Cagliari full-back Darijo Srna says he chose to sign for the club “with my heart” and notes “people pay to live in Sardinia” whereas he’s paid to play there.
The Croatian joined the Isolani in the summer after spending almost his entire career at Shakhtar Donetsk, before a doping ban saw him let go.
“President [Tommaso] Giulini wanted me as I am,” Srna explained to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“My friends tell me: ‘Darijo, you realise that people pay to live in Sardinia, whereas they pay you to stay there?’.
“They’re the only club that really wanted me. You need to go where your heart and your head tell you.
“I did some research before I decided. Giovanni and Giacomo Branchini, who are not my agents, but friends, told me about the environment.
“Then [Leonardo] Pavoletti called me, which I really liked. He likes to joke, as do I, and he’s a great striker. I’m not trying to do [Roberto] Mancini’s job for him, but he deserves a chance in the national team. And Barella, in a couple of years, will become the leader of the Azzurri.”
Before making the move to Serie A, Srna was suspended for almost a year after testing positive for dehydroepiandrosterone.
“I lost everything in one moment. First there was the failed test and the ban, and then the world fell in on me.
“Shakhtar's President, [Rinat] Akhmetov, told me that they wouldn’t renew my contract, and it was like being punched in the face.
“I understand, he’s doing his job, Shakhtar is my love but I know that young people have to grow up.
“But I’d bought a nice house in Donetsk, the President had opened an international school where my children went. In one breath everything disappeared. I was in pieces.
“The ban was the worst time of my career, but I’m tough. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Shakhtar can no longer play in Donetsk due to the Ukrainian civil war, the second conflict the Croatian has experienced after the wars of independence.
“My father has been through three. When I was a child in Croatia I was scared every day. He was a baker, he’d go out to bring bread to people who couldn’t go to the shops. We watched him leave and didn’t know if he would come back.
“I owe everything to him, but also to [Mircea] Lucescu and his assistant, who turned me into a full-back.
“I’m grateful to [Pep] Guardiola, who had a problem with doping similar to mine and pushed me to fight.
“He told me: ‘do it for your name, for your children. In football there is no doping, there are only errors’.
“He helped me a lot, as did [Zvonimir] Boban, [Mario] Stanic, [Luka] Modric and many other players and former players who stuck by me.
“And Mario Mandzukic, of course. He’s a great friend.
“We speak often, he told me he wants to play on the left on Sunday and I said: ‘too bad for you, I won’t let you touch the ball’.
“There’s a great friendship between us, Luka too, when my kids answer the phone to them they start talking.
“I played for Croatia for 15 years, I saw so many people coming and going. I saw the young people coming through and I left after Euro 2016. I’d lost my father and it wasn’t a good time for me.
“But I achieved so much satisfaction with the national team, and when I left it was the right time to do it.
“It’s the same for Mario, he reached the maximum: what more could he achieve than a World Cup final?
“He’s left at the top and now he can devote himself to his career with the strongest club. I think Juventus can win the Champions League, and definitely the league.
“They don’t only have Ronaldo, but other key players. [Giorgio] Chiellini is the number one in Italy.”
Finally, Srna was asked what he sees in his future.
“A little peace. I’ve always tried to fight for what’s right, even in terms of my ban. I’ve never had a real holiday where I could rest, my life has been quite stressful.
“But then I look back and I think that in Croatia they came to confiscate our cars, now I have two and a nice house, so I won my war. I’m a fighter, and my wife is too.
“She's more ambitious than me and she wanted a school in London for my daughter, so now they're shuttling between Sardinia and England.
“At 36 I’m like I was as a boy and like my dad was: someone who fights. I never give up and without my father's teaching I would not be what I am.
“When scouts came to watch me, he said: ‘you can’t buy my son with money’. I moved to Hajduk Split because a good friend convinced him.
“At the beginning it was difficult, but I soon learned that nothing is easy in life. Now I find myself on a sunny island with wonderful fans.
“In the recent years with Shakhtar we played in exile, in the desert. When I go onto the pitch and see a full stadium, my heart swells.
“It’s like going back 10 years.”