Juan Jesus: Even the Argentinians help me
It has been all change at Inter Milan since 2011, when the club embarked on a rebuilding process after winning a string of titles in the seven previous seasons. Figuring among the many household names to leave I Nerazzurri were goalkeeper Julio Cesar, centre-back Lucio and right-wingback Maicon, though their departure does not mean to say there are no Brazilians manning the revamped Inter rearguard.
One of the men who currently filling the void the esteemed trio left behind them is a young compatriot by the name of Juan Jesus. The defender relied on their support when he moved to Italy, but now having adapted to his new surrounds and culture, he has been given the task of picking up from where they left off and getting Inter back on the trophy trail.
“Everyone here is very grateful for everything they did, and it’s sad they’ve gone,” the 21-year-old told FIFA.com. “I was a bit down about the fact we weren’t together any more, but sometimes you need a change of scene and new goals.
“They helped me a lot at the start here and it didn’t take me long to settle in. Now I’m showing what I can do on the pitch. I’m improving every day and getting a lot of support.”
Overhauling a successful side is never an easy task, the process of blooding new players while lauding the heroes of conquests past always proving fraught with difficulties. Juan sees the changeover as necessary, however.
He said: “I think every team has to make the kind of transition that Inter, a club that had won the lot, has gone through. It brings new blood into the team and fresh faces who want to show what they can do.”
An integral part of Inter’s generational handover, the former Internacional player arrived at the San Siro in January along with Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin, the duo later being joined by the likes of Uruguayans Walter Gargano and Alvaro Pereira, Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, Argentinian striker Rodrigo Palacio and Italian veteran Antonio Cassano.
While some might see Andrea Stramaccioni’s team as a work in progress, Inter’s class of 2012 are ready to fight for silverware, a point they proved by ending Juventus’s record 49-game unbeaten run in Serie A with a 3-1 win in Turin earlier this month. Despite losing and then drawing in their next two games – the kind of inconsistent form that can sometimes bedevil a side going through changes – that notable Derby d’Italia victory proved the new-look Nerazzurri mean business.
“That win has given us the confidence to keep pushing on, and it was great for us to end their unbeaten record,” said Juan. “No-one believed in us when the season started and it was a huge result for us to go and win big at their place. There’s still a long way to go, though, and there’ll be more defeats on the way. We’re up there at the top, although Juve are still in the lead.”
Having moved to Milan at the start of the year, Juan has had plenty of time to get accustomed to the Italian way of life and the language, a process his team-mates past and present have played a big part in, as he explained:
“Everyone in the dressing room has helped me, even the Argentinians. People say they don’t speak to Brazilians but that’s not true. [Javier] Zanetti is a real captain and he’s always talking. It’s very rewarding to be around people like that.”
While he can still speak Portuguese with fellow countrymen Jonathan and Philippe Coutinho, Juan has also been getting to grips with Italian, helped by his language-student wife and by regular trips to the cinema, a favoured haunt of his since his Porto Alegre days.
“I’ll still go even if I don’t understand anything,” he explained. “I go to the movies whenever I’ve got time, sometimes twice a week. I like everything: horror films, comedies, romantic movies, and I really enjoyed the last James Bond film. My Italian’s coming on and I know how to get around the city now without having to rely on GPS.”
The movie buff's public profile is also rising, his face becoming more and more recognisable to people on the street: “More often than not they call me Jesus, because they usually call you by your surname here. I get more and more people stopping me, but I’m no Neymar – I can still go for my walks.”
If he continues to distinguish himself for Inter, that could well change.