Now he's had two weeks of working really well and he's getting closer to being in good condition.
“When Paulo is available, we're always a little afraid but always hopeful that this fabulous player can make things happen for us.
“And of course we mustn't forget Belotti and El Shaarawy, who have done a great job for us, making sacrifices and playing despite their fatigue. We saw that a few times when Belotti had cramp and yet always tried to help the team.
“Now we're positive. The players only came back the day before yesterday and we need time to train and play to improve as a team but I'm very happy with the players we have.
“I know you lot like talking about targets but mine is to win tomorrow. If you come to speak with me after the game, I'll tell you my target is to win the next game. I mean that in a positive way, not a negative way: I want to win every game.”
Is it possible that some of the players who have been here with you since the start might begin to feel a fatigued after all the tension, the adrenaline and the mental effort of the last two years?
“I've played two European finals. To reach the first we played 15 matches, or 17 if you count the preliminaries. And to reach the second we played 15 or 17 with the play-off against Salzburg. I don't think that's a crime. It was very, very important, firstly to bring joy to the city and secondly for the players' self-belief. I think we've done well. After 30 games last season I think we were around third place. We had two games against Feyenoord, two against Leverkusen, and we reached the final, with injuries to Dybala and Smalling, and a few players like Nemanja [Matic] who couldn't play every match. With all those difficulties, we reached the final.
“Numbers-wise, we have fewer players now: 20 outfield players plus the academy kids, who will never be a problem because it's a chance for me to be happy, because that's how I feel when I help these kids. But they're also players who can become important for us, as we've seen. But while we don't have a lot in terms of quantity, we do have a lot of quality. We have players with huge potential, when we have everyone available and in form. By in form I mean performing at a high level, which is different to being able to play. To be at your best you need consistent performances, consistent intensity, consistent playing time. When we get to that point, we'll be a very good team indeed.
“When we have problems we have to keep calm, stay grounded and keep working away patiently, waiting for these players to develop. But we can't do that without points. We need points. We've only got one from a possible nine. We don't want one from the next nine. We want to win games. But we'll keep working while maintaining our balance and being aware of our worth, our potential and our problems.”
Apart from Smalling, how are the other players, like Houssem Aouar and Gianluca Mancini? And how long can Dybala and Lukaku play?
“Speaking before today's training, which could improve or worsen the situation, [Lorenzo] Pellegrini is out, for sure. I expect Smalling to be out but sometimes you get good news so he might make the bench. Those are the two players least likely to make it.
“As for Mancini, let me start by thanking [Luciano] Spalletti, who coached at club level for many years and obviously has the good sense to send home a player who is injured and can't play the second game with the national team. He did that with Mancini, with Pellegrini, and I think with players from other clubs. That level of sensitivity is much appreciated by those of us coaching clubs. Having him as the manager of the national team is a good thing for us coaches.
“I think Mancini will make it. During the international break we were here with a group of nine players, seven of whom injured. Me with all my staff. We were a bit 'stupid' because we didn't do what other coaches did and head off for 10-day holiday. We stayed here to coach two players, Belotti and Azmoun. But that's how we are and how we'll remain, with this level of professionalism. Me and all the coaching staff with Belotti and Azmoun, two goalkeepers, Mile [Svilar] and [Pietro] Boer, and all the Primavera kids who didn't go on international duty.
“The other seven only worked with me and the team yesterday. Can they play? Yes. First of all, because there are lots of them. And secondly because they need to. We have to get our game management right and we'll have to take a few risks – risks are always possible – but they'll all be in the matchday squad and some of them will definitely start the game.
“As for Romelu, when he joined us, before the Milan game, he wasn't in terrible shape. He hadn't trained with Chelsea and had done no group training, no ball work. But he'd looked after himself very well and he was able to play 20 minutes against Milan, in decent condition.
“Renato Sanches and Paredes, who hadn't trained with PSG, were in worse condition than Romelu when they arrived. And Azmoun's condition was even worse as he came here injured. After these two international matches, Romelu has come back looking very, very good. Obviously he'll start tomorrow and it would be no surprise if he played 90 minutes. We'll have to manage the others differently but Romelu will be the one in best condition.”
What about Dybala?
“Dybala will play. It's not empirical but scientific: we have data which says it will be hard for him to play 90 minutes. Very hard in terms of intensity and energy recovery. But from a clinical point of view, he's 'clean'. He's ok and he wants to play. He feels confident. Lukaku will play and Dybala will play.”
You must have read Francesco Totti's comments. Do you talk to him about Roma? Would you like to have him as a club director?
“First of all, I'm a coach. We have owners, a general manager and a CEO. I'm no one to say to anyone, not even a Roma legend, that I want you or I don't want you here, that I'll offer you this or that. I'm nobody.
“I talk to Francesco about other things, like how he is and his children are, about Frosinone. He wishes me luck. That's the relationship I have with Francesco, with the respect I have for the club and the hierarchy. I can't say anything more. I can tell you about my social life in Rome: I basically don't have one. But among the contacts I have, Francesco Totti is part of Roma. He's never left here and he never will. There's not a single fan I've met who doesn't love and respect him. For me, he's here.
“But all these stories, 'Mourinho did this', 'Mourinho said that'... Mourinho nothing.”
How is Leonardo Spinazzola looking? Is he ready to play tomorrow? Roma have a lot of choice in terms of wide players but you haven't had many goals and assists from them. Do you need to do a certain type of work with them or is it just the type of player they are that means they don't contribute much in that sense?
“When a player gets called up for his national team, it means he's well considered. Every player dreams of playing for their national team. When you get the call, I always say, if they ask you to work as the kitman, you do it. Take it and be happy. The coach picked [Federico] Dimarco and [Cristiano] Biraghi. Leo has to work more with us. He has to do better with us and if he does well for us I'm sure he'll play for Italy again.
“We do have options on the flanks. We have [Rick] Karsdorp, [Zeki] Celik, [Rasmus] Kristensen and [Nicola] Zalewski who can play on the right. We have Zalewski, Spina and El Shaarawy who can play on the left. They're different players and they need different things.
“I think from a physical perspective, on a fitness level, the one who's closest to their full potential is Kristensen, but from a technical point of view, his confidence, people's perception of him, he doesn't have the highest level of self-belief.
“Karsdorp had a difficult pre-season with injuries, with his old knee problem, with uncertainty until the end over whether or not he'd be staying. Now he's got some balance because he know he's staying.
“Zalewski was injured and trained for the first time yesterday.
“Leonardo came back from international duty looking good. They say he trained well with Italy. Sometimes when you go on international duty you don't train much and do more tactical work, and those who don't play feel a bit left out and don't work a lot, but he's come back in excellent shape. He's worked well and the team have trained with intensity. He came back happy.
“Stephan has done everything: he played as a forward in our first three games and throughout pre-season. He had a little niggle which is something he's been carrying for a while, that calf of his. Little things which have meant he hasn't been able to train the last two weeks.
“They're all different players who can be used in different situations. I'm sure I'll do better. The team will improve and that will help. But we have options. We won't have Kristensen in Europe but we can't consider it a big issue since we have all these players available.”
After the final against Sevilla, you said you were tired of being the club's communications man. And after Milan, you didn't speak to the media, I guess because you were worked up. Has that situation improved? Do you still feel you need someone alongside you when there are those borderline situations?
“Obviously I can't control everything fully. First of all because I'm not perfect and sometimes what I intend to do is not what I actually do. And also because I rely on other people. But my intention for this season is not be banned for any matches, whether it's for what happens on the field or in press conferences.
“If I don't hold a press conference – which is obviously my choice – it's never because I'm worked up, because when you've spent over 1000 matches in the dugout 'being worked up' is excessive.
“However, what I can't change is my DNA, my honesty, my inability to not speak my truth. Which may not be the truth but it's my truth. And when I decided not to hold a press conference, that was exactly my intention.
“I have no problem saying this: it's a challenge for myself. It depends on other people as well of course, but I'm going to try not to have any problems.”
I expected Roma to approach the Milan match a bit differently but you sat back a lot, with the wing-backs sitting deep, maybe because you didn't want to be caught out by their forwards. I wondered when it was that you decided to play that way against Milan. Do you regret that decision?
“One thing that's important in building success is to not to listen to people who are less capable than yourself. That's important. You listen to people who know more than you, you listen to people who can help you think or people who don't know more than you but who are with you all the time. By that I mean my staff, who are very important to me. But with people who have never sat in a real dugout for hundreds of hours, with people who have never prepared a match at this level, to be perfectly honest I don't feel comfortable discussing certain things.”