Mateo Retegui has been linked with a move to Inter in the summer and has confirmed that his next move will be back to Europe. The 23-year-old recently earned a callup to Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri setup, despite having spent the entirety of his career in Argentina, featuring for Boca Juniors, Estudiantes and Tigre. Speaking in a lengthy interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, the youngster talked about his career to date, the bond with Tigres, his desire to make the move to Europe and the importance of hockey in his journey to playing football:
Almost everything is known about Retegui as a footballer. But who is Mateo?
“A quiet guy, with a very low profile, who loves staying at home, training, spending time with his family, his five dogs and friends, watching films and TV series. If I had to use one word, I would say simple”.
You were born in San Fernando, you play for Tigre. Your whole existence in a few square kilometres.
“Yes. Dad lives a few kilometres from here, mum five blocks from Tigre’s stadium, friends are the same as always. All my roots are here. For the moment at least, because the future might be in Europe’.
You come from a family of hockey champions: dad won three Olympic medals, your sister one, your mother also played at a high level.
“My grandparents too. Before I definitely chose football, I also played hockey, actually I love any sport, training, going to the gym. I could have been a hockey player, I gave up football for two years, then Diego Mazzilli appeared, a scout from Boca Juniors, who one day saw me playing football on the beach and asked if I wanted to try out’.
The chance meeting that changed your life.
“Yes, he had seen me as a kid playing in the youth team of River Plate and remembered me: after a couple of weeks Boca took me and I decided forever that my path was football.”
How is your relationship with your father Carlos?
“Very strong. Besides being a great player, he was coach of the Leones and the Leonas (the Argentine national hockey teams, ed.). For me he was the best coach in the world, today he is the sports secretary of the city of Buenos Aires. Besides being the one who follows my interests. But I have a very close relationship with all my family. With Micaela, it is special, she is two years older than me, she is my sister but above all my best friend, with her I share everything.”
Hockey has taught you intensity, you never gives up.
“It’s an extremely dynamic sport, but today’s football goes in the same direction. You have to run all the time, otherwise you complicate your life. One of my characteristics has always been to run a lot, to help out in every area of the field, in attack as well as in defence. Football is a team sport and I really believe in this concept. Today I feel like a much more complete player.”
You have a strong header, right foot, left foot. What is your best shot?
“I don’t like to describe myself, I prefer others to do that. I am very self-critical with myself and work hard to improve myself, because physically as well as mentally, you can always try to do something more. My mantra is that my virtues are always better and my flaws become virtues. The goal on the court is for everything I do to be as natural as possible.”
What is pressure for you?
“Something I love, something I look for. It doesn’t scare me, on the contrary. The more pressure I have on me, the better I react.”
You were the top scorer in the 2022 championship: why didn’t Boca, who are co-owners of your contract, want you?
“It’s the first time I’ve said it: the contract with Tigre is for two years, but last November Boca had the option to request me. But no one heard from them. At the resumption of training at the end of December I spoke with Diego Martinez (the coach; editor’s note), telling him that Tigre is more than a club for me and that, unless the club for economic reasons had not accepted an offer from abroad, I would have wanted to stay. Then in January, just before the start of the championship, Hugo Ibarra (until a week ago coach of Boca; ed.) told me he was interested in me already for this season, but I had already given my word to Tigre. Out of respect for the president, the whole club, Martinez and my teammates, at that point I would only have accepted to go abroad.”
And how did it all start with the Italian national team?
“One day at the beginning of the year I was coming back from a training session and dad called me to tell me he had very important news. But I would never have imagined something like that, not even in my wildest dreams could I have thought of playing for Italy, in Naples, in the stadium that bears the name of Diego Armando Maradona. As soon as dad told me that Roberto (Mancini, ed.) wanted me, my yes came very quickly, there wasn’t much to think about.”
Did you talk to Mancini before coming to Italy?
“No, only my dad did. We talked a lot with Roberto at Coverciano, especially about tactics and how he intends to play. I have to thank him, all the coaching staff and my teammates for how they welcomed me and made me feel. I never imagined I would experience all this. I tried to make the most of every day to get to know the environment and begin to understand European football, which is very different from Argentinean football: it’s faster, dynamic, intense. It suits me, I like it a lot. Now the goal is to prepare myself even better on a physical and mental level if Italy should call me back.”
What is your idea of Italy?
“Very good. It’s a tough, very physical team, I like it a lot. I know that now many have a lot of expectations of me, but I have just as many to play for that team'”
What was it like playing at the Maradona as an Argentine?
“Making my debut in that stadium wearing the Italy jersey was wonderful, it’s hard to explain, because of all the feelings I had when I entered the pitch, hearing all those people. Beautiful. I just wanted to win, it would have been the perfect debut.”
Maradona or Messi?
He smiles. “Both. I didn’t live Diego’s story as a player. I met him playing the Clasico with Estudiantes when he was the coach of Gimnasia, we won 1-0 with my goal. I have scored many, but for me that remains the most important goal of my career. I took a nice photo with Diego that day, even though he wasn’t exactly happy. But I can’t choose between him and Leo, they are the two greatest in history.”
Do you have a player you look up to?
“So many that I watch and admire. Haaland of Manchester City is one of them, a lethal nine who I like a lot. Then Lewandowski, Ibrahimovic, they are all very complete. And they are leaders.
Are you a leader?
“Phew, difficult question, that: in Tigre there are players with great charisma and history, I think of Seba Prediger, Gonzalo Marinelli or ‘Pato’ Galmarini, who retired recently: they are an example to follow, fundamental. I’d like to be considered equal, but I don’t have to say that.”
Meanwhile, in your spare time, you have to start studying Italian.
“I’m already doing it. In fact I understand it perfectly and speak it already. But because I am a perfectionist, I am ashamed to make myself heard until I speak it really well. The same for English.”
The story of Mancini’s callup begins in Sicily, in Canicattì, where your maternal great-grandfather, Angelo Dimarco, came from.
“I know that story, my grandmother told it to me many times.”
Do you know that the mayor wants to give you honorary citizenship?
“No, really? I find out from you now. Beautiful, I would be proud. When I return to Italy I want to go and visit those areas.”
How was the reaction here in Argentina, from your teammates, the fans, the press, to the call from Italy?
“Everyone has been very happy. Well, there are also those who didn’t take it well, but in general they are happy for this opportunity. For me it’s a source of pride, for my family too.”
Then in the summer the call from Europe will come.
“Yes, President Melaraña said that in July it could be likely that I will be sold. I really like the idea, it’s a dream for everyone who plays football, the biggest clubs are in Europe.”
Which Italian team do you support?
He smiles. “Ah, many. There are great clubs, I like them all’.
Isn’t there one you look at most? There is talk of Inter being very interested in taking it.
The smile widens even more. ‘There’s nothing concrete and I don’t know what’s going on, it’s dad who’s taking care of the future. My head is 100 per cent on Tigres. On Thursday (last night, ed.) we make our debut in the Copa Sudamericana (our Europa League, ed.) at home against São Paulo Brazilians, then on Sunday we will be away against Godoy Cruz. My focus is all here.”
If in Argentina the derby is between Boca and River, in Italy there is the one between Inter and AC Milan, who are thinking about you.
“I don’t know if it’s true. I repeat, my dad is dealing with it with the Tigre executives.”
And then there is also interest from the Premier League, La Liga… What league would you like to play in?
“Wherever is best for me. I would love to come to Italy, but it is still very early. But it would be great to become a protagonist in the league, someone who scores a lot of goals. As I would also like to score many for Italy, one of the most important national teams in history.”
Maybe as early as 15 June, the Nations League semi-final against Spain.
“All I know is that I’m dying to be there, but it’s Roberto who has to decide”.