It’s been a while since 1982 World Cup winner and Azzurri hero Claudio Gentile was in the spotlight, and after reports emerged that he applied for a coaching job in Cape Town, South Africa, Rossella Marrai-Ricco got in contact with the former Juventus defender to chat football. Below is his exclusive question and answer session that has originally been translated from Italian.
Rossella Marrai-Ricco: Hello Mister Gentile. Thank you for your time. You were described as an intimidating player during your day, but your name suggests otherwise. How would you describe yourself?
Claudio Gentile: This is the biggest lie that was written by sports papers. In fact, I played 560 official games and I was only sent off once for touching the ball during the Champions League semi-final against Bruges. This is in contrast to the other eight out of 10 dismissals for violent play that were not mentioned.
RMR: During the 1982 World Cup, you famously man-marked Diego Maradona out of the game against Argentina. Many regard it as the defining moment of your career, would you say so?
CG: Perhaps yes, because to win a World Cup as a player is the highest success one can achieve as a professional.
RMR: How did you prepare to face the toughest players in the world, such as Maradona?
CG: Through film analysis, you find the merits and defects of a player in order to know how to counter them.
RMR: Was he the toughest player you ever faced?
CG: Without a doubt…
RMR: Much like Italy’s triumph in 2006, the Azzurri won the World Cup in 1982 in the midst of a betting and match-fixing scandal. How does one prepare for a tournament when there is something going on off the field?
CG: During the preparations, we never thought about what happened or what was happening. We only ever thought about training.
RMR: During the 80s and 90s, Italian football was at its pinnacle point and regarded the best league in the world. Now, Serie A has fallen behind the other European leagues…
CG: It is true. Italian football is no longer at the top of the table for reasons of improper politics, and structural choices.
RMR: Your former club Juventus is one of the best teams in Europe right now. What have you made of their transition from Serie B until now?
CG: The policy undertaken by the company, in my view, was to reconstruct its image... The technical choices they've undergone have made it possible to regain primary positions at a European level.
RMR: During your playing days, Italian football was known for its Catenaccio, but now it has progressed. How does one break this stereotype?
CG: Changing doesn’t always mean it’s improving…
RMR: You were known as a tough player, and now there are few “hard men” out there. One could say Gennaro Gattuso was one of the last. Why haven’t there been many tough players like yourself?
CG: When football changes from man marking to zonal defending, the defenders lost their capacity/ability to neutralise their adversary directly.
RMR: What would be your ideal team or starting XI?
CG: All the members of the ’82 World Cup… For me, that is still the most ideal team because we defeated the elites of world football: Argentina were the next World Cup winners, the best Brazilians of all-time, Poland were an emerging team, and Germany were always amongst the top teams in European football.
RMR: You were famously dubbed “Gheddafi”, due to being born in Libya. Did this ever offend you?
CG: Yes, a lot, but I had to accept it because Gheddafi was a shareholder in Fiat and Juventus, and for this reason, I could not express my disappointment. This is because I could never forget the discomfort he caused the Italians, who were expelled from Libya – among them, were my relatives.
RMR: Let’s finish off by touching on your coaching career. The last team you coached was the Italian U21 side back in 2006. Why haven’t you coached since?
CG: Because I did not compromise my way of being, and I did not align myself with the Italian “football system”.
RMR: Was it not your dream to coach Juventus – the team of your heart?
CG: Of course! It was my dream, and it did not happen because of the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Gioco Calcio).
RMR: Thank you for your time.
CG: A Pleasure.
*Note: This interview was done via email; therefore, there was no space for follow up questions.