In this edition of The Talking Game, Former Inter Milan defender Marco Materazzi talks with us about the treble under Jose Mourinho, Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, Zinedine Zidane and Indian Super League.
Marco Materazzi or The Matrix, as he was fondly know among his fans, started his youth career with Messina – a small club in the beautiful town of Sicily. Football was of course in his blood as he had his father, Giuseppe Materazzi to look up to during his childhood. His father was a famous name in Lecce, having spent seven years with the club from 1968-75, and the 68-year old has also enjoyed a fairly long managerial career.
“My father was a big influence during my childhood because at home we always spoke about football and I loved it and I love football” – Materazzi remembers. While his father provided him with formal education of the game, a certain Dutch striker by the name of Marco van Basten provided him with inspiration. “My idol as a child was Marco Van Basten” he adds.
He started his youth career at Messina when his father was in charge of the club and incidentally both left the Sicily based club in 1991. “I ran away from Messina” says Materazzi. And he ran away to Tori De Quinto – a lower division amateur club in Italian football. But his talent didn’t remain unnoticed for long and after spells with Marsala, Trapani and Perugia, he was eventually signed by English club Everton.
Not many Italians have succeeded previously on English soil and Marco Materazzi didn’t really change that trend either. After spending just one season with the Merseyside club, he turned to Italy to his former club Perugia. Meterazzi found it hard to settle down in England, but remembers it as a great experience, and perhaps one which transformed him as a footballer.
“It has been a great experience and it is a very hard league, physical, where, compared to the Italian one, it lets you play a lot more” – he said.
After spending two more seasons with Perugia, Materazzi finally made the most important move of this career – he joined Inter. He did receive few other offers at that point of his career, but Materazzi was always sure about what he wanted. “Yes [I did get other offers], but I was happy to sign for the Inter and wanted to stay there for a long time,” he remembers.
The highlight of his club career arrived in 2010, when under the guidance of Jose Mourino, Inter went on to win a historic treble. Marco Materazzi, who was 36-year-old back then, didn’t enjoy too many minutes on the pitch in that season, but the Italian international insisted that Mourinho made everyone in the squad feel special in the that season.
“It has been a fantastic season from all points of view. I have not played much, but as I said before, Mourinho has involved the whole group making everyone feel important, and then I managed to take off my satisfactions,” he said.
Materazzi did share a special relationship with Jose Mourinho and was visibly broken after the 2010 Champions League final as the Portuguese manager’s departure edged closer. Although he wasn’t a first team regular under Mourinho, Materazzi insists that the current Chelsea manager made him feel important. “Mourinho was simply the best,” said Materazzi – a man who has also played under the likes of Giovanni Trapattoni, Marcelo Lippi and Roberto Mancini. “I stopped playing regularly under him at Inter, but he made me feel more important than anyone before him, he is sincere and this in football is something rare,” he added.
Inter Milan went down the hill pretty fast since the departure of Jose Mourinho and are yet to win anything since that treble. They are currently struggling in fifth spot in the Serie A table – a massive 34 points behind league leaders Juventus. When Materazzi was asked about the possible cause for this downfall, he said: “Many factors are involved, but no one can erase what we did (back in 2010). Now we need to start again and Inter have everything they need to do well (We have one of the strongest young academies in Europe).”
Materazzi did experience an eventful career with Italian national team as well and perhaps the highlight of his career remains the 2006 World Cup triumph with the Azzurri. He was not a first team regular in that tournament, but after an injury to Alessandro Nesta in the group stage match against Czech Republic, he got his opportunity and scored a goal after coming on as a substitute. Nesta was a player Materazzi had always admired and the chance to fill up his big shoes brought along a lot of responsibility for the former Inter defender. “When Alexander [Nesta] (sic) was injured, who is always been for me a point of reference and a player who I have always admired, and the coach put me on, I thought it was my time!!! A big responsibility, but a great honor!!” remembered Materazzi.
Italy reached the final of the tournament where they faced France, who were considered the favorites at that point and Materazzi was involved in nearly everything in that game.
The center back conceded an early penalty and provided Zinedine Zidane with the opportunity to put France in the lead. But he did make up for his earlier mistake with an equalizer few minutes later as he headed home from an Andrea Pirlo corner. It was personally Materazzi’s most memorable moment in the tournament, contributing to the team’s success at the highest stage. “The goal of the tie in the Final match against France [is my most memorable moment of that tournament],” avers Materazzi, as he contemplates on that memorable night.
Italy went on the beat France in the penalty shoot-out, but the most infamous incident in that game was when Zidane head-butted Materazzi and received his marching orders in extra-time. It was later revealed that the Italian international had a verbal confrontation with the French international before that incident took place.
This incident was scrutinized long after the World Cup was over and the duos haven’t buried the hatchet as of yet. But Materazzi didn’t rule out the possibility of doing so in the future. “It is from a lot of time that we do not meet [Sic], but there is no certainty of the future, so it could happen” he assured.
That incident involving Zidane has often overshadowed what was a fairly important contribution by the center back during that World Cup triumph for Italy. But Materazzi remains unaffected by these public perceptions and feels that many did thank him for his contribution. “A lot of people thank me for the World Cup victory, while others emphasize on the episode….so I do not know, you should do a survey” he laughs.
He also seemed optimistic about the current Italian side and their chances in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Although very few would mark them down among the favourites, but Materazzi points out that a nation with such immense history in this tournament can never be underestimated.
“Italian Team with its 4 World Cups won is always one of the favourites. It will be very important the first match for qualification against England [Sic], then we’ll see….. Buffon, Pirlo, De Rossi were protagonists in 2006. Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli are experienced and give assurance at the back and they will have the task of dragging the best out of younger talents like Balotelli to achieve maximum results,” Materazzi said.
Recent rumours have linked Materazzi with a coaching job at Pahang. When asked about development on that front, he said: “First of all I found in Pahang lovely people. They love, they know football and want to make it grow. I do not know if I’ll train them but something important is going to happen.”
“For now I’m still a good player but I got the Master as manager so I could also coach a National Team. I will see.”
He didn’t have a good experience with India though. The former Italian international was contacted by IMG Reliance in September 2013 for participation in the much talked about Indian Super League. Materazzi was excited by this opportunity to play in what could potentially be a huge tournament in India. He even signed an agreement with IMG back then, but was later informed that the tournament was cancelled.
IMG did go ahead with the auction of teams recently and the Indian Super League is expected to start by the end of this year, but to Materazzi’s surprise, he was never contacted back by the Indian organisation. This has left him disappointed to say the least.
“I acquired all the licenses as both FIFA Manager and as a coach. I had signed an agreement with IMG / Reliance to attend in September 2013 to the league that this company had planned to organize in India, as a player and coach, but then it was cancelled and it was very displeasing because I’m convinced that there is huge potential in India for football. I knew that this project is broken, but despite having been contacted about a month ago, despite having confirmed my availability, then I have not heard anything more and I’m sorry,” he regrets.
It would have been wonderful for the Indian football fans to have seen a footballer of Materazzi’s experience in action on Indian soil and most would hope that IMG can settle this issue.
For someone who has made nearly 500 career league first team appearances, Materazzi has faced some of the most fearsome strikers in the history of the game and when asked about the toughest opponent he has encountered, the 40-year-old left us with only one name: “Ronaldo, the phenomenon.”