Antonio Di Gennaro is the former midfielder who commented on the national team’s ride to the European Championship together with Alberto Rimedio before the commentator was positive at Covid. After witnessing goal after goal in the “rebirth” of the Azzurri Roberto Mancini, from the first retirements in Coverciano to Wembley, the final against England had to see her at home, in Bari, the city where she lives and where she had to observe the quarantine.
With Bari he played between 88 and 89 after eight years at Verona, with whom he won the Scudetto in the 84-85 season, when Hellas dominated the league. As he watched Italy train, stay together off the pitch, play friendlies, qualifiers and matches of the Uefa tournament, he remembered that season in which also for him it was the team spirit that made the difference in Verona. determination to achieve a goal. “The humility of knowing where we started from and the ambition to do something important”, he tells TPI.
Why are unity and team spirit, about which so much has been said for this national team, so important? How do they make a difference?
In moments of suffering, one also runs for a teammate who is in difficulty, he too manages to become a leader. It happens because there is this spirit even off the pitch, despite being a squad of 25 players. They realize that it is in this spirit that they can do something important. The conviction gives you the mentality of the coach and all the staff. The national team doesn’t train every day, but when they get together for those 10 or 12 days it’s like they’ve been together for a year.
Did you expect this victory?
Yes, I had always been convinced of that.
What was the moment when he realized they could do it?
From the match with the Czech Republic, the last friendly match, but already observing the whole path. It happens when you create these foundations of a team with great drive and cohesion and strong on a technical level. There is no star that can shine but all the players are of quality. I was very convinced that they did well and won. We got to suffer but the team has always played football and our football mentality has changed. Mancini managed to create a different football. They knew they wanted to go all the way, they were too close a group.
How long did Mancini take to create the team, to set the new course and compact it?
Initially he had to recreate a certain enthusiasm because we came from this sporting catastrophe of the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He had to recreate conviction in the players and transmit to them this way of interpreting football in a different way, that is to seek the domination of the game, to stay always in the opponent’s half. When he called Zaniolo, who had not yet made his debut in Serie A, we insiders were perplexed. But it was the message he wanted to give, even to clubs: that if young people are good they must be played. This has made the movement, the players themselves and the whole team grow. So in some games, even if the owner was missing, it is as if they were playing the same ones because the product has never changed, the team has always shown this great ability to win and convince.
Is it all true then? The stories of retreats, of harmony, of the desire to be together?
Yes. It was a team that had fun and went to 2 thousand. As Bonucci and other players said, in retreats like the one in Sardinia organized with families they wanted to be together even after 55 days, we didn’t want to leave. This was the great strength together with that of the staff with all Mancini’s former teammates, of which the icing on the cake was Gianluca Vialli, whom Mancini brought to the national team at a critical moment in his life. It was the most touching and quality thing, because Vialli was a great player, I played there in the national team. For the person she was she could only be of great help to him and to all the players. These are the choices that make you change certain situations.
Is there a player in particular who amazed you?
They are all strong players: Jorginho won in Europe, he won in Italy, Bonucci and Chiellini, Insigne who, as he played in the national team, did not play anywhere, in Naples yes but we hardly have him like this. The same Verratti who hesitated three years ago in the interviews after the call-up, is a talent of our football. Everyone, Mancini valued everyone. But the new ones, Pessina and Locatelli, were revelations. It was known that they are strong but they have found a context that has led them to express themselves well, because when you play with good players close to you it is easier, when you have fun and know what you need to do talent comes out. Locatelli and Pessina if it had been played a year ago would not even have been in the group, but they took advantage of this period and were ready. They were revelations as to how they fit in.
Among other things, in the first two games Locatelli played because Verratti was injured.
But already from the Nations League he had a big game in a team that was new. These things have not been seen now, but Italy was already a team used to playing that way, whoever came in to replace another had no problems. Of course, the European is an event that requires personality and the ability to be decisive, but it is difficult to find someone who hasn’t. For example, compared to three months earlier, Chiesa made a unique leap in quality in the national team, before it was not so decisive. Mancini made a masterpiece. He prepared the team in an exemplary way and with a serenity that the players felt, telling them: you are masters of your destiny, go out on the pitch and have fun. And so it was. Suffering and with a dose of luck, but this is part of the profession and of football itself.
What are the episodes you witnessed off the pitch that affected you?
After Covid we could no longer follow training closely, before Covid I remember that in the training before the match I saw a team having fun and going to 2 thousand, and when you go to 2 thousand it means that inside you want to show . It was a bit like my Verona, when we won the Scudetto we had these prerogatives on us: the humility of knowing where we started and the ambition to do something important.
Like Mancini and Vialli’s Sampdoria?
Yes, they had a more important club with Paolo Mantovani in fact they went as far as Wembley when they lost the Champions Cup in the 118th in 92. That embrace of Vialli and Mancini was emblematic a bit because it depicted the fact that Gianluca too despite his illness he was able to give his contribution and then why Mancini made that masterpiece remembering even when they lost the cup 30 years ago. It looks like the perfect script for a movie.
In fact, sometimes it is hard to believe it.
Instead it really happened. And the film also has a happy ending. We won against the British in their house. Then it was seen after the game that it was not very British for the royals to leave without waiting for the award ceremony. It is not like them, gnawing is fine but they also lost in that, perhaps more than on the pitch. We see that Covid has changed them too.
The goal that will remain with you?
Locatelli’s first goal with Switzerland, I also said it in the commentary on the goal in the commentary (“Locatelli comes as a great center forward and scores a beautiful goal”, Di Gennaro enthusiastically commented during the live broadcast, ed): makes an opening from the first left to Berardi, who makes 60 meters and puts the ball inside, then concludes Locatelli. The action starts with this left-footed change of play and then goes to finish the goal. It was one of the most beautiful in terms of preparation and conclusion. The beauty of the sinister game changer: Locatelli’s speech returns here, an example of growth that has been exponential. Locatelli brought out something more that he already had.