You spent almost all your career at one club, in your hometown and in one of the best leagues in the world. Has moving to Russia been a shock for you?
Actually, my family and I got used to St. Petersburg quite quickly. We spent the first two weeks here finding a home and a school for the children, that wasn’t easy but thank you to the players and club employees who helped us a lot with this. The team have accepted me and treat me very well, I quickly felt like a full member of the side.
You don’t live on Krestovsky Ostrov, where most players live as it’s easier to get to training and the stadium, but instead live in the historic centre of the city, does that mean your plans include things other than football, like getting to know the cultural life of St. Petersburg.
For my family and me this is a very important time. I’ve lived my whole life in one city, in my hometown of Turin and so it is important for my family that this move is not just about football, but also about how quickly we can all get used to our new home. It is easier to get to know a city, its culture, its people, if you live in its centre. For us to better get to know and feel St. Petersburg from the inside, as a whole family, we made this decision.
The other day you visited the Russian Museum, how did you find it?
I’ve already been to the Russian Museum twice, first by myself and then with Italian television and I really like it. Now I’m in such a big, interesting and culturally significant city like St. Petersburg, I want to go everywhere, go to museums, study architecture…
Where else have you had time to visit in our city?
I’ve visited all the main cathedrals in St. Petersburg. Before we found our new home, we lived in a hotel opposite Saint Isaac's Cathedral and I really enjoy visiting that place. I’ve been to the Savior on the Spilled Blood cathedral, which is famous for its mosaics, to the Kazan Cathedral too. I’ve visited Krestovsky Island with my family, there’s not only our stadium there, the park there is wonderful to have a walk in.
St. Petersburg is considered the northern capital of Russia, but now you’re with Zenit, you have had the chance to visit many provincial Russian cities like Orenburg, Samara, Makhachkala and Astrakhan, what do you think about these places?
I’ve briefly visited them. When you’re traveling with a team, it’s almost impossible to see the city properly, there’s just no time for that. But I have seen some things in Russia that I have never seen before. My main thoughts are probably thanks to the World Cup, there is great infrastructure everywhere with lots of good stadiums. I was warned that some things I might find difficult here, but I’ve only met kind and friendly people wherever I’ve been, everyone has treated me very well.
Do you find Russian and Italian people similar?
Give me a little more time to get better used more to the subtleties of the Russian character. Three months is not long enough to make any conclusions just yet. What I have noticed is there is a different attitude to football here. In Italy, people live for football. Every match doesn’t last just 90 minutes, but a whole week. Fans start getting ready for the game a few days before kick-off and then discuss it for three days after. In Italy the teams are under massive pressure, in Russia, I do not feel it is the same, everything ends with the final whistle. Perhaps it is better than in Italy, I can calmly concentrate on the game, play the match and not worry about what will happen in the days after.
Is the atmosphere at Zenit home matches similar to Italian games? 40,000 people even come to friendly matches here in Russia.
In Italy, this is almost unheard of. For matches that are not seen as big games, almost half the stadium will be empty, as supporters only go to top matches there. Maybe the problem is that we have a lot of old stadiums in Italy. Zenit play at a beautiful new arena, probably one of the three best stadiums I've ever played in. Even at a friendly match the support is great. Both the players and fans have such passion and the support at Stadium St. Petersburg motivates us very much.
You have already given several interviews in Russia and you seem to like everything here. Even the traffic jams don’t bother you. Are your family members just as positive?
We are a family and we go through all life’s situations together. When I am not training or playing, I am with my wife and children. Of course, at first it wasn’t easy for us, but my sons have helped a lot. The difference in their age isn’t a problem and they are always having fun together, my wife and I don’t have to worry too much about them, they are going to an international school, which is just like in Italy. My wife and I have had time to settle down and organise our new life. We feel quite comfortable now and my wife already has new friends and new favorite places.
Both of your sons play football. Do you see them as future footballers?
I am very pleased with how they are playing, but now it’s silly to talk about any future career and that doesn’t depend on me, it’s up to them. Now they are really into football and love to play, that makes me really happy. I believe that sport is important for children as it helps to develop kids physically and teaches them the qualities needed in a team. Football is a great hobby, but will David and Leonardo have enough talent and want to play professionally in the future? We will find out later on. But I won’t force them to choose football as their profession.
Your eldest son is at Zenit’s Gazprom Academy, while your youngest son goes to another football school. What do you think of the level of training for young players in St. Petersburg?
I have watched training at the Academy and it impressed me a lot, everything is very well organised, I liked how the coaches work and how the children play, it is at a truly European level.
Can we say that you’ve now fully adapted to the club and Russian football?
I think yes. I'm doing pretty well and If you look at the Russian Premier Liga and Europa League tables, we are leading both. In these different tournaments you have to play in different ways. In the Russian league there is more contact between the players, tough tackles, less space and fewer opportunities to show individual skill. In the Europa League, you have more freedom and tactically the game is different. You have to get used to these differences, but in general, I am happy with how things are going here.
In one of your first interviews after arriving in St. Petersburg you said that Russian clubs were tactically weak. Can you expand on this?
Each country has its own approach to the game, its own style and that depends on many factors. How the coaches work with the players is important. Russian players, as I understand it, do not always have the opportunities to gain foreign experience from playing abroad, so Russian football is different from the football I am used to. The emphasis here is on physical fitness, but things can always grow, improve and we can learn from each other.
The closer we get to the winter break in the league, the harder it seems for Zenit to win points. What is the reason for this? Too many matches, long flights, tiredness?
I think that it’s tiredness, many of the players were at the World Cup and have not had time for a proper rest. I’ve already said this, but you also have to get used to playing differently in different tournaments. We all understand that we have to win every game and we are working hard to do that.
When things become difficult, experienced footballers have to take on the role of leaders. Are you ready for such a task?
Of course I am, but do not forget that football is a team game. One person cannot lead a team to victory. He can ignite the team, push them on, change things, but to win is the task of a whole team and a team achievement. That team at Zenit is strong.