Interview

Barella: “I’m no Xavi”

Nicolò Barella may laugh off comparisons to Barcelona ace Xavi Hernández, but there is no doubt that the 23-year-old Inter and Italy midfielder has the quality to shine on the biggest stage

INTERVIEW Paolo Menicucci

While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

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While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Interview

Barella: “I’m no Xavi”

Nicolò Barella may laugh off comparisons to Barcelona ace Xavi Hernández, but there is no doubt that the 23-year-old Inter and Italy midfielder has the quality to shine on the biggest stage

INTERVIEW Paolo Menicucci

While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

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While forwards Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were winning the headlines for Inter last season, just behind them Nicolò Barella was quietly making a name for himself as well. The young midfielder marked his Champions League debut with a late goal against Slavia Praha to earn a point in Prague, then established himself as a cornerstone of the midfield as Antonio Conte’s side reached the Europa League final. A hard-working, box-to-box midfielder with a passing range to please any striker, it’s easy to see why Barella so impressed Antonio Conte that the likes of Christian Eriksen have struggled for playing time. Here he looks ahead to the new Champions League campaign, reveals what makes this Inter side tick and explains why a bit of Sardinian blood can take you a long way.

You are perhaps the most important Sardinian football player since Gianfranco Zola. How do those Sardinia roots show in your game?

Thank you for the compliment, but I still have a lot to prove. There have been many other players who have done well, so I can only hope to become even more important. Being Sardinian is something that I am very proud of, and especially having been born in Cagliari. We may appear to be a very close-minded culture but we have a lot of inner strength that ties us together, and that makes me really proud. 

In Italy, your position is called mezzala. Can you explain what is expected of you on the pitch?

It really depends on the manager, as everyone has their own interpretation of it. Here the mezzala is expected to go deep and be good at interpreting both phases of play in order to help out in defending and attacking. He’s the bridging agent between the two.

At Cagliari, you played as a playmaker and as an attacking midfielder. How important is versatility in your game?

Different managers have seen different skills in me and I’d like to thank them all, because they’ve taught me how to play in many different positions. I’ve always tried to interpret them all in my own way. So, I’ve learned a lot and these teachings will certainly help me a lot in my career. 

Many former footballers have made some important comparisons between yourself and other great players from the past: Roberto Mancini has compared you to Marco Tardelli; you remind Demetrio Albertini of Xavi. How do you feel when your name is associated with these players?

I think the comparison between Xavi and myself is far-fetched [laughs]. Players like Xavi are one in a million. He is unique and has proven so with a glittering career. It’s inconceivable for me to be compared to him. On the other hand, these comparisons are nice, of course. They’re an additional motivation to improve myself, but I’m a team player and I do what my manager asks me to do in my own way.  

When you were younger, did any specific footballer inspire you to become who you are today?

Yes. As I’ve always said, my idol was [Dejan] Stanković. I’ve always been a fan of his style of play and of his goals, especially. He was also a versatile midfielder and had an individual interpretation of all the midfield positions. That’s something that has always fascinated me. 

Your current coach Antonio Conte’s game was also quite similar to yours. Does he give you advice in that sense?

Yes and no. He hasn’t given me any direct advice on my position, but he’s helped me a lot since I’ve come here. I’ve grown into a more complete player and, although the praise I’ve received is nice, I feel that I have become better at managing games and improving my timing. In these aspects he’s helped me a lot. 


Last year you made your Champions League debut against Slavia and scored an important late goal. Tell us about the emotions you felt that night…

It was very emotional because I wasn’t in the starting XI and didn’t even expect to come on, so it was a strange feeling. I guess that my joyful scream was muted because I had only scored to earn us a draw and not a winning goal. Let’s just say that I was very happy but at the same time sad not to have helped my team to win.

Last season you narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stage. How do Inter have to improve this time around?

It was our first year and we’ve developed, which has helped us to achieve some important things. Maybe just the last step was missing. In the group stage we played some great games against Barcelona and Dortmund but, in the end, we lost away to those teams. That’s what we have to do better. We have to close the game out and not leave games open when we face big teams. 

Tell us about the run to the Europa League final.

It was fantastic. After a difficult period with the lockdown, we started playing again with a lot of matches in a short space of time. And in the Europa League we created a fantastic, harmonious group together. Our only regret was going home without the trophy, but I hope that there’ll be time to lift a trophy sooner or later.

Talking about the tightness of the group, I remember one interview with Romelu Lukaku after a game in which he had scored and he immediately said that you were the man of the match. How nice is it to be so united as a team?

It’s really nice. In fact, I thanked Romelu. I said that he was too nice, because I’m the type of player that thinks about the team before I think about myself. Sometimes, it leads me to make certain mistakes, but I’m not interested in scoring goals. I’m interested in doing my bit and winning together, and I hope that doing my bit helps the team to achieve our goals and to win. 

You were 13 when Inter became the last Italian team to win the Champions League in 2010. Do you see any similarities with this team in terms of character?

That’s a difficult one. That was a great team with some extraordinary players. Not that this team hasn’t got any, but we have to show it on the pitch. They showed it on the pitch. With our upward trajectory, we’ll try to do our best.

Penalty Pedigree

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