For Paolo Zanetti, taking part to the Viareggio Cup has two significant meanings. The first one: it’s a reward for the great season his lads are doing with the Ac Reggiana Berretti. The second one: it’s like a deja-vu for him. As a player, in fact, he featured in one edition of this prestigious youth tournament with Vicenza. It was the time that Paolo was deemed as one of the brightest young prospects of that period in Italian football. There’d be another one. More subtle, but very present within Zanetti’s soul. To face once again his past: Torino Fc. The club for whom the Ac Reggiana Berretti coach played for four years. A big chunk of his footballing past.
Let’s hear from the man himself how he is approaching the incoming Viareggio Cup
Ac Reggiana to the Viareggio Cup. Mr. Paolo Zanetti, what comes to your mind when you think about this?
«Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is the opportunity for the kids to showcase their talents and skills. The second one is the opportunity, again, to play against football powerhouses like Torino Fc. It’s going to be a revealing moment for us, to see where we’re at».
And what about you? What is the meaning of taking part in the tournament?
«For me is a reason of pride and enjoyment. I played in the tournament many years ago with Vicenza. I don’t deny, also, that facing Toro will give me shivers. For me, it will be something special. I’ve played there for four years. Hence, it will be the occasion to meet people I’ve been around and greet them warmly. Moreover, I perfectly know how they do things there. Their level is undisputedly top notch».
What are your expectations for your players going into the tournament?
«My primary goal is to put the kids in the best conditions to play their best football and to showcase their skills. It can happen only in one way: if we go there with a perfect attitude and a great tactical organization. I am totally confident of the mental skills of this group. These kids are resilient. They never give up. They showed it many times during the season. This is what pushes me to say that sometimes the mental element closes the technical gap with higher rated teams».
The idea is to show the right approach and keeping your team identity. Is that correct?
«Absolutely. The way this team has been built is this, and we won’t deflect from this. The final score matters, this is evident, but I don’t think that anybody will ask us to win the Cup but to hold our own. To do this, we need to have clear in mind what are our skills and abilities».
Facing top-notch opponents will force you to adopt adequate measures to limit them?
«This is evident. We are fearless, not cocky. It means that we ought to be flexible enough in our game plan to adjust to the various opponents. Our DNA leads us to play an attacking brand of football making very little calculations. Viareggio Cup is a different “animal.” We need to pay a bit more attention to the defensive side of the ball, and it will be up to me to give the kids the best defensive organization on the pitch and put them in the best conditions to express themselves».
Have you already scouted your opponents?
«We will play against two international teams – Rijeka from Croatia and Cortuluà from Columbia – thus there are not so many elements we can gather to know them better. Torino is a different thing. I’ve watched them many times already. It’s an above average team. We will have to be on top of our game when we are facing them and give them a hard time».
The Academy Director, Mr. Sergio Mezzina, spoke about how facing that kind of teams will make your team grow. Do you agree with him?
«It will be so if we will accept the idea of taking part in this tournament with a free mindset. We have to play the game freely, without any fear of failure. Always bearing in mind that our primary goal is to win the league and reach the Finals. If we approach the Cup with fear, it will be useless. It won’t by worthy. It will up to me to give the kids the right belief and the tools to face such a high ranked opponents».
Are there any players on your team you rely particularly upon?
«Well, we have several class ’98 that have to make some difference for us. I am thinking of the likes of Matteo Rizzi, for example. He practices regularly with the First Team. He is close to top Lega Pro players each and every day. When he comes down to play with us, he must bring all he learns with them and give us a boost. I am lucky because there are many players of character in the team. Guys who are mentally tough. These are our leaders, the ones who show the way to the other kids who have yet to make the leap on the personality side».
Do you consider taking part in the Viareggio Cup a reward for the work you put in and for the lads?
«Well, when you see consistent results in your everyday work that means that all the components are blossoming. I did my job; the lads did their. Also, the club, with its management did its own too. So, the credit goes to the boys, and to a club that fully believes in its Academy and in nurturing their young talents. I want to give credit to a Director of Football like Andrea Grammatica, who closely follows us without heavily interfering with our jobs. Credit, also, to the club ownership and the General Manager, Maurizio Franzone, to put us in the best conditions to do our jobs. I want to give enormous credit to my direct superiors, Mr. Sergio Mezzina and Mr. Giacomo Ferretti. They do have a unique skill: they let work their colleagues without interfering. At Academy level, this doesn’t happen all the time. For example, nobody has ever imposed anything to me during this month as the Berretti team coach: whether it was a player, a methodology, a tactical setup. A situation that contributed to creating a sort of mutual respect between all the components where everyone does his job and does it well. I firmly believe that this year there are the perfect conditions to do a great job until the end of the season».
Do you consider the Viareggio Cup as a crucial moment of your season? Are you afraid that it will drain a lot of mental energy from your players?
«Let’s say that, at least initially, we will play three games in one week at the Viareggio Cup. It’s something unusual for the players. Once again, it will be up to me to be smart enough to balance the players’ energies. Nevertheless, I find common that 17 or 18 years old kids will have enough mental and physical resources to face the rigors of playing in the Viareggio Cup and finish strong in the season. To add to this: I believe that some players may get a lift by playing in the Viareggio tournament».
Last question: do you have a particular credit you want to give in the wake of your participation in the Viareggio Cup?
«To my players. I dedicate this to them. Thanks to the kids we are doing brilliantly in the league, we have been invited to the Viareggio Cup, we are enjoying extensive coverage by the media. They have put me under the spotlight, and it’s all thanks to them. This Viareggio Cup is for them, and for all the efforts and the work they are putting in during practices and matches».