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Ruggeri: ‘Gasperini helped me improve in the areas where I was lacking’

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Atalanta full-back Matteo Ruggeri credits Gian Piero for his improvement this season: “Even in the national team, I gave my all, always with carefreeness.” The 21-year-old was speaking in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport and discussed his breakthrough season, the impact of Gasperini and why he’s tried to bring elements of Robin Gosens’ style of play to his own:

Are you never tired?

“Never is a big word, but training under Gasperini’s guidance, the harder you work, the less effort you feel. You feel good, you have more strength in your legs, you use your body better. And at the 90th minute, you still have it in you.”

From Saturday until April 24, Atalanta will play eight matches in 26 days: quite an advantage if you all feel this way.

“If our minds work as well as our legs, focusing on two things, rather than one goal, since we still have three alive: a strong defensive phase, and the first match on the calendar.”

Out of 31 matches, 30 as a starter: where did the Ruggeri who, with Bakker’s acquisition, was thought to go on loan, come from?

“From the confidence of the Percassi family and Gasperini, from his advice to help me grow where I was lacking. First and foremost, defensive attitude and thus body posture: it may seem like nothing, but the opponent only needs a fraction of a second to steal time from you.”

When did you realize you really became part of Atalanta?

“I scored in Lisbon, and everything flashed before my eyes: the years in the youth academy, the debut, the experience in Salerno, the injuries. I put in my effort to never give up, to seize every opportunity. And Gasp gives opportunities to everyone.”

He’s your third mentor. The first, Alessandro Bonacina, said of you as a child: a left-foot shot to fear and adult-like running. He understood everything.

“He said that about the shot because one day I hit him in the face… But I still need to improve my running in the first few meters.”

If the second mentor, Raffaele Bonifacio, hadn’t asked your coach to try you out wide left, would you be a winger or a center-back today?

“A winger, even my physical growth has been ‘consistent’ with the role. But playing as a center-back doesn’t bother me, because in our game, you’re never just standing in the area.”

Gasp’s best “gift”?

“He taught me carefreeness in playing, it’s easier for him to say ‘Go, go’ than ‘Stay, stay’ (they call him Forrest Gump in Zingonia for a reason). This also gives value to the foot: the left one has always been sensitive, but maybe I was more ‘restricted’, risking less with plays, crosses.”

Do you see a bit of yourself in Gosens?

“I try to steal his late runs into the box: I need to improve my timing, I can score more. But even an assist is just as satisfying, if not more.”

You almost scored a goal in Napoli, a year ago: more crucial for them or for La Dea, on Saturday?

“Important because it can give us a nice push, but it’s too early to call it decisive. Not to say that a perfect game will be needed: they have quality, strength, everything.”

But not the coach who watched you from the stands on Tuesday, against Turkey.

“Spalletti came to the locker room before the game and gave us a beautiful speech: ‘It’s as if Nunziata and I work together, each of your games is an opportunity, give me signs.’ I gave my all as always, I hope I did.”

First game with Atalanta against Liverpool, first goal in Lisbon: European DNA and the Reds in destiny?

“Games with a different flavor, different sensations, a different weight. We’ll try to trouble Liverpool, with carefreeness. Every now and then, I imagine Anfield full, I saw it empty due to lockdown, that pitch was like a billiard table. From Zogno to Liverpool: I’ll look at my legs with the names of my parents, Ermanno and Isabella, tattooed. It was my thank you for what they did for me, even though especially she didn’t take it well, she wanted me to erase it: ‘Mom, I didn’t do it with a pen…’.”

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