In this edition of The Talking Game, former AC Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso talks with us about his time in Glasgow, World Cup triumph and the Rossoneri.
Gennaro Gattuso was among the most important figures in the AC Milan squad since joining the Italian club in 1999. The midfielder, who was known for his tenacity and competitiveness on the field, has won two Champions League, two Serie-A titles and the 2006 FIFA World Cup among many other accolades during his long and distinguished career. Rino, as he was famously known, always wore his heart on his sleeves, which makes the recent allegations of match-fixing brought against him even more improbable. We caught up with the, often temperamental midfielder, as he talked about his time in Glasgow, where he found the love of his life, his outlook as a manager, the World Cup triumph and his beloved AC Milan.
Q: You spent only one season at Rangers, but it was a very eventful time period in your life wasn’t it?
Gattuso: It has been a very important period in my career as a professional player. In Glasgow I realized I could become a real player. For my maturation it has been important to have had a coach like Walter Smith.
Q: For the first time you were playing outside Italy and of course you met your wife during that period as well. Tell us something about your memories in Scotland.
Gattuso: I met her when I and some friends of mine went to eat in the restaurant of his father, who was a truly great entrepreneur in catering in Scotland. To meet my wife has been my great good fortune, so that now I always say to her that I would remarry her.
Q: Walter Smith left the club and things didn’t go according to plan under the new manager Dick Advocaat, did it?
Gattuso: Porrini, left-back of the rangers were injured and Advocaat used me in substitution. When he returned, the coach believed that it was my only role, but I was convinced that I had the qualities of the midfielder and for this reason I accepted the transfer to Italy at Salernitana. It’s true; I and Advocaat didn’t understand each other very well.
Q: You have played under a lot of famous managers. From Carlo Ancelotti, Giovanni Trapattoni to Marcelo Lippi – who would you say was the most tactically prudent of all?
Gattuso: All of them are great characters; different among themselves – but of absolute talent. Trapattoni was a father, Lippi was very hard, Ancelotti was similar to Trapattoni regarding the character but he was very modern and very prepared tactically. Lippi was the most heedful to the defensive structure and the victory in the World Cup proves it.
Q: How difficult was it to keep the team focused during 2006 World Cup, considering there was such a scandal back home?
Gattuso: The greatest merit is to be credited to Lippi who, even if involved in the matter, maintained an Olympian calm and transmitted to us this calmness and this sureness.
Q: Of course lifting the world-cup as the captain of the national team must have been the proudest moment of your career, but other than lifting that trophy, what was your favourite moment during your career?
Gattuso: I had always dreamed of playing a World Cup and I’ve played three of them. I never thought to win one of them. The other big emotional moment was to win the first Champions League with Milan defeating Inter in the semi-final match and that great Juventus side in the final match.
Q: Were there ever any worries in the Milan camp when you and Ibrahimovic, considering the incident in 2003 Champions League between you two, were together in the same team?
Gattuso: There have never been any problems, we were and we are great friends. In that match I was thinking to be hard with one who was two times greater than me! But on field I’ve never been afraid of anything.
Q: Was there a well planned retirement plot for the Senatores after the 2011-12 season? How and when did Galliani communicate to you about this?
Gattuso: Milan wanted to keep me at the last second and they had proposed me an important contract, but I understood that a story was over when I realized that many of my longstanding teammates were leaving AC Milan as well.
Q: What was the reaction to Pirlo joining Juventus among the likes of you, Seedorf, Nesta and Ambrosini?
Gattuso: We are all professional players and we have to follow certain rules. Certainly for Milan it was a great loss and a great advantage for Juventus.
Q: Did you and Tottenham Hotspur coach Joe Jordan communicate with each other after that infamous incident? Was the differences ever settled off the pitch?
Gattuso: There is no problem. On that occasion I was wrong in disrespecting him, even though I was verbally provoked.
Q: Who has been your toughest opponent on the footballing field?
Gattuso: I have dealt with so many great players, but Zidane was the most unpredictable.
Q: Did you at any moment of your footballing career you feel that the media has often overly highlighted the controversies and created a different image of yours to the outside world?
Gattuso: No, I’ve always played hard but fair, the media have done their job explaining the way I play that way.
Q: You were known for your intensity as a player. Do you expect and demand the same level of intensity as coach?
Gattuso: I was absolutely conscious of my player characteristics because during the week my trainings were very hard and very intensive. As a coach I require a lot of intensity and sacrifice but I realized that I cannot pretend that on field there are ten Gattuso, everyone has their own talent.
Q: What was it like to work under someone like Maurizio Zamparini? Do you think he has been too impatient with the managers at Palermo in recent years?
Gattuso: Despite appearances I have learned a lot thanks to the opportunity that Zamparini gave me and now I have learnt to see things as a coach, and not only as an ex-player.
Q: You were of course part of a hugely successful AC Milan squad, does it surprise you that the things have changed so drastically currently and how the team is struggling in the league?
Gattuso: I’m not surprised; the crisis highlights the problems in Italy and in particular the system of Italian football, but Milan has the resources of intelligence to get out of this situation shortly. The DNA of Milan is to win.
Q: How saddened have you been about these recent allegations of match fixing brought against you? How are you planning to proceed against these reports?
Gattuso: It was a very hard experience, but the problem is solving. What gratified me was the affection of all the people in the football world but in particular the common people, not only fans of AC Milan, who inundated me with sympathy and encouragement.