What was it about the make-up of that side that won you the World Cup? To truly understand you need to be part of it. The 2006 group took two years to build – enough time to understand that when one of you is in trouble you can always get support from team-mates, and when you need someone you’ll always have them at your side. And you might not believe it, but in those 40 days [World Cup 2006] we had a lot of fun, too.
How much did that victory owe to the calciopoli scandal? It’s too easy to put it all down to our reaction to calciopoli. In our individual roles we were the strongest in Europe: Buffon, Nesta, Totti, Del Piero, Pirlo, Zambrotta. In fact, we didn’t win enough. We should have taken the Euro 2000 trophy home from Rotterdam too.
It was the biggest achievement of your career – how were you the night before the final? I went for a walk around the hotel rooms. No one could sleep – Materazzi, Iaquinta, none of them – they were so nervous. After a while I said: “OK, it’s been a pleasure. Now I’m going to sleep.” They looked at me in disbelief that I could sleep. But I have always been tranquil on the eve of big matches. No one can stop me sleeping.
Talking of sleeping – is it true you took the World Cup to bed that night? Yes, I took it to my bedroom, and my daughter and I slept with the cup.
Will you be sleeping with it again come July? There are too many variables. There will be a lot of difficulties in terms of climate and ambience. It will be winter, and you play one match at sea level, then the next at 1,600 metres. Today I’d go for Spain, Argentina, England and Brazil.
What about Italy? Exactly – I said ‘today’. You could add those who improve round by round, and at the end you find the same names – Germany included.
What do you say to those who say Italy are too old to win the World Cup? It isn’t our [the old guard’s] fault if the [upcoming] generation doesn’t improve, unfortunately. That’s why it is better to put faith in pride and experience. We are nearly all over 30, but qualified for this World Cup with a game to spare. This tournament isn’t a league with 50 matches in which your physical condition is crucial. At a World Cup, seven matches is all it takes. That’s why we’re going for it.
What’s it like for the young players? It is a lot easier – they know what they have to do. We are still friendly – we have never made anybody nervous or anxious. In a club this might be a defect though…
What do you mean? In my younger days if you wanted to say something in the dressing room you had to put your hand up.
Do newcomers like Bonucci and Rossi ever call you ‘sir’ or ‘uncle’? If they tried it, they run the risk of staying home next time. But they must show signs of growing – there is a need for a new generation.
Fabio Capello is someone you might consider calling ‘sir’. What do you think of what he’s done with England? I’m happy for his success in a place where they are a bit presumptuous sports-wise. To put themselves back in order, England had to call one of our coaches. That means that our culture clearly works. Capello certainly starts from an advantageous position – his team will scare others. They will be among the teams to beat. Other than the Italian mentality, they have the power of a fantastic generation, with its last chance to show its true strength. Lampard, Gerrard, Terry are the real thing, and they are going to South Africa to win.
So how about England vs Italy in the final – with a win for Italy? Lifting it again? That is a crazy dream. I don’t think any captain has lifted it twice.
Would you then slink happily into the sunset? With two World Cups in the cabinet? It would then be right to step aside. I have a strong will to train and play, but with every day that passes it gets harder, because in everybody’s eyes there is the 2006 World Cup, and every performance is compared with that.
Interview: June 2010.