Exclusive interview: Gabriele Marcotti

Football Italiano catches up with Gabriele Marcotti, the highly-regarded football journalist who writes for numerous publications including Calcio Italia magazine and The Times newspaper.
What is your take on this season’s title-race with Milan on top, surprise packages Napoli and Lazio, and Inter’s struggles?
It has obviously been a pretty unpredictable season thus far and when teams are bunched near the top it is the usual debate about whether it is a sign of quality and strength in depth or general mediocrity. People are having the same debate in the Premier League. Lazio are definitely a surprise, especially because [Tommaso] Rocchi has not played much and [Mauro] Zárate has not been productive. Obviously Hernanes has been a big boost (like [Stefano] Mauri) but I think Lazio has also been lucky. Napoli is a team built the right way, piece by piece. It looks like they finally have the stable ownership you need to compete. I still think Inter will win the title, Milan have too many question marks (depth in central defence, keeping all the front guys happy, injuries). Roma have suffered from the turbulence but they can get back into the top four. Juventus have been very unlucky with injuries and paid the price for some poor decisions in the summer. Palermo though, for me, has impressed me as much anybody.
What has been Massimiliano Allegri’s secret to Milan’s current good form?
I had a lot of doubts about him and I think he showed courage and personality in dropping Ronaldinho and going with Robinho and [Zlatan] Ibrahimović with [Clarence] Seedorf/[Andrea] Pirlo behind. Now though he has got the same issue, as [Alexandre] Pato is fit and [Antonio] Cassano is on board. Not sure he can make it work. Also – but this tends to happen when Ibrahimović is on board – Milan are not playing as well (despite results) as in previous years.
Serie A has seen some new faces this term, Hernanes, Philippe Coutinho, Robinho, Josip Iličić and of course the return of Ibrahimović. In your opinion who has been the most influential to their club so far?
Hernanes, by a country mile. Without him, they would not be where they are.
You recently published an article “Inter Gives Love Another Chance”. Do you think that Leonardo’s tight relationship with the players and the fact that they want to play for him, will be enough for their league and European aspirations?
No, the key will be getting the injured guys back. But it is pretty obvious some players were not happy under Rafa Benítez. And I don’t know that his relationship is that tight, he’s simply a more effusive manager. And sometimes with veteran players who have already been successful that is what you need most.
This season has seen Cassano, Adrian Mutu and Federico Marchetti frozen out of clubs because the President has taken umbrage to their actions. This seems to be a very Italian trait. Are Presidents viewed by fans and media has having made the correct decision in these cases?
In Mutu’s case yes, in Marchetti’s case no. Cassano is more difficult to read. A lot also depends on who the President is. [Sampdoria President] Riccardo Garrone is universally respected, [Cagliari President] Massimo Cellino is not and just comes across as vindictive (a bit like Claudio Lotito with Goran Pandev and Cristian Ledesma at Lazio). It is tough to say without knowing all the facts.
Cesena, Lecce and Brescia have all given a good account of themselves since being promoted last term and have played some good football claiming one or two scalps. Even so, they occupy three of the bottom four places. Does it show a widening gap between Serie A and Serie B?
I think it speaks more about the investments made. Cesena is historically a Serie B club, Lecce, despite punching above their weight for several years, really are a Serie B side too. Brescia are perhaps more of a yo-yo team. But I think it is wrong to spot a trend there because, with the new TV contract, plenty of things will change, especially for the smaller teams.
Since Calciopoli, Juventus have been striving to return to their former glory. Do you think that they are going in the right direction or do you think they are still far from the finished article?
They have made some big missteps, you can only rebuild so many times. That said, the stadium is definitely a step in the right direction and they are ideally placed for UEFA Financial Fair Play, which is important (and, I think, slightly underestimated by the likes of Milan and Inter). In that sense they are going in the right direction. On the pitch though, I think they overpaid for [Simone] Pepe and [Fabio] Quagliarella (not to mention Jorge Martínez who I like, but not at those numbers [a reported €12m was required to secure the Uruguayan]). They have also struggled with injuries more than other clubs. I think they have a lot of tough decisions ahead.
The effect Calciopoli had on Serie A was evident. Even though the league has seen an influx of superb talent, how long do you think it will take for Italy’s Serie A to become able to compete for the premier players in the world?
Things are cyclical. But to compete as the best league in the world, Italy needs three things. A more rational division of TV money (and, thankfully, we are on our way to that), better stadiums that actually generate revenue (here, there is lots of talk but little action, Juve aside) and tighter controls on what kind of people own clubs and what they actually do – last year a third of Serie A owners had criminal or civil convictions of some kind. That is unacceptable, we need owners who are examples of legality rather than “furbi”.
Do you think Calciopoli has had an effect on the attendances in Serie A? In the 1990s grounds were often full but in recent years the attendances have dropped. Is this because of the decline of the Italian game or do you think it is an accumulation of factors?
It is an accumulation of factors – more football on TV, bad stadiums, violence (and, more importantly, the reaction to that violence in the form of “tessera del tifoso” and stricter controls), higher ticket prices (compared to the 1980s). But the violence issue is on its way to being resolved and fans are getting used to the tighter controls. We are not there yet, of course, but lots of signs seems encouraging.
What is the general consensus in Italy over the title revoked from Juventus that Inter were awarded?
I cannot speak for an entire country, but I think most feel that it was right to revoke the titles. As for assigning to Inter, that is a different matter. But in cycling and athletics when the winner is found to have cheated it is pretty customary for the title to go to the runner-up.
Have you heard or seen any evidence that Inter may have had some involvement in this scandal as was suggested by Luciano Moggi’s legal team?
No. And I think the way he muddies the waters is pretty ridiculous. If you take the time to read through the transcripts and examine the evidence, there is no way you can compare the two things. All this discussion about who said what in Giacinto Facchetti’s conversations versus hours and hours of transcripts, untraceable SIM cards and direct evidence of intimidation. And that is without even getting into the GEA case. The very existence of GEA under those circumstances was simply shameful.
On New Year’s day James Richardson and yourself presented Serie A: The season so far. Do you think that ESPN’s coverage of Serie A would benefit from more detail, like adding build-up before games and reaction afterwards, or bringing in a midweek magazine programme?
It certainly would, but this is only ESPN’s second season in the UK and they are taking on a juggernaut like Sky. I think they are taking things one step at a time, which I think makes sense given the circumstances.
Do you think interest in Serie A is growing in the UK at the moment? What do you think the reasons are for this if so?
Interest in all football, across Europe, is up. There are many more knowledgeable fans out there than ever before, people care about what’s happening at Barcelona or Milan more than what’s happening at smaller Premier League or Championship clubs (unless it is the club they follow). We just live in a more globalised society I guess.
You write a column for a new look Calcio Italia magazine, are you impressed with their coverage of the game?
I think they have long had a very committed and talented group of people who did very well on a limited budget. What the new team at the top has brought this year is, I think, better design and more contemporary content. I think it is important.
You have worked on radio and television, recorded podcasts, write for numerous publications and you regularly tweet (Twitter.com/@marcotti). Which platform are you most passionate about when it comes to discussing Calcio?
I like it all on different platforms. I am foremost a print journalist so that is what I enjoy most. But when I did radio, I really liked it too. Obviously on things like Twitter you cannot get into in-depth discussions, but it is a fast, effective and personal way to communicate. You need to be able to work across all platforms in this day and age.
What do you think could be done to boost interest in the Italian game in the UK?
It would be great if more games were on TV – the capacity is there, but I think the Lega needs to be more creative. They should produce a high quality in-house highlights show (not like the crap they have now) which they could then give to rights-holders along with the games (the way the Bundesliga do). Also, while games should remain exclusive to whoever buys the rights, they should sell highlights to everyone at an affordable price. It is a great promotional tool.
Can you clarify if your team is Monza or Inter?
As a child, I was an Inter fan. To me being a fan means giving unconditional love. If you are covering a team you cannot do that. You have to be critical when necessary. Plus, having met some Inter guys when I started out, it was hard to be a fan because they were unpleasant or incompetent (and in several cases both). So I redoubled my love for Monza. I do not cover Lega Pro so I can just be a fan in a way I could not be with a Serie A club.
What is the best game you have seen in Serie A?
Honestly tough to say. So, so many.
Who is best placed to succeed Gianluigi Buffon as Azzurri No 1?
Salvatore Sirigu.
Is Fabio Capello the right man for the England job?
If you want the best possible chance right now, yes.
What is the last game you watched in Serie A, and do you sit in the Curva or in the other parts of the stadium?
Where I sit depends on what I’m doing. Last game I watched was Inter vs. Sampdoria, 1-1 back in October.
What do you think of footballitaliano.co.uk?
I like the way it combines news and analysis with some historical/explanatory stuff, like the Andrea Tallarita content.

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