In a modern Italy team built upon one-touch passing and better ball control there are those who still see midfielder Daniele De Rossi, 30, as the link between the current generation and the Azzurri outfits of years gone by. Those teams were better known for their tough tackling in midfield, close marking and the notorious - and feared – catenaccio than the concise passing game which has seen the current side nicknamed Tikitalia. In an exclusive interview with FIFA, the AS Roma idol says he is neither one nor the other - not so much of a tough guy, nor simply a stylist in Italy’s modern game.
De Rossi is a competitor, of course, but he never uses an unfair advantage – only tricks from his trade. In any case, his qualities are appreciated by Cesare Prandelli, who has made the veteran midfielder one of the pillars of his team. The "solid core", as the player himself admits, who helps the new talents brought in by his coach to adapt to the team – the "old" that assists in the implementation of the "new".
FIFA: Many consider you the toughest player in Italian football today. Would this be a good definition for you?
Rossi: Well, I don’t exactly agree. I guess it depends what you mean by "tough". On the pitch, my position and my role require a physical side, constant contact with my opponent. If that's what you mean by tough, it’s correct. But ... if you look at my club career, for example, I have only ever received one red card – and that was eight years ago. I play fair, even though sometimes the tackles are tough.
Prandelli has altered the way Italy play with more passing, more control. People have already talked about the nickname "Tikitalia". What do you think of it?
It's a funny name, but it’s better suited to Spain for what they've done in recent years. They have more possession of the ball and all those quality players. Maybe we have less quality, less control than Spain, but we also perhaps have other resources. We have a good defence and we're a team with strong and explosive strikers. Spain sometimes use midfielders in attack, so we’re a bit different, but we're starting to resemble them and we have some midfielders that have brought about a change in the way we approach the game.
He also said recently that you do not need seven different line-ups to win a World Cup. How are you working now?
We're not just training for the World Cup now, we've had months and months of preparation. He tested various systems, even during the play-offs, and explained it all to us. Our players are not only strong technically, but also tactically. They are very experienced and can adapt to anything the coach asks of us.
Was it difficult for you and your team-mates to take the new concepts on board?
In the end it is not a matter of having to learn, but only to adapt to new positions, especially when you are defending. And that’s down to your ability, the way you move on the field. The ball is still round and the routines are the same as when you play for your club. It’s not like we are doing somersaults on the pitch.
How much is continuity important in a team? And how important is finding the right cohesion between the players?
It is important to have some sort of "solid core" in a national team, that group of four, five, six players who have been together for a few years. Those players, having gone through various experiences and even a World Cup, can help the new and younger players who come in. Balotelli, Verratti and Darmian are a few of the new players, but there are many others, such as Insigne and Immobile etc. It’s easier to integrate these players because there’s already a strong structure in place, a solid group that can help make the step up smoother for the youngsters.