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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Graziano Pellè
"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
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
The new edition of AZ Spreekt will be published soon, sent for free to all season ticket holders. It will feature a big interview with Romero which I'll (at least partly) translate and post here. There's also supposed to be some stuff in there on Gijs Luirink, Moussa Dembélé, Héctor Moreno and Milano Koenders. If any of that is worth mentioning, I'll put it in here too.

BTW that keepers jersey doesn't do Romero justice at all. Hottest keeper in the Eredivisie by lightyears :D

 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
Sergio Romero
" I LIVE AND DIE FOR THE CLUB WHOSE JERSEY I WEAR"

Sergio Romero arrived a famous stranger in Alkmaar in the summer of 2007. Expectations were high with the reputation he had in his motherland, yet nobody really knew him. One year down the road he's getting closer and closer to achieving cult status for the club. Having started the last ten Eredivisie games, we thought it time to get to know our keeper a little better.



The DSB Stadium is strangely quiet on Saturday 10 May. The friendly game versus Zenit St Petersburg is right around the corner, but not for Sergio Romero. The tall Argentinean goalkeeper (192cm) is enjoying a soda in the stadium's restaurant, looking as relaxed as is possible, ready to tell us his life's story. We realize this man may have become the club's #1 keeper, but we don't really know much about him. Sure, we know he was born in Bernardo de Irigoyen, we can read that in just about every online profile. But who knew that he has three older brothers named Marco, Oscar and Diego? The latter even played a crucial role in Sergio's career. "When I was about seven years old, Diego, then 12
years old, was a goalkeeper. He was the reason I became a keeper myself. Diego went to play basketball at age 14 and I almost followed in his footsteps again. As you know now, I chose football instead. Diego is still a basketball player, a professional back in Argentina after having played college basketball in the States between the ages of 18 and 23."

His other two brothers like sports, but aren't as talented. Like their father did until his pension, they are employed in the oil industry. A fate Romero would almost certainly not have been able to escape if he had stayed in his home town. "I moved to Buenos Aires when I was 15. My old club got a phone call from Racing, they were looking for a goalkeeper in my age group because they didn't have any and asked if I wanted to come to them on a trial. Of course I did, the best football in Argentina is played in Buenos Aires. And so I moved 1800km away from home."

"So initially, I went there on a one week trial and four months later they called to say I could come over on an actual deal. My mother didn't want me to go, parents always want their children to finish their education first. I knew that if I were to stay home, I would just sort of do my education at the side. So I told my mother I wanted to become a professional football player and that I had to go. I convinced her I could still finish my education when I was forty years old. I've always been a little crazy that way, an adventurer. I never really thought about the consequences of my actions. And so I got to know Buenos Aires when I was sixteen. I would get a bus ticket for one peso and ride the bus through town for two hours, to get to know the place."

At age seventeen, Romero made his debut in the senior squad of Racing, one of Argentina's biggest clubs which, for some strange reason, isn't very well known in Europe at all. "Boca, River, Independiente and Racing are the biggest clubs in Argentina. Racing's stadium fits 65.000 people and now matter how badly the club is performing, it's always packed. It's a beautiful stadium too, oval and imposing like the Colosseum in Rome. Just seven years ago, the club was nothing. There were no trophies, there wasn't any money, nothing. Then a company started to invest in the club. The supporters didn't like it at first but when things started to get better, they settled down. In Europe, everybody knows Boca and River but soon Racing will join them in fame. When Diego Simeone returned to Argentina, he went to play for Racing. So did Claudio Lopez. Racing will soon start to win major trophies, beating Boca and claiming the Copa Libertadores. Just you watch."

Romero might return to Racing like Simeon or Lopez did, after all, the club came to mean a lot to him in the five seasons he spent there. "Nevertheless, I might not return to Argentina to finish my career at all. Maybe some other club will put in a good offer and I'll go somewhere entirely else. In my eyes, a professional football player should never stay at just one club. I live and die for whose jersey I wear, and at the moment that's AZ. But it would definitely be somewhat of a dream scenario to finish my career at the club where it all really started."
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a keeper at Boca. I was really impressed by Navarro Montoya, a Columbian, who really is a giant. If his name was on the team sheet, Boca were already 1-0 up. I want that status as well, that attackers storm at the goal and think, just for a second, 'Oh no, it's that Romero'. I already have the altitude, now I just need the attitude. I still have a lot to learn."
"From the current generation of goalkeepers, Buffon is particularly impressive. So is Iker Casillas, he's short but amazing. Cech and Van der Sar are titans. And Kahn, of course, who's forty but still in the game. Cordoba, a Columbian, has amazing reflexes, if he has moved to the right and the ball turns to the left, he'll still touch it. Carizzo, an Argentinian playing for Lazio is also good."

”I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A LITTLE CRAZY... AN ADVENTURER”

Despite admitting to being a little crazy, Romero denies that all goalkeepers have to be a little off. "Of course you need to be a little different in your approach of the game, enjoy higher risks. Players move their feet to the ball, keepers their entire body. Keepers therefore need a different mentality than players, who back each other up. A keeper is on his own, which requires self confidence. Not just for me, but for all keepers. Self confidence is key. So is self awareness. I know what I can and cannot do. High balls from corner kicks is one of my specialties. It's also one of those things that require confidence not just from me, but from the defender as well. He has to be able to trust that I'll get that ball no matter what happens."
"My footwork could still improve. I also need to settle down a little. The first three games for AZ were hard for me, I wanted to prove I could live up to expectations in the space of just 90 minutes, which
is impossible. So against FC Groningen, a long ball came towards me, I went for it and tackled a forward. Penalty kick. It took three or four games for me to calm down. I'm more at ease now, confident with my position in the squad."
"I think, overall, I've now shown throughout all the matches I've played that I can handle this level. In Argentina there's an expression: Esta camiseta a mi no me pesa. It means your shirt is too heavy for you, as if you're dragging an extra 30 kilos along. That kind of pressure doesn't bother me much anymore, I've shown what I can do, what I'm capable of. Personally, I hope to start this season at the level I finished last season. It was good."

His expectations for this season? "I think we'll finish in the top five. We need to hang onto the positive streak at which we finished last season. We shouldn't be afraid to lose, it happens occasionally. We need to have faith in our own abilities and work hard. I hope to stay the starting keeper, I think I've shown I'm up to the task."

From AZ Spreekt, issue 4, June 2008, pages 8 through 13
 

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Discussion Starter #9
From AZ.nl:

PELLÈ: "YOU HAVE TO HAVE SELF CONFIDENCE"

Graziano Pellè has been a starter for AZ for the past few weeks. Time for an interview.

How do you judge your personal development?
Pellè: "In Italy, I was used to playing with my back towards the goal. The coaches at AZ have been working with me to change that style. They want me to face the goal more, like in the dying minutes of the game against Heerenveen when I was, falsely, called back for off-side. I caught the defenders off guard and had a clean passage through at the goal. I need to create more moments like that."

You've been a starter for the past few weeks, how do you see your future?
Pellè: "As long as I keep performing well, the coach will have to make some difficult choices. The squad is very strong, you can tell by the fact a good striker like Ari hasn't played in a while. If you want to be come champions, everyone in the squad will have to give it their best throughout the entire season. Competition stimulates players. When Moussa Dembélé returns to train with the rest of us, competition will increase even more. But I have faith in my skills and Moussa is more versatile anyway, he can play at different positions."

You sound self assured.
Pellè: "You have to be. I'm from a country where supporters and journalists put enormous pressure on players. If you win, you're king and emperor. If you lose, your physical safety is at risk when you're leaving the stadium. In that culture, I've grown immune to outside criticism. If you let outside factors influence you and if you start questioning yourself because of them, your career is over."

Unimpressed by the fact there's an interview going on, Héctor Moreno casually takes a seat at our table, smiles, and starts to flip through AZ Spreekt.

What is your goal for the season?
Pellè: "That's easy. I'm a winner so I'm aiming for the Eredivisie title."

Ambitious goal. Beating FC Twente will be all the more important for it. They have a strong striker in N'Kufo.
Pellè: "N'Kufo is comprable to me in style, except he's much further ahead in his personal development. He doesn't care about tactics, he scores anyway. It'll be hard to cancel him out, but I have faith in Héctor.”

The Mexican looks up and smiles. He barely speaks English but he got the drift of the joke.

Pellè, smiling; "In training I've been walking up to Héctor to poke him in the stomach. So he can adjust to playing against strikers like N'Kufo. In fact, Héctor is here waiting for me. We're going to my place in a second and study video tapes of N'Kufo. Preparation is all!"
 

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Discussion Starter #10
From De Volkskrant:

DARK YEARS WITHOUT DIRK

Van onze verslaggevers Marc van den Eerenbeemt, Michiel Haighton
gepubliceerd op 02 maart 2009 23:53, bijgewerkt op 3 maart 2009 09:33


WOGNUM - Can the Dutch economy be revived in twelve months? Dirk Scheringa (58), owner and chairman of the DSB Bank and football club AZ, thinks he's up to the challenge. "I'm available as authorized crisisminister where finances are concerned."

Scheringa thinks he knows how to solve the crisis. "You need a year and a broad business cabinet. We're only at the beginning of the global crisis, it's only going to get worse. If we don't act now, the Netherlands are looking at some dark times ahead."

He bases his prognosis on "common sense and gut feeling. I see what's happening all around me, it's a financial war zone. A real battlefield."

His own DSB Bank is still thriving, he says, "I wouldn't want the job of minister just so I can save my own bank."

"In America, the credit card crisis is still coming and the credit crunch hasn't ended yet. ING will get into much bigger problems in the near future. That bank needs to be nationalized as soon as is possible. I'm worried about the likelihood of a bankruptcy."

Europe isn't out of rough waters yet either, Scheringa thinks. "Two weeks ago, we retreated from Italian government bonds. Countries went bankrupt in 1929, we shouldn't assume it can't happen today."

Scheringa thinks citizens need to expect a different standard of wealth. "Don't get me wrong: we'll continue to heat our houses in winter. But excessive wealth, that's gone forever."







AZ champions of the Eredivisie and Scheringa for Prime Minister :cool:
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Moussa Dembélé
"I'M GONNA NEED TO RENT A BUS"

All sport related dreams of Belgian forward Moussa Dembélé are in the process of being realized at AZ. He says he feels good and we nod in agreement. When his team struggled in Breda this past weekend, the powerful striker rallied and scored the game's only goal. Salvation.

You were extatic.
"The goal in Breda was of extreme importance for the whole team, and for my personal development as well. One of my personal goals back in August was to score more goals this season. So far I've scored nine, which I'm reasonably satisfied with. I still should have scored more. I hope to bag an extra couple in the remaining games."

This is the week in which you'll celebrate your first ever title. How does it feel?
"It's going to be an incredibly special title. This is going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I've never won a league, nor have most of the other guys on the team. We're almost there and that's why it's important we keep our feet on the ground this week. The coach is sticking to his regular routine and nobody is taking anything any easier. You can't lose concentration or you'll get in trouble for it. That's what happened during the first half against NAC this past weekend."

What did your Belgium teammates tell you during the recent international week?
"They were full of praise, but you can't listen to compliments too much. You'll come to believe them and mess up. For me, AZ's success is compensating for the failure of the Belgian national team. If AZ had had another season like we did last year, I would have really struggled."

Two years ago, everybody thought you were about to sign for a big foreign club.
"Yet I went from Tilburg to Alkmaar. I based my choice on feelings and, clearly, that was the right thing to do. I'm still young and already on the verge of winning a major trophy. AZ is an ambitious club that wants to get to the European top so I fit in well, I share those ambitions. I couldn't tell you how happy I am to be playing here, I've learned so much over the past seasons... All of it will inevitably help me throughout my career. I'll continue to listen to my heart."

Why exactly are you so happy to be playing here?
"Because you wouldn't believe how well we gel together as a group. Everybody who joined this summer and winter is amazed at the mentality and the atmosphere here. There isn't one single unprofessional player who ruins it for everybody else. Not one! Even the players who spend a lot of time on the bench help us along, they're a true part of the team. We also spend time with each other off the pitch. I like that. I enjoy working somewhere in a friendly and warm atmosphere."

Did AZ ask you to sign a contract extension?
"They did but I don't want to think about that right now. I'm not in a hurry and neither are the club, since my current contract doesn't run out for quite some time. For now, I just want to enjoy what's happening here. Once we've won the title and everything has calmed down a little, I'll put some thought into my future. In the group, we often talk about what it would be like to play in the Champions League with this team. We compare ourselves to PSV who also managed to swing a few punches a few seasons ago."

Your agent tells us you'll only move to a top 5 club from a top 3 league.
"That's a little specific. If it's a smaller club in a top league but I feel good about it, I could totally move there. I don't know where I'll be going, but I do know I won't be going anywhere if it doesn't feel right. What's the point in that?"

Will your family be around for the historic title match this weekend?
"They always are. In my contract it says I get 9 season tickets every year, they're for my closest friends and relatives who visit every single game, home or away. But with the title decider coming up, I think I'm gonna have to rent a bus to get all the people here who want to come. It's gonna look like all of Belgium is emigrating."

From AD Sportwereld, 14 April 2009
 

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Van Gaal: 'Ajax geen topclub meer'

Louis van Gaal vindt dat er voor hem geen betere club meer is in Nederland dan AZ. De oefenmeester kan zaterdagavond met de Alkmaarders tegen Vitesse kampioen worden.

"Ik ga niet naar een andere Nederlandse club, dat heb ik Dirk (Scheringa red.) beloofd. Ik ga alleen nog maar naar clubs van een bepaald kaliber, en dat is Ajax niet meer. Dat waren ze wel, maar nu is Ajax al bijna geen topclub meer", aldus Van Gaal in Het Parool.

Hij vervolgt: "Ik ben geboren in Amsterdam, dat zal altijd een rol blijven spelen, ik heb bij Ajax gespeeld, ik ben er trainer geweest. Maar ik heb bij AZ fantastisch gewerkt, en dat is voor mij ook belangrijk."
:thumbsup:
 
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