Francesco Totti was a very important player at the 2006 World Cup. We still remember how important he was in some games. You put a lot of trust in him, why?
First of all because Francesco Totti is one of the greatest players that Italian football has ever had. A player who thoroughly deserved take part in that World Cup.
Do you believe that his having played always in the same team, a team which did not have much international success, may have limited the success of this player? A bit like Pele, who by always playing for Santos had a limited number of victories and nowadays many young people do not recognise him because they never lived through his times.
It is true that perhaps having always played in the same team, a team which has not had much international success, may have limited the results of this individual player, but it is also true that European football is very difficult and has a high technical content. While it may be true that Totti, by staying at AS Roma, in very competitive, high quality football environment, has managed to achieve limited success, it is also true that if Pele had come to play in Europe, he would not have managed to score 1,300 goals.
Returning to the 2006 World Cup: why did you decide to include a player in your team who had undergone an operation on his fibula just three months before?
Because I knew that Totti at 50% of his potential, just by his presence on the pitch, in the minds of his teammates, would be more important than any other player who was 100% fit. The same is true for the opponents we would have to face: confronted by a player such as Francesco Totti they would have felt more cowed.
But what did you think when you heard that Totti had been injured in that AS Roma – Empoli match?
There was no need to think and I didn’t think, I had a flash of insight and I told my wife that we were going to Rome. In the morning I was with Francesco. I told him: “Don’t worry, in 3 months you’ll be over it”. And he said to me: “But how can I, coach, the World Cup is in three months…”. And then I replied: “Don’t worry, I’m going to take you”. And I did.
You really had great insight. In this way you created a strong and united group, in some way you let the whole team know that you would stick firmly to your decisions and that you would take to the World Cup all the players you had decided to take, whatever had happened and to whomever it had happened. In this way the group was even more compact and the players all felt united.
Yes they did, that team spirit which was created was very important for the World Cup victory that year. Just as Totti’s presence was very important. Indeed the same thing happened with Gattuso, who had some problems after the friendly with Switzerland on 31 May 2006. I went to see him to tell him that I wouldn’t replace him and he replied: “Coach, don’t leave me at home or I’ll tie myself to the team bus in a shopping trolley”.