Milan and Italy striker Gianluca Lapadula gave Football Italia and Rossella Marrai-Ricco an exclusive look at his career path, life choices and future plans.
Lapadula was one of the most sought-after players during last year’s summer transfer window in Italy, with the likes of Juventus, Milan and Napoli reportedly chasing after his services. However, his career path hasn’t been all about the Serie A giants. He has gone through many obstacles during the course of his profession.
Your career has taken you on many paths and to many different leagues. After coming through the Juventus youth academy, you left at the age of 14 to go to Rivoli because of a bad report card. In what way did that experience and reasoning change your life? If you hadn’t been removed from the team, do you think you would be where you are today?
“For me, Juventus was very important because I had played in the youth academy for eight years and I was happy there – it was a bit like home. When they didn’t keep me on that year, it was a proper knock for me, but when I went to Rivoli, it was also another stimulating avenue for me, where in two years, we won almost everything. We were one of the strongest teams in Piedmont.”
You then moved around to Pro Vercelli, Ivrea, Atletico Roma and Ravenna – four clubs that all went bankrupt. As a player, how did you handle such a situation?
“That situation was only managed in the sense that I could not stop, I did not choose, but I had to continue to do what I was doing with lots of passion. We also had faith in those moments even when it was truly difficult to believe. Those moments are the ones that formed me.”
You have mentioned that you saw players change careers because they couldn’t keep up financially. What was it like seeing your friends and colleagues experience such tough times?
“Exactly. I saw many people, who for many reasons, decided not to go forward - also because of the club. Maybe they weren’t all great players, but regardless, there were a number of conditions to not pursue [football] further.”
How did those scenarios impact your outlook on football? Did it change your perception about the beautiful game?
“There were definitely signs that came to me, but I continued to have something inside of me that I didn’t understand or know. However, it was there… inside... That thing always gave me the motivation and hunger to play football, and to train – that made the difference.”
During that time, did you ever think about quitting or leaving football for another career?
“Yes, I did think about it because at one point the situation became unsustainable. Fortunately, my family was with me the whole way, and in that moment, I can say that was fundamental for me.”
In 2011, things slowly started to turn around when you joined San Marino on loan from Parma…
“My first good year was with San Marino, where I scored 24 goals – we won the league, and I was the leading goalscorer. After that, I scored 14 goals in Slovenia [with Nova Gorica] and 24 goals with Teramo. Even if Parma failed to stay afloat, and I couldn’t have had peace of mind, they were beautiful years. However, on the field, things went great, which I recall together with my family.”
In 2015, you joined Pescara and enjoyed an incredible season – 30 goals in total – where you helped lead the Delfini to promotion back into Serie A. How would you have described that season?
“I have always said that I enjoyed my stay in Abruzzo – as a region and the rapport with the Abruzzesi people, they were truly beautiful. I spent two years in that region with Teramo and Pescara. With Teramo, we won the league, and with Pescara too. Well, that was unforgettable.”
Massimo Oddo was your Coach at Pescara, how much of an impact did he have on your career?
“Oddo was at a very high level, in the sense that he let me train with a lot of tranquillity and in his own methods. The team was very happy and enthusiastic, and you felt this on the field.”
After an incredible 2015-16 season, a number of big teams wanted you. You were signed by Milan on the quiet, what was your reaction when you heard the news?
“We were considering our options until we heard about Milan. When I heard that Milan wanted me, it was an immediate yes! There was no need to reflect on it. One does not simply refuse a club like Milan.”
Given the experience with your previous clubs that were liquidated, what is it like reporting for training every day at a facility like Milanello?
“You realize that you never had these things before. But look, here you find everything! It is a paradise for our team. Nothing is missing at this club. It is beautiful to see.”
How would you describe your first season in Serie A?
“Today, I can tell you that I am very happy with my first year at Milan. We were able to win a cup and we qualified for the Europa League after several years of failing to do so. Personally, I am happy even if I can always improve.”
Up until the last few weeks, Carlos Bacca was utilized as the first choice under Vincenzo Montella, but that never seems to stop you. When we see you on the field you play with force, grit, heart and passion. Where does this element in your game come from?
“This is one of the main elements of my job, but this isn’t work – it is fun to live these emotions. There is a lot of passion in what we do. I don’t only live like this only on a Sunday, but during all the training sessions too – it is a beautiful stimulant. I am happy to have found more space in the team. I am happy.”
Berlusconi has since sold Milan and when the news broke, you thanked him for being his choice during the transfer window. What does it mean to have had his support from the offset?
“Yes… I found out that it was the President who was the first to want me, and then the club, and also the Coaches, who were in pole position [for the job], because there was no Coach at the time. For me, it is a moment of great pride to be chosen by someone, who has not only selected great players, but champions. “
About Milan’s new owners - Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux – what have you made of the transition under their ownership so far?
“It is a business that strongly wanted Milan, and one that spent an important sum of money to do so. From the start they have demonstrated that they are always available. It is an excellent project.”
After the game against Chievo, where you scored a goal, you dedicated it to your brother Davide and sister Anna. How important is their relationship and support to you?
“Just like my whole family, it is very important. In the difficult times, they were always there with me, while in the more beautiful moments they were by my side. They allowed me to experience success first hand.”
The most recent derby had a dramatic ending to it through Cristian Zapata’s stoppage time goal. You were one of the players to release the most emotion, what was it like being on the field and to play in such a dramatic derby?
“Beautiful! It was beautiful because it was greatly satisfying to secure an equalizing goal late in the game with great desire and force. I believe it will remain in Milan’s history.”
Against Bologna, you scored one of the three goals that helped Milan qualify for the Europa League. What were your emotions?
“I should have scored all the goals! [Laughs] Firstly, because they ruled out my first goal, which was regular, secondly, because I missed an easy goal, but I was happy with how I was playing. My performance still wanted another goal. Above all, I knew how important and fundamental the game was to Milan – I am very happy with my contribution.”
In one year you have gone from Serie B to the Europa League…
“This isn’t my first time I have qualified for the Europa League – my first year was in Slovenia with Nova Gorica. With Milan, it was a great satisfaction.”
What do you think this team is capable of doing next season?
“I believe that this team is capable of doing very important things for Milan. For a club like this, we can certainly bring back the Milan of a few years ago.”
Lastly, you also received your first call-up to the Italian national team under Giampiero Ventura. Obviously to play in the World Cup would be an ambition of yours, but you would have to compete with the likes of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile for a call-up. What do you need to do to keep your chances of a call-up alive?
“When you speak of the national team, you speak about the best Italian players in the world. It is normal that there is this competition, but for me it is an objective to go to the World Cup, above all, a dream! I will give my all to go there.”