Talking Italia with Joe Roberto.

Talking Italia with Joe Roberto.

As a devoted football supporter but one who doesn’t know too many national teams in great depth, the success that Italy have had throughout this summer’s European Championships have surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t be done as they have great players and a man who has a great CV to lead them. Roberto Mancini guided Manchester City to their first Premier League title and has worked wonders since his appointment as national team manager. On the pitch they are blessed in talent also, young goalkeeper Gianliugi Donnarumma being a certain credible name to prove that. 

Italy are through to this summer’s semi finals where they will play Luis Enrique’s Spain at Wembley, thus I spoke to supporter Joe Roberto to get his thoughts and further information on all things Italia.

What are your earliest memories of being an Italy supporter and what is it like to be an Italian fan living in England?

I vividly remember my grandad showing me – videos of Napoli games from the 80’s when Maradona played for them, and Italy playing at World Cups. I had Italy kits growing up, along with Ireland, Everton, and even England!

As British TV mainly focuses on either England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland games, watching Italy on TV was never a thing for me as a kid. The only time I watched Italy was when there was a major tournament on. I remember bits of Euro 2004, but the 2006 World Cup was the first full tournament I remember.

You wouldn’t tell I had Italian in me by looking at me, instead of having that beautiful Southern Italian olive skin, I’m pale and get sunburnt instead of getting tanned! But the surname definitely gives my Italian roots away. I get the odd look when I tell someone I support Italy, but after they find out the surname and have a good chat about Italian football they completely understand.

Are you a supporter that is greatly invested in international football and what football club do you support on a domestic level?

I’d say I’m invested enough. If there’s an Italy game on, I’ll either find a stream to watch it or at least keep up to date with the game. But I’m definitely a club over country person. Italy losing doesn’t impact on me like an Everton loss does unless it’s a big game like the loss to Spain in the Euro 2012 final, getting knocked out on penalties by Germany at Euro 2016 and the playoff loss to Sweden which meant we didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Domestically, I support Napoli. As said before, I grew up watching videos of Maradona’s Napoli and after you’ve seen that footage it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with it. I’ve also been told stories from uncles about watching games at the San Paolo so it felt like the most natural thing to do.

I’ve been over to see the family twice but frustratingly, they’ve played away both times I was there. But luckily, I was able to see them when they played Manchester City at City’s ground. I was able to get a ticket in the home end and did my best not to celebrate when Napoli scored.

Additionally, there’s a lower league team I keep an eye out for as well, Juve Stabia. I actually went to see them play back in 2016. The locals were all shocked to see two English tourists turn up to one of their games and took pictures with us because of it.

Following your nation brings a lot of travelling, have you been to many Italy games and have you experienced many different tournaments? If you have been to a tournament game, how does the World Cup differ from the Euros in terms of quality and everything that surrounds it?

Due to money and so on, following Italy has never been an option. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but it’s not an option currently. Saying that, I went to watch them play a friendly against Argentina at City’s ground just before the 2018 World Cup. As it was a friendly, it wasn’t the best of quality, but it ended up being Gianluigi Buffon’s last Italy game before retiring from international football which is a pretty nice story to tell people.

Your best and worst Italy 5-a-sides with a manager alongside them? 

If we’re going by players in my time,

Best: I think the team explains itself. You’ve got Buffon in goal who’s arguably the greatest ever goalkeeper to play for Italy, Cannavaro in defence who, although small for a defender, is a brick wall, one of his nicknames was literally ‘The Berlin Wall’. I’d be surprised if anyone got past him. You’d have Pirlo in the middle dicating play and Totti would have free reign around the box to do what he wanted to do. Then Inzaghi up top would do what he was born to do, stay on the edge of the box and finish any chances that came to him. They would be managed by 2006 World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, of course!

Worst: Federico Marchetti, Andrea Ranocchia, Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Cassano, Simone Zaza – Gian Piero Ventura

There has been a lot of talk throughout the course of the summer about how Roberto Mancini has transformed the national team. What are your thoughts on him and the current coaching set up? How well do you think Italy has done this summer and how does the current regime differ from previous one’s?

He’s been an absolute revelation since he came in. I’m quite surprised how quickly he’s been able to turn things around as we were a shambles on and off the pitch when he was appointed. His predecessor, Gian Piero Ventura, didn’t have a clue what he was doing and was the main reason why we failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

But in a weird way, it seems that Mancini taking over after ‘that’ Sweden shambles was a blessing in disguise. Because he came in after the Sweden game in 2017, he’s had three years to prepare for this tournament. Since he took over, he’s played over 60 different players so he knows which players fit his style. You could say we play more like a club than an international team.

We’re currently unbeaten in 32 games, this is the longest unbeaten run we’ve ever had. Before this run, it was held by Vittorio Pozzo, a man who won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal as coach. But as he’s said himself, these types of records are great, but if there isn’t a trophy to show for it, has it been worth it?

To reach the final of this summer’s competition, Italy needs to get past Spain in the Semi Finals before they face England or Denmark in the Final. Both games will be played at Wembley. What challenges do you think Spain will bring in the upcoming week, who would you rather face in the final and are you confident?

Spain’s a weird team to understand. In parts they look really good and then in others they look dreadful. I think they’re better than what some are saying but they’re not what Spain used to be. This doesn’t mean the match is a foregone conclusion. It’s pretty easy to get ahead of yourself in tournament football, but in all honesty, I can’t see anything but an Italy – England final which sends shivers down my spine.

Denmark in the final would be more ideal but they aren’t any pushovers themselves. The amount of strength in the squad and staff to be able to battle on after seeing a teammate dead for a few minutes are incredible. It would’ve been understandable if they had pulled out of the Euros after that, but it seems they’ve become even more united, it’s amazing to see. For that alone you could say they deserve to win it.

I hate to tempt fate, but if it is an England – Italy final, it has the makings of a great final. – It being at Wembley with mostly England fans in the ground is an obvious worry. But I would say that Italian players won’t be easily affected by an intimidating atmosphere

What is the current state of Italy, away from football and sport in general? Following on from that, how does football galvanise Italians?

If you thought British politics was a nonstop roller coaster, just have a look at Italian politics. It’s crazier than here! Since 1945, Italy has had 66 different governments which is crazy when you compare it to the UK which have only had 16.

I think unfortunately for the UK, most European countries have taken note of our handling of COVID and made sure they haven’t turned out like us. For the fact it was one of the first European countries to suffer, they’ve done quite well to bounce back. But saying that, in February, a new Prime Minister was appointed so who knows how they feel.

Like here, Italy’s run in the Euros has really given the country something to shout about in a gloomy time. I’ve kept up to date with my family and all of them are enjoying this run as much as I am.

How would you describe the current Italian footballing system on a domestic level, between the different leagues and the news of the Super League etc? What are the current challenges that football faces in Italy and does anything need to be done to improve the game in your country?

Currently, I don’t think Italian football is in a great state. The stadiums aren’t great and as most are owned by their local council, it’s harder for repairs to be done. Just look at what’s happening to the San Siro at the moment.

Teams going out of business or in debt is still a common occurrence not just for small teams, but for big teams as well. It was reported that Inter Milan, current Serie A champions, were in talks over borrowing €275 million to get the club through their current financial difficulties.

Like most places in Europe, racism in football is rife. I’m sure everyone remembers Moise Kean celebrating in front of Cagliari ultras who had been racially abusing him all game. Unfortunately, scenes like this aren’t one offs. I hope the problem stops soon, but I doubt it as the inequality in Italy is horrifying.

Like everywhere else, the reaction to the European Super League was negative, especially from the fans of Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. But it seems that the chairman of Juventus, Andrea Agnelli, isn’t taking no for an answer and is still finding ways to make the Super League happen.

‘An absolute revelation’.

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