"I AM MY OWN BIGGEST SOURCE OF PRESSURE"
"I AM MY OWN BIGGEST SOURCE OF PRESSURE"
During his presentation this past summer, Graziano Pellè (22) noted he's not a magician and he refused to make any predictions. Now, nine months later, he is in a much better position to tell us how he's doing. What's going well and what isn't in a season AZ is a mere shadow of itself.
It's a Friday afternoon. The guests on the heated terrace of La Terrazza are enjoying the rather weak spring sunshine. The sun room of the Italian restaurant in Bergen resists the cold in a town of architects and artists. Footballers too know where to find the curious settlement. "We've served pretty much every AZ player currently in the squad", manager Daniël Monasso explains, "But when Pellè shows up, it's a challenge for us. Italians are demanding customers, they know food."
When Pellè steers his car down the street, our eyes drift to the entrance in anticipation. But feeling well at home in the establishment, the tall Italian suddenly appears from the kitchen. He came in through the back door, the artist's entrance. Together with his Italian friend Andrea, he shakes hands and sits down to discuss his nine months in Alkmaar. “I think we should eat”, he remarks with typical Italian friendliness.
A new club, a new country and an extremely tough season. How do you feel about all that?
“Evidently it wasn't easy for me. I had to get used to a lot of things such as the language, the culture and more. I also played most of my games during my first months with the youth squad, which can be hard to get motivate for too.”
”Van Gaal told me to learn English first, moving on to Dutch should be easier when I start my lessons this summer”
You're in the first team now and you've scored a few goals too. How would you rate your own performance so far?”
“I've been feeling more confident lately. I've gotten comfortable being in the Netherlands and playing for AZ. That positive feeling doesn't really compared to our results of late, which are pretty awful. I do feel I'm improving, especially when I compare it to my first months here. I've been feeling more... free.”
What did you know about Dutch football before you came here?
“1995! Ajax in the Champions League. They beat AC Milan three times that year, incredible. Ajax became Italy's nightmare. I thought it their achievements were absolutely unique, that wonderful attacking football. One year later they were in the final yet again, but this time we won (Juventus, ed.). I, and I think many Italians, always picture that Ajax squad when we think of Dutch football.”
How important is football to a little boy growing up in Southeast Italy?
“Very in my case. My father was a football player, he used to play for Lecce. I would always visit games with him. When I was six he took me to Lecce's home game against AC Milan where I saw Van Basten play live, he was very impressive.”
“My whole childhood evolved around school and football. In Italy, family is very important. We lived in a giant four story flat building with almost the whole family. I would always play ball on the street with my cousin and of course on Lecce's training ground where my uncle was youth coach.”
Football stadiums in Italy are rarely sold out, how does that compare to Holland?
“Italy's stadiums are empty because of the hardcore fans, the ultra's, who are so fanatical parents prefer to stay at home with their children and watch the games on TV instead.”
“Holland's stadiums are beautiful and very modern. The atmosphere is
usually great as well, particularly in Feyenoord's stadium. That's probably my favorite stadium in Holland, although Ajax's Arena is also impressive, but mostly because of the club that inhabits it.”
How are your language courses going?
“I take English class almost every morning. I have to learn English first before I can move on to Dutch. Van Gaal told me it's easier that way because English and Dutch are alike, or at least more alike than Italian and Dutch. Eventually I will learn Dutch, of course. I don't live in England, I live in Holland.”
Your English seems better than that of Fabio Capello's.
“Well in his defense, we rarely encounter English in Italy. We barely get taught any English in school and everything on TV is dubbed in Italian. It doesn't make it easy to learn English even on your own initiative. People in smaller countries are often better at that sort of thing, I'm impressed by the foreign language skills of the average Dutchman.”
A real Italian gentlemen, Pellè notices our glasses are empty and he
orders a second round.
How do you experience AZ's difficult season?
“The high expectations don't help. It's hard to live up to that sort of thing, particularly with a renovated squad. It's easy to disappoint your supporters in such a situation and that's sadly what we've done. I have to say I'm not great at dealing with it, I get frustrated which doesn't help either.”
How do you experience the pressure?
“I'm used to outside pressure from playing in Italy. In Italy if a forward doesn't score, he's out. For me the bigger issue is the pressure I put on myself.”
How about your personal plan, future strategy?
“I have a five year contract here and I consider my time at AZ the cornerstone of my career. I already feel I'm growing as a player, that will only get better, I know it. Van Gaal is an authentic professional who knows what he's doing.”
“What I need to work on is my concentration, I have to stay focused for the full 90 minutes of the game. I also need to score more goals, both with my feet and with my head. I headed in a lot of balls in Italy but I haven't done that yet here.”
As we round up, Pellè prepares to leave. He hugs the staff of the restaurant and his stylish appearance draws some looks from the female guests. He doesn't seem to notice, it's all part of life where he grew up. We thank him in Italian; “Grazie”, he replies in Dutch; “Alst-joe-blieft.”
From AZ Spreekt, issue 3, March 2008, pages 9 through 14