Simone Zaza spoke to AS about the secrets behind his form this season, and Valencia's turnaround under Marcelino. The Italy international also expressed his gratitude to the supporters and the city, and insisted that he has no plans to leave for pastures new.
'Valencia showed faith in me'
How would you explain Valencia's remarkable season to an Italian friend?
I would say to them that we’re having an incredible year. But nobody would have said in August that we would be fighting at the top of the table. Nobody expected it. And I would also say to them that the key to it is that we’re all team-mates and we all help each other.
Do you, like Marcelino, think that it’s close to a miracle?
A miracle? More or less. But we’ve worked a lot to get to where we’ve got to. It’s the achievement of the work and togetherness in the dressing room. And a big part of it is down to the coach.
What has changed?
The dressing room, the club, the fans… we’ve all had a change of mood and we’re excited. This is where Valencia should be.
You arrived at a difficult time, just after the coach (Cesare Prandelli) and the sporting director (García Pitarch) had left…
Yes. I arrived at a difficult time. It was difficult for me and even more so for Valencia, I would say. I had [offers from] various teams, but I chose Valencia because I liked the club, the team, the city… I chose well, clearly.
I can only say good things about Valencia. You say that I showed faith in Valencia, but they did the same for me, because I was going through a bad spell. I wasn’t scoring in the Premier League… yet they still called me. From the first moment I sensed that people wanted me here. I’ve got nothing bad to say to about Valencia. Nothing. I’ve had a great time since the start. Now it’s incredible. The people love me even if I don’t score.
Valencia team feel the love from fans
You’re an idol at Mestalla…
I feel really loved. I think that’s one of the secrets, or one of the reasons, behind why things are going so well for me on the pitch… that I get along with everyone. The fans who come to the stadium, in the supermarket… everyone. They know that I can miss a chance or have a bad day, but they also know that I will always try and give 100%. All of the team are doing that, that’s why the people love us and have helped us from the start. We felt that warmth from the first friendly against Atalanta.
People say that the secret is more about togetherness than tactical or technical reasons…
Without a doubt. For me, at least. And the coach has also done a great job with that. It’s not easy to get twenty-something players to agree with each other. He’s worked really well in that respect. And us too, because we’re good guys.
Have there not been rivalries among the players?
Look, I always want to play and score. I would imagine that it’s the same for Santi Mina, Rodrigo, Lucho (Vietto). But that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends after. Not at all. We’re team-mates and friends. There’s friendship in football… I’m happy if Santi scores and he’s also happy if I do… well, I hope so.
People are saying that Valencia will need to sign another striker next season for the Champions League?
A lot of things are said. That’s football. Everyone talks. These are matters for the club. The only thing I can say to you is that we’ve played more or less the same amount of minutes and Rodri has 15 goals, Santi has 12, and I have 12. We’ve scored more than 40 goals between four strikers. If Valencia need another striker, they’d be welcome. That doesn’t matter to me, we’ll help them.
Do you hear what they say about ‘Zaza being for sale’?
Yes, I hear about what’s written in the press, they tell me about it in the bakery. When I walk on the streets people tell me not to go, and I say: “Why do I have to go?” If people want me to leave, then that’s another thing. But nobody has said that to me. I’m good here, why would I want to leave? I’m playing, scoring goals… I could score more, yes, but it’s going well for me. We’re going to play in the Champions League, I’m at a big club, a lovely city, they eat well… I don’t want to leave. Why would I?
Roma victory a good thing for Italian football
What things have you improved since joining?
My movement, but I still have to improve a lot of things. I changed my game to what the gaffer wanted. Marcelino wanted me to link up with my team-mates more. I also think I’ve improved a lot in my relationship with the referees and my behaviour on the pitch. I’ve picked up a lot fewer cards. I’ve managed to get the referees to know me, and I’m calmer.
Let’s talk about Barcelona. Did Roma’s performance surprise you?
They played really well and deserved to go through. They played with a lot of anger. You saw character and strength on the faces of the Roma players. [Eusebio] Di Francesco was my coach for two years at Sassuolo and I knew that he would prepare well for the match, that’s in his character and they won 3-0 against the best team in the world.
After the Italian national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, did the country need a result like that?
Yeah, to be honest. Italian football needed a team like Roma to get to the semi-finals. Juve have been there, but the others were missing and even though everyone supports their own team, I think any Italian will be happy.