When manager Claudio Ranieri signed him for FC Chelsea in 1999, Samuele Dalla Bona was arguably one of Italian football’s brightest young talents.
At the time, leaving the mighty Serie A for the Premier League was met with incredulity and bewilderness among Italian fans. Apart from Christian Vieri, who joined Atletico Madrid from Juventus one year earlier, it was rare that a young Italian footballer would quit the country to ply his trade abroad.
Yet, Dalla Bona leaving boyhood side Atalanta for Chelsea was a stark warning for the lame times that lay ahead for Italian football.
Only Marco Verratti’s move from Pescara to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 made more headlines, such was the respect his raw talent commanded.
Thus, in his three years in West London, he made quite an impact. Having almost immediately cemented a place in the team’s starting XI and consistently put in a shift, even Manchester United leader Roy Keane touted him as ‘the best young talent in the Premier League’ in 2000.
Pacy, aggressive, speed of thought, dribbling and goals. The midfielder had it all.
However, his move to AC Milan in 2002 turned his career upside down and today, six years into his early retirement, he still rues the infamous move that engineered his early decline.
I spoke to Dalla Bona on the eve of the World Cup play-off between Sweden and Italy tonight to get an insight into his thoughts about this historic match which, should things go awry, could see Italy miss out on the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Tonight Italy travel to Stockholm to face Sweden. What is your prediction for that match and who could be the key player?
It will be very hard but I think that in the end Italy will go through especially as the return leg will be played in Milan’s San Siro. Ciro Immobile’s pace and counter-attacking skills will make the difference for Italy. Sweden are very slow behind and Immobile can expose this ineradicable weak spot.
What would the World Cup lose without Italy?
Italy are a historical national team. Thus, a FIFA World Cup without us would be weird and a real disaster.
I think that missing out on Russia would represent one of the lowest points in Italian football history aside the match-fixing scandal of 2006. Having to watch the World Cup from home would be a real tragedy.
Why does Verratti play better at PSG than in the national team?
It is simple, at PSG he faces less pressure than with Italy. Verratti might be a great player but he will never be like Andrea Pirlo.
Everybody criticises manager Giampiero Ventura. Some even dream about Antonio Conte’s return should Italy make it to Russia…
Ventura is a very good manager but he is not suited to the national team. He is more a club manager. And I am honest to you, I am not a fan of him. In my modest opinion, he doesn’t deserve to manage Italy, he has done nothing to deserve it in his career. Getting Conte back for the World Cup? I don’t think that this could genuinely happen, although it would be great.
Could Italy go all the way in Russia should they make it there?
Absolutely. If we qualify we will go to Russia to ‘annoy’ everyone. Nobody has our defence and few can counter-attack like we do. I am sure many wouldn’t want to face us..
Conte to AC Milan next year?
Not yet, I think that he will manage Chelsea for another season and leave in 2019 for AC Milan. That’s his destiny.
Why is the Premier League better than Serie A?
More money, more beautiful venues, less pressure for the players and less risks outside the grounds. In Italy there’s often violence, while in England it’s rare.
What are the greatest memories from your time at Chelsea?
I miss everything from my time at Chelsea. I was only 17-years old when Chelsea signed me in 1999 and to live in a city like London was incredible. That game when we beat Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford is an indelible memory for me. That Manchester squad was blessed with some incredible players like Beckham, Veron, Blanc and Barthez. Going there and win against Sir Alex Ferguson’s mighty squad was incredible.So yeah, Chelsea was a great time and I wish I could relive all that…
Any plans for the future?
Good question. I would like to get back into the football world but I don’t know where and in what capacity. Being a professional football for over fifteen years and then taking up a complete new profession is so difficult.
Featured photograph: Wikimedia Commons