Sassuolo captain Francesco Magnanelli has just recovered from an injury and has yet to make his seasonal debut, but is eager to return to action under De Zerbi, who has taken the Neroverdi into the Champions League places in the early months of the Serie A season, he told Football Italia in an exclusive interview.
How are you now?
"I’m quite well, I did the first full week of training and I feel good even if I stayed out almost three months, including the summer holidays. I am training so much but I still need to play, to get that rhythm. You can train as much as you want but that different rhythm of games is what one needs. I hope to recover the best fitness in 10 to 12 days.”
Roberto De Zerbi is only a few years older than you. Is it easier or more difficult to deal with a young coach?
“For us it’s easier and maybe for him too. We are smart people and I think being a similar age could be an advantage for us. I believe that when he arrived he had a different opinion about me. As a player, not as a person. Convincing him and being appreciated by him is a great achievement for me. I really respect him. He knows what I can give, my mentality and what I can give to the team. As for me, I am lucky to work with one of the best coaches in Europe right now.”
What does he want from midfielders? How have you evolved as a player with him?
“I found the right manager at this age. I managed to improve myself and discover new things. He has put me in the right conditions to play at high levels. He’s made me understood I can play in a two-man midfield even if I had always played in a three-man midfield. There is a meticulous job behind it. He wants to keep the ball possession, have fluidity, but with clear ideas. We don’t run around the pitch without a target.
“He is scrupulous. We want to have fun on the pitch but everything we do on the pitch has a reason for it. Those who say we only keep a sterile ball possession are wrong. That ball possession has a specific target. I could spend hours taking about it.”
Some compare him with Sarri, do you see any similarities?
“Their idea of football is similar. But I was coached by Sarri 16 years ago, he has surely changed. Sarri seems a little bit more schematic compared to De Zerbi. Our coach works more on some concepts that are not necessarily linked with the tactical system. We know what to do regardless our position into the pitch.”
Sassuolo have perfected the art of developing young players and selling them on to more glamorous clubs. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Matteo Politano and Merih Demiral, just to name a few, played alongside Magnanelli, as did more experienced players such as Alessandro Matri and Francesco Acerbi.Magnanelli recalled what it was like to play alongside such varied personalities.
Do you remember any clash or confrontation in the dressing room with your teammates?
“Sassuolo have always chosen valuable players and people, under every point of view. Sometimes I clashed with them but always in constructive way. I could have had some games wrong during my career, but I’ve always thought about the team, putting us ahead of me. I tried to build my career and my life around this. Now there are some young players that sometimes can upset you or have a different mentality, we are different generations.
“One must be smart to put himself in their shoes and try to stay close to them, trying to make them understand how to do certain things. Many of my teammates and ex-teammates have become close friends. Sometimes we’ve confronted ourselves on how do face some situations. Intelligent people must do it if they want to build a group and reach their targets.”
Manuel Locatelli and Domenico Berardi are now in the spotlight and have been linked with a number top clubs, especially Juventus and Inter. Indeed, Berardi came close to joining the Old Lady back in 2014. Magnanelli feels that as a senior player, he is in a position to advise his younger teammates and lead by example.
What advice do you give to players like them?
“We often talk. They are very intelligent, they are not only great players with an incredible talent. I always try to set the example, doing things concretely, not by talking. Again, smart people understand what you tell them and behave consequently achieving big successes. It’s not our merit, we only have more experience that we need to pass on to them who have outstanding qualities.”
Do you players talk about transfer rumours inside the dressing room?
“I’m not someone who looks into others’ houses. Each one of us has a different approach, you never want to be too invasive. When you have the feeling they want to talk then I’m happy to have my say. It happened in the past with Domenico [Berardi] and it happened with Manuel [Locatelli] last summer. I told them my opinion. Especially, Italian players tend to talk about this a little bit more.”
Magnanelli has played 524 games in his career, from Italy’s lowers divisions to the Europa League. They represent a long, prosperous career that is only just reaching its peak with important games such as Saturday’s visit of Inter. And, Magnanelli reveals, he’s keen to play at this level a little longer.
Do you have a collection of shirts you take from other players after games? Which one is your favourite?
“I do have a collection with my brother, we have a lot, about 300. From Serie C to Serie A clubs. My favourite one is probably one of [Paulo] Dybala. It’s a pink one of Juventus. He gave it to me after their defeat here at the Mapei in 2015. Then [Daniele] De Rossi’s, [Gonzalo] Higuain’s, lot of Napoli and Milan players as I was born a Milan fan.”
What game do you expect against Inter on Saturday?
“I hope it’s going to be a nice one, between two different teams. They’d want to catch us in the table. They want to fight for what they’ve been built for. They’ve spent a lot of money and with those big players and that coach it may be disturbing to see a club like Sassuolo ahead of them in the table. They would try to destroy us. We want to have fun, do things well but the result is not going to be the most important thing. If we have fun and play well we have more chances to win.”
Your contract expires in June, what are your plans?
"I feel like I can play and compete with guys who have less miles than I do, I have strength and experience and the desire to compete. I’ve rested enough. Now I need to recover my best fitness, understand if I am still competitive, but I think so, I’d like to play for another year at least because I feel well.
“For the future I don’t know, let’s see which opportunities I’ll have. I’ve always thought I could become a coach but I don’t close the door to becoming a director. I’m open to everything. I’d like to remain in this world. As I told you at the beginning, that’s what I am good at. The present and the immediate future is now much more important than what will happen in a couple of years.”