The number "10" is that player who surprises and excites, “wrong-foots” everyone with a piece of skill perhaps he's not even fully aware of. This number was in my destiny right away: they gave it to me when I wasn't yet six years old and I have brought it with me since I wore my first jersey for the Oratorio San Sebastiano team. The gift I asked for Christmas was always the same every year: football boots – made of fabric at that time – and a leather ball. I could have joined AC Milan, but the call-up accidentally came to Real Jesi - who had organized the tryout thanks to Gabriele and Andrea Cardinaletti – instead of Aurora Jesi, the club I was playing for. Fate decided Bologna and so at only 13 I left Jesi - the town where I was born - and the warmth of my parents' affection.
The memory of the tryout organized thanks to the determination of my father - who told me "play more backward, so you get more balls and they may notice you” – is still alive, then I was architect of the rest. After 40 minutes of practice I was summoned to the office of Bologna youth sector to put pen to paper on a contract (signed by dad because I was only thirteen years old!).
The first person to understand that football was my future was Aldo, my father. A man who before his passion for football has given me the value of honesty and simplicity. My mother Marianna would have rather avoided my departure from Jesi: I knew that staying at home I would have done little, I had to get away from everything and everyone. It's difficult to convey in words the feelings and thoughts of those years: happy but scared, determined but not aware of my talent yet. I followed the instinct - as I still do today - and this has brought me far.
My goal was to play football and I was amazed when I realized that Bologna would have recognized an expense reimbursement - 90 thousand lire per month! - I was puzzled because I was being paid to play football and have fun! I drew the attention of the Rossoblu youth sector and after only three years - just 16 years old - I made my debut in the Primavera team. They were exciting and tough years. I saw good and promising players coming and then leaving, I was afraid it could have happened to me too. And so I worked hard, I trained, I was careful not to get injured... I had to give more, be more than the others, be ready for my chance.
My first Serie A call-up happened by chance. Coach Radice - seeking a replacement for an injured first-team player and not finding Marco Macina at school - called me. I remember the feeling of being in the same place as great champions. I had seen those players when my dad would take me to the stadium to watch the games or on television for 45 minutes (that's what they used to broadcast at that time once a week on Sundays)! I felt that maybe my dream could come true, I had something different from others but it was not enough, I needed to be right in the head, have determination and will. Today I understand that to become a great player you need to have "something" more than the others, as well as an immense talent and spirit of sacrifice.
I found a perfect youth sector with the Rossoblu and quality coaches as Perani, Fogli, Soncini, Bonini, Zagatti, Mantovani and his general secretary Emidio Martelli. Bologna was the ideal city to grow up in: there I met special people who received me and immediately cared about me. Bologna projected me into the great football: on September 13, 1981 my first time in the Serie A – I was only 16 - when Rossoblu coach Tarcisio Burgnich gave me my debut in Bologna vs Cagliari.
My first goal in the Serie A came less than a month after the debut to seal the 2-2 draw in the 78th minute of Como vs Bologna. It was the first of nine goals I scored in my maiden top-flight season, an important tally for a young boy. President Paolo Mantovani was intrigued by my abilities and brought me to Sampdoria. That was insane! He paid Bologna two and a half billion old lire – that would mean €40 million today – plus four players for a 16-year-old. Bologna sporting director Paolo Borea - who had moved to Sampdoria - was crucial to convince me to follow him to Genoa. President Mantovani's great Sampdoria was about to take shape.
Only at that point I realized that I could not be anything else but a footballer, the best job in the world. My dream was coming true, I realized it when many clubs wanted me and Mantovani chose me despite the price. I improved and I began to understand that I could make it, I had to develop an eye for the goal and for the victory. I did not want to be a meteor: it was my chance, I could not miss it. I was aware that everything could have ended in an instant.
The characteristics of the place to live also matter to a player. I immediately made a mistake on Genoa, on the occasion of an away game arriving on a bus I had only seen viaducts and outskirts. At that time I thought: “I will never come to live here.” I was wrong! In Genoa I spent 15 years of my life and my career as a player, there I became a father of my children Filippo, Andrea and Camilla. We made history at Sampdoria with exceptional team-mates, sporting director Paolo Borea, coach Vujadin Boskov and above all the greatest president, Paolo Mantovani.
Sometimes I think that someone like Mantovani never existed. He was a dream, a man too great to be true. He used to speak once a year, but when he opened his mouth he was fulminating, two words were enough to get to the heart of the players. An immense man and president, his death left an unfillable void. Sampdoria, the fans, the people are still inside of me. I met the President for the first time in the French Riviera - where he spent the summer holidays – along with the Samp captain, I was 16 years old but the understanding with the President was immediate, he was a man who did not need to raise his voice to be heard, a “beacon” and a source of inspiration.
THE GOAL TWINS
My consecration came with the Blucerchiati also thanks to coach Vujadin Boskov who made my youth extraordinarily beautiful. Today he's no longer with us and I imagine him in heaven, sitting next to Mantovani... In Genoa I won my first Scudetto, the Coppa Italia four times, a Supercoppa Italiana - “scoring the winning goal” - and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
At Sampdoria I found a very intense understanding with my attacking partner Gianluca Vialli. We were different but we fit very well together as two poles attracting each other. Together we became 'The Goal Twins' for our understanding in front of goal: providing an assist for a team-mate was like scoring to me. I knew Luca because we were Under-21 team-mates and I had encouraged him several times to come to Sampdoria. After him, all great talents arrived and the team grew.
It was a magical moment, a group of friends who became a group of champions. In the 1991/92 season with Sampdoria I had the opportunity to compete for a Champions League final against Johann Cruyff and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona. We went close to a feat as we lost in overtime with Koeman's goal in the 112th minute. That match remains my only real regret. A strong sorrow. We knew that it would have been “our first and last chance.”
After the Champions League final a cycle had ended. President Mantovani - who was forward-looking - realized that he had to sell some champions to finance another great Sampdoria signing promising youngsters, future champions to win again. In the summer of 1993 he began his project. I remember a phone call: I saw everyone leaving, so I said, "President, I'm leaving too because how can we win without the team-mates..." His reply, after telling me to get lost and hanging up the phone, was the purchase of four players like Platt, Jugovic, Gullit and Evani. He would have sold everyone but me. And I could not go to a club different from Mantovani's one. Then the unexpected happened... President Mantovani did not have the time and the way to carry out his project: on October 14, 1993 a great man left this world.
MY FIRST SCUDETTO
It was 1990, after eight years of improvement the team was ready for Sampdoria's first Scudetto, we wanted to be the history of that club. I clearly remember the moment when I realized that it was our year. On the plane during the flight back from Naples to Genoa right after the 4-1 win over Maradona's Napoli who had won the Scudetto the previous year. We had the strength to overturn a 1-0 disadvantage to a 2-1 and a 4-1 victory. Two goals from Vialli, two from me. The Napoli fans were standing to applaud Sampdoria at the end of the game. In that moment I realized that we could won the Serie A championship, it only depended on us, we were ready. The Scudetto 'formally' came in the penultimate matchday of the season in Lecce, but 'substantially' in the third from last matchday against Inter Milan - where Pagliuca saved everything – ended with a 2-0 win. To me this was the crucial game of that first Scudetto. It was the victory of friendship and everyone's work - the president, the managers, the coach, the team and the loyal Sampdoria fans.
The "Victory" is the result of an alchemy which allows the coexistence of several elements, all essential.
THE SECOND SCUDETTO
It was time for new experiences, so in 1997 I decided to give in to the lure of Lazio president Cragnotti and to the great beauty of Rome, the Eternal City. There had also been a meeting with Moratti and a possible move to Inter was exceeded by Cragnotti's speed and timeliness. The meeting with the Lazio President in Milan was important, he wanted to win and I felt that I could end my career as a footballer lifting more trophies. The prospect of a coach like Sven Goran Eriksson was crucial for my choice to join Lazio. I arrived in Rome at age 32, everyone thought my career was already over, instead... In Rome I featured in a series of victories under coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, with my friend Attilio Lombardo and champions such as Juan Sebastián Verón and Sinisa Mihajlović. I won my second Scudetto and my second UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, we beat Manchester United and won the UEFA Super Cup, we brought home the Coppa Italia twice and a Supercoppa Italiana. Rome is an extraordinary city, and the fans are so present and passionate... a city where football is lived with pathos and participation. At first I thought: “I cannot live here", I felt it was too chaotic - coming from Genoa - and instead it was love. Fans in Rome hardly know equal in the world: unique! They were years of happiness and glory: tempting city and offering great opportunities.
After scoring nine goals in 26 appearances for the Italian Under-21 team, I made my senior international debut on May 26, 1984. During a tour in the United States coach Enzo Bearzot sent me on in the second half of Canada vs Italy and we won 2-0. My adventure with the Azzurri ended ten years later with Germany vs Italy 2-1 on March 23, 1994 after 36 appearances, the 1988 UEFA European Championship and four goals. I wish I had more as a player of the Italian national team. The thrill of representing your own country in the world can't be expressed through words, it was an honor to have had the opportunity!
FROM THE PITCH TO THE BENCH
At 36 I decided to leave professional football as a player, the great chance of going from the pitch to the bench was coming after taking my first steps as assistant coach alongside Eriksson with the Biancocelesti. During the 2000/01 season, Fiorentina president Vittorio Cecchi Gori offered me the helm of La Viola. The first trophy came right away by winning the Coppa Italia, a competition very dear to me (I've won it 10 times, four as a coach and six as a player.) I left Florence and went to Lazio, my return to Rome. The only club that I had the opportunity to experience both as a player and as a coach, two very different perspectives of the same environment. The beginning at Lazio was abrupt, economic and financial reasons led to sacrifices and to the loss of champions as Nesta... The challenge was to win with a club in difficulty and in metamorphosis. I faced the changes with calm and football. In every game I put on the field a team playing well and having fun, and there came a Champions League placement and again the Coppa Italia win. I left my heart in Rome: it was the place where everything ended – I finished my career as a player - and everything started – I established myself as a coach.
THE CONSECRATION AS A COACH
In the summer of 2004, president Massimo Moratti appointed me at the helm of Inter to end a trophy drought lasting since 1998. I stayed in Milan until 2009: those were important years for me in which I conquered the Scudetto three times, the Coppa Italia twice and a Supercoppa Italia. In particular, we won the second league title in 2006/07 by also setting the European record of 17 consecutive wins. The arrival at Inter was not easy: everything was to be built and the media pressure was high. In Milan I experienced the emotion of winning the first Scudetto as a coach and the consciousness of doing my job well as a manager in a team of champions. I'm proud of having brought Inter to win after 20 years right where great coaches had come without winning.
During the last months in Milan I began to feel the desire for new experiences and to measure myself with different leagues from the Italian Serie A.
A DREAM CALLED PREMIER LEAGUE
After ending my relationship with Inter, in 2009 I decided to leave Italy and embrace the experience of English football landing in the Premier League to replace Mark Hughes as Manchester City coach halfway through the season. The first British term ended with a fifth place, but in 2011 we got great satisfaction as we won the FA Cup breaking a 35-year title drought. In the following season we won the Premier League. The last match of that championship was sensational: in only a minute I thought I'd have won, then lost and again won it. In those seconds I had just a thought in my head: "We can not lose" the Premier League. Ballotelli's entrance and his assist for Aguero were crucial. A coach prepares the game trying to anticipate every circumstance to be ready for any decision. However, the game often takes a different direction and then only the instinct remains, the stroke of genius - that idea not emerged in many hours of preparation suddenly arrives in a second - and it's a victory!
In the summer of that season we also won the Community Shield beating Chelsea. In England I grew up from coach to manager, I understood some management aspects important for a football club, now more and more projected into the global world and business.
When I left Manchester, City fans' gesture of dedicating me a newspaper page was touching.
THE ADVENTURE IN TURKEY
After the experience in the Italian Serie A and the one in the Premier League, I lived another fascinating challenge. At the end of September 2013 I accepted president Ünal Aysal's offer to sit on the Galatasaray bench and replace Fatih Terim. Thus I began my adventure at the helm of the most successful and popular club in Turkey. Eight months later we finished second in the league and won the Turkish Cup. That's what football is about, it gives you the chance to know new countries and new cultures. Every experience, every nation, every city with its fans, every club and its executives are a personal and professional development. I've always been honored to be part of a club, first as a player and later as a coach.
THE RETURN IN INTER
I'd never thought of coming back, all happened so quickly.. and it often does in football. on the 13th of november they called me from inter and explained me the project. I liked it and i decided to accept it. on the 14th of november, 10 years after the first time, i was on the black&blue bench. Inter is a great club, I am happy to be here again and to work in italy.
THE ITALIAN FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME
On the 22nd February I received the great honor of joining the 'Italian football Hall of fame' in the coaches category. A recognition to my career that filled me with pride. I was very thrilled at the ceremony organized by the FIGC which took place in Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence: here I was rewarded with 9 other champions and together we joined a footballing firmament where 47 stars already shone.