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Gianfranco Zola: ‘Barella is on the strongest in his role’

Gianfranco Zola believes Nicolo Barella is one of the ‘strongest’ players in his role while seeing three Serie A teams progress in the Champions League is a positive for Italian football. The Parma and Chelsea veteran spoke with Corriere della Sera on the future of Italian football but began by discussing a potential return to coaching the near future:

Why don’t you coach anymore?

You know, sometimes I ask myself that too? After all, I’m still young! I will definitely be back on the bench but there are stages of life where the priorities are different. I made a choice for my family. “.

Was someone interested in you coaching?

Yes, it happened. Also in Italy. The day will come when I will no longer resist football and will return to the bench. For now I just share opinions as a sports commentator.”

You were at San Siro for the challenge between Milan and Salzburg – Do you not miss the beautiful evenings of Champions League as a protagonist?

The atmosphere was fantastic, I had chills. I also said it live during the commentary: I got goosebumps. A beautiful game, especially in the second half. Here, maybe yes, at times like the other night the desire for football is a lot. But I’m still young!”

Three out of four teams in the round of 16 of the Champions League, a positive balance for Italian football.

“Absolutely. And given the draws it wasn’t so obvious. Napoli, Milan and Inter deserved the the last 16. I’m sorry for Juventus, but at the moment it was predictable. The season did not start very well, however, there were many external tensions. They have a lot of injured players and this is a mitigating factor. There were many young players on the pitch against the PSG. This is something that pleases me.

I would say, finally. In Italy we should have more courage in this regard, the youngsters- the good ones evidently – must play. The experience in England tells me that the winning teams have been and are the ones where there is the right mix between young people and more experienced players. In Italy this mentality is not yet there. In most cases, youngsters  are used out of necessity, almost never by choice. Napoli and Milan are the exception.”

Is it a gap that has also compromised the World Cup?

Perhaps a little, certainly not for Roberto Mancini who as soon as he saw interesting young players, called them up. He is an exceptional coach, winning the EUROs  and even then he was good at covering gaps that already existed. It must be said that we were unlucky to not qualify for the World Cup. Another thing is the fact that in Italy the production line for young players has stopped.”


What do you mean? It is a problem of structures?

Of culture, I would say. The structures have very little to do with it. We 80’s kids came from street games, at most from training camps. Today there are equipped football schools, the Academies perhaps do not have the same effect on training. It’s a shame, we were the best forge, things have changed. Then let’s not be surprised if the best young people leave Italy…”

And they choose English football…

“The Premier League is ahead of all the other championships. Intense football, fast and full of ideas. A richer world, of course, and this allows you an advantage in the choice of coaches and players.”

Barella and Raspadori made different choices.

And they did well. I’d like to see more of the interesting guys like them. Barella it is certainly one of the strongest in its role. He had difficulties in moving from Cagliari to Inter, thanks to these he grew further. Raspadori did well and still has a lot of room for improvement, he is a promising boy. Without forgetting Zaniolo’s talent, which I really like. The emotions that move strong young players to the pitch increase the level of the spectacle. I hope there are more and more.”

If you were still in your 30s, would choose an English team to play at?

My answer is obvious: I would certainly choose Napoli. For reasons of heart but at this moment also for their style and the way they play which is really interesting.

Can  they win the title, in your opinion?

Right now Napoli are first in the standings, so yes. But the championship will be interrupted by the World Cup and that hides unknowns that nobody knows. A bit like being at year zero: the number of players that each team sends to Qatar counts, the number of players who stay counts, and this will only be known when the competition is underway.

Difficult to make predictions, there are variables that cannot be calculated. In addition to Napoli, Milan continue to do as well as last year and has good players, as well as a coach like Pioli who is in total harmony with the group. And on the pitch you hear, you see ».

Tomorrow Napoli play against Atalanta, this challenge reminds you of something?

Well, my first Serie A goal: I was wearing Maradona’s 10. One of the best moments of my career.

Do you continue to train in your spare time?

I do it every morning, I couldn’t do without it. I play golf and I’m also very competitive on the greens!

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Serie A obsessive, lover of 90's Italian defenders, bourbon and wide open highways.
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