Di Francesco: I can see Marco Asensio winning Ballon d'Or
In an exclusive interview with AS, Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco discusses a new Real Madrid under Lopetegui, changes to his own side, and Ronaldo's arrival in Serie A.
A little over a year ago Roma was drawn in a group with Chelsea and Atlético. Did you imagine you would come so close to the Champions League final?
It was a great ride and we deserved to get [to the semi-final]. Hopefully we can repeat it this year.
The comeback against Barça is one for the history books…
I think about it every day, the tifosi (fans) remind me of it when I cross the street. I was very calm at the end of the game.
Did not you feel something special?
The feeling was wonderful, but I experienced it with the level-headedness that I have almost always. I did not have that a couple of weeks ago, when I broke my hand punching the bench (during the game against Atlanta).
How did you motivate your players after the 4-1 defeat in the first leg?
By explaining to them that anything can happen in 90 minutes. I believed [we could do it] so much that I made some rotations for the prior league match against Fiorentina, and they criticized me [for it]. There, however, was where the comeback began. Later I met Chiellini and Buffon, and they told me that we were an inspiration for their match against Madrid. They were also one step away.
Are there any regrets about the semi-final with Liverpool?
There are always some. If you get that far, you want to get the final. Some refereeing decisions did not help us, but that half hour [during the first leg in Anfield] hurt us a lot and it was our own fault.
With what objectives do you return to the Champions League this year?
Everyone expects a Roma team with desire, with an offensive mentality and we will follow this path. We will see with what results.
How much has the team changed?
Now that we have had one more year of work together, I expected a better start in Serie A. We must find continuity in our performances again.
You don’t have Alisson anymore…
We knew we could lose him. There were offers that couldn’t be refused for the club and the player, who had a desire to leave.
The tifosi did not take the goodbyes of Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan well…
Kevin also wanted a new experience, while Radja had other reasons. But I want to look forward.
Is it complicated to manage 12 new signings?
On the one hand, yes, but having such interesting young people and skilled football players with such enthusiasm is a stimulus.
How much can Justin Kluivert grow?
A lot. He will become a very important player for us. He is more instinctive than rational, but he should improve on that.
Edin Dzeko just got a degree in Sports Management. Arrigo Sacchi is right then: the head is worth more than the feet…
It's like that in modern football, and Edin has it all. Sometimes he's happy and I don’t like that, he should always want more because I think he's one of the strikers who most reminds me of Van Basten. Also, now he is even more cultured and I will have to be attentive to how I speak [around him] (laughs).
Is it special working with [sporting director] Ramon Rodriguez Monchi (who is former sporting director of Sevilla)?
I know he is by my side and not above me, as he says. He has impressive knowledge of international football knowledge and is adapting to Italian football. Here they seek more physical strength and a tactical sense; in Spain it’s more technical. The ideal thing is a mixture.
Madrid does not have a sports director. Do you think that this model would work in Italy?
I don’t believe so. Here coaches are used to having a manager who deals with negotiations.
Your Champions League starts with Los Blancos. Is it a more beatable team without CR7?
The results during the first few weeks of the season show that they are still strong. They have more quality with the ball; they make fewer mistakes and they have many leaders. They have very good players who are the base of the Spanish national team.
On the other hand, how does the arrival of Cristiano change Serie A?
He has brought more value to the championship. He has attracted the interest of more countries and that is good. In terms of the title race, Juve had already proved they were strong without him, so it does not change much. They signed him to strengthen their presence in Europe.
Who would you award the Ballon d’Or to?
For the career he has had, I would have given it to Buffon. Maybe not for this year, but in general he deserved one. Then, Messi is still a player who changes games alone … Cristiano, the same. The Portuguese may not win it and suddenly that is a turning point. As for defense, Sergio Ramos is on top.
What if Modric won this year?
It would be deserved, also for what he did with the Croatian national team. It would be due recognition to a footballer of great quality.
How has Madrid changed without Zidane?
Zidane did something extraordinary. I loved his serenity, his level-headedness; I also congratulate him on how he left Madrid with great elegance. He was my favorite midfielder, my idol. He also proved to be a great coach. Lopetegui is trying to give more organization, to make them play more together with more aggressiveness. Before it felt like Madrid would be asleep during games and then wake up suddenly. Now I see a more consistent team.
After winning three Champions League titles, will they still be 'hungry'?
Yes, they have that mentality, like Juve in Italy. In Spain there are two or three teams like that, Barça and Atlético with Simeone. I like that desire to win every trophy, every match.
In Italy there is no such desire?
We're finding it again. In recent years only Juve had it, but lately teams like Napoli, Roma, Inter, Milan and Lazio are growing.
Who is your favourite for the Champions League?
Liverpool have been strengthened a lot and they are a great candidate after having been a finalist [last year]. Then I would put [Manchester] City, who have one of the best coaches in the world … perhaps the best.
Which Madrid player would be perfect at Roma?
Do you see him as a future Balon d’Or winner?
Yes, I imagine him winning the Balon d’Or. I would like to have him because of his age, the quality he is showing, his ability to adapt to more offensive roles, and his talent.
Is it true – as it is said in Italy – that Spanish teams defend badly?
Well, imagine if they defended well (laughs). They do it differently, they try to be in the middle of the opponents half and participate in individual duels. There is no absolute truth: France won the World Cup with somewhat more defensive football. Each team has their own mentality. Spain’s is different and Italy’s is evolving.
So, will Cristiano have more difficulties in Italy?
He has already had them, but over the course of the league his strength will shine through. I hope it doesn’t happen when he plays Roma, obviously (laughs).
Will it be harder for him to score 50 goals?
It's too early to say, but I think it will be more difficult.
Can Italy get out of its crisis by changing its philosophy of the game?
Yes, and it is something that must be born in the youth academies, without a doubt. Luckily, many clubs are already trying.
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