It’s a very special game for Atalanta defender Gianluca Mancini, who even has tattoos showing his love for Inter icon Marco Materazzi.
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“I was 16 years old and playing in the Fiorentina youth team, but I got a tattoo of the number 23 in honour of Marco Materazzi. I liked the idea of a visible example of my football idol,” Mancini told La Gazzetta dello Sport magazine SportWeek.
“My Dad took me to the tattoo parlour. He was a passionate Inter fan. I say he ‘was’ because now he cheers on any team where I play, but the Nerazzurri fandom runs through my family, including my uncles. Although we lived quite far away, my Dad would take me to San Siro whenever he could.
“I really started to admire Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup, as I loved the way he approached the game, that physicality and grit he put into every ball. He was never afraid and didn’t step back during difficult moments.
“As I grew up, I admired many other centre-backs: Alessandro Nesta, Sergio Ramos, Lilian Thuram, but Materazzi was always a step above in my eyes and he still is.
“It was my destiny, because in my first year as a professional player, I ended up on loan at Perugia. The club’s long-standing massage therapist Luchini saw the 23 tattoo and asked why. He laughed and explained Marco lived in the city, so he sent a text message and the next day a signed 23 jersey arrived with special dedication to me.
“He sent me another after my first few games and invited me to come and meet with him. It was fantastic, basically I ended up interviewing him with 100 questions about everything. I pretty much tortured him that day, but he was happy to reply to anything and showed how a champion can remain a perfectly normal person. I really liked him.”
So how will Mancini and his family handle facing Inter on Sunday?
“It’s going to be tough. Inter have reinforced this season and can win anywhere. We don’t fear them, though, because Atalanta know how to make ourselves respected.
“If we beat Inter, Materazzi might not be happy, but I’m sure he’ll forgive me. After all, the 23 is on my skin forever.”