Giuseppe Bergomi: 'I regret not playing in England – I could have joined Coventry'

Marco Muretti chats to the Inter Milan and Italy legend about saying no to Gordon Strachan, his old gaffer Roy Hodgson and Saturday's Manaus showdown...

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Hello Giuseppe. What's your prediction for the Italy-England match?

It will be a draw. Even though both Cesare Prandelli and Roy Hodgson have started to rejuvenate their squads with some young players, there’s going to be too much experience on the pitch for either to risk to losing the first game.

Which of the two has more of a chance of winning the World Cup?Italy. We have more quality, we have more individual talents. Look at the spines of the two teams: Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli are better than their opposite numbers. And the English players have expended more energy during the season: I’m not referring to physical energy, but mental energy. The English always gave everything they have – we’re better at conserving our energy. For that I think that Hodgson, whom I had as a coach at Inter, will be very important. The more he can get England to relax the better it will be for them – it’s probably a good thing if he allows them to have a beer and not worry too much about what they eat - they need to relax mentally.

As a great defender in your day, what’s the best way to stop Balotelli and Wayne Rooney?

Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka know Balotelli: the most important thing with him is, when he drops away from the goal, to avoid letting him turn: he has a great shot, he’s very dangerous even from deep. With Rooney, the most important thing will be the pressing of our attackers and midfielders: if you cut the supply line to him, you exclude him from the game and create big problems for him.

Is there an England player you would like to see lining up for Italy?

Steven Gerrard. Even though he’s now 34, I’m still a big fan. I love watching Liverpool and a lot of that is down to him. When he lost that damned ball against Chelsea, which basically cost Liverpool the title, I was incredibly sad. He’s still a wonderful player.

Which youngsters for Italy and in England could make their mark at this World Cup?

For us, the youngsters are like a side dish – they are not essential. Maybe Ciro Immobile: I’ve seen him training in Brazil. I admired his movement against Fluminense, I had to admit that I didn’t believe he could be that strong. And this year he has been transforming everything he touches into a goal. As for England, it has to be Ross Barkley.

Bergomi enjoyed a 16-year career with Italy - including the Italia 90 semi-final

Would you agree that Italy’s defence is the weakest it’s been in the last 20 years?

The real problem for us could be the uncertainty about the formation: the 4-1-3-1-1 seems to me quite problematic - I’m not sure Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Danielle De Rossi can play together. For England, I think the defence could be the weakness. Joe Hart is not bad, but he’s not a marvel either. And the fulcrum of the midfield, with Gerrard and Jordan Henderson, is not always that fluid. 

Looking beyond Saturday’s match, who will win the World Cup and why?

I think it will all come down to fitness and physical condition. If Italy cannot win, I’d like to see Brazil do it. It would be a tragedy for them to lose on home ground like they did in 1950. And Luiz Felipe Scolari has given them a precise identity. That said, this World Cup seems to me to be designed for Argentina. They have an easy group, and looking at the draw they won’t face strong opponents until the semi-finals.

Any good anecdotes from the matches you played against England?

I always looked forward to playing against them and every time I did, it was a boring match: a 0-0 at Wembley, a 1-1 in Mexico. Then, I played against them in a match that none of us wanted - the third-place game at Italia 1990: we were so strong that year, it was a pity not to win.

Did you ever come close to playing in England?

Once. And it has been one of the biggest regrets of my career that it didn’t happen. When I was coming to the end of my playing days, Gordon Strachan was the coach of Coventry. He came to me and said 'Ronald Nilsson is leaving, he’s 36 the same as you. If you want to come and join us, we’d love to have you here'. I said no. I wanted to finish my career having played only for Inter Milan. But looking back it’s a big regret. Maybe, if I had accepted, I would now be working as a manager. In England, they always gave you the chance to become the manager of a team in the Premier League or the Championship very quickly. Look at Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo… even Attilio Lombardo was given his chance. But it’s gone. And I’m happy to be at Sky [Giuseppe is the main co-commentator at Sky Sports Italia].

"Haven't you heard? Coventry's the new MIlan"

Hodgson coached for almost four years in Italy at Inter Milan and Udinese  is this an advantage for England?

He’s a very good coach, one of the ones who left me something. When I coached the youngsters at Atalanta, I often remembered and repeated his drills and also some of his quotations. He used to quote Winston Churchill, he was good at motivating the players. Maybe when he was at Inter he was too focused on the attack, and he didn’t do that much to sort out the defence. Now he has changed. If I’m not mistaken England conceded just four goals during qualifying. And I’m not convinced he’ll stick with the 4-2-3-1: I think he might go with one more pure midfielder, and opt for a 4-4-2 or even a 4-3-3.

When he was at Inter, Hodgson asked to sell Andrea Pirlo, who became a superstar at AC Milan. Do you think Pirlo will be even more motivated to play against him?

But that’s a myth, it’s a lie. It wasn’t him that wanted to sell Pirlo, or Roberto Carlos for that matter. It was the club. He wasn’t in agreement with the decisions. Believe me, I was there.

Which player that Hodgson left at home would you have picked for England?

Maybe John Terry. Perhaps Hodgson lacked the courage to stand out and secure Terry’s call-up. But what really surprised me most is the absence of Tom Cleverley: I imagined that Hodgson would call him up despite the fact he hasn’t played that much this year.

Interview via Libero Language Lab