Sampdoria are well in the fight for a Europa League spot, as they face Torino in a six-pointer in the midweek Serie A round. Blucerchiati defender Jacopo Sala believes his team deserves to play in Europe next year, having shown an entertaining brand of football under coach Marco Giampaolo.
Sala is improving constantly under the guidance of Giampaolo, and has found his ideal place to be at Sampdoria, after learning his trade at Chelsea, then passing by Hamburg and Hellas Verona, before finding his way to the Blucerchiati.
Sala joined Chelsea when he was 15, but was unable to break through into the first team, but has now established himself as a solid full-back in Serie A, and dreams of helping Sampdoria to return to European football.
Forza Italian Football had a chat with the former Chelsea man, who spoke about his current spell at Sampdoria, what it means to play alongside Fabio Quagliarella, his time growing up in England, the difficulties of establishing himself at Stamford Bridge and the difference between the beautiful game in England, Germany and Italy.
Sampdoria are having a fairly successful campaign, what has the mood been around the club?
“For now we are very happy. We’re showing that we’re a strong side, that go onto the pitch to show our qualities, and what the coach wants. This season we have managed to show we’re more mature, and we can fight against anyone until the very end.”
How far can Samp go this season?
“I don’t want to say how far, but what I can say is we’ll try until the end to reach important goals, because I think we deserve it from what we’ve shown on the pitch.”
How important has coach Marco Giampaolo been?
“I think one can see it every weekend. His ability is shown 100 percent, because we know what we’re doing, we have precise ideas, we’re compact. I say that if you see two teams without a name, and one of the two is coached by Giampaolo, you definitely recognise which one is his side from the way that side plays. For me he’s been very important, because he’s always had faith in me, and every player needs that. He’s always spoken nicely about me, and I have always thanked him for this.”
What is having Quagliarella in the changing room like?
“Fabio is our captain, but not just that – he’s a leader to follow. He’s a great professional, always trains at the maximum level, he knows his body. To be honest, to have him on the pitch on our side, constantly scoring, he helps us in an incredible way. We’re following him, and he is dragging us further up. He deserves everything he’s achieving right now, the Italy call up, and all the compliments and applause he receives in every stadium. We hope he becomes Serie A’s top scorer as we have a bet with him about it.”
You joined Chelsea at a young age, what was it like for you back then?
“I was young and it was difficult initially. I didn’t speak the language, I was 15 years old, without my family, without my friends. It was my first time away from home. So initially it was hard. Then, once I started speaking the language, everything became a lot easier. In this situation you have to grow up quickly, there’s other lads who are a couple years older, who are physically stronger. The mentality is very different to the Italian one, so you must grow up quickly and reach that level. I personally enjoyed the culture and lifestyle there, so everything became easier.”
What’s the first thing you remember about living in London?
“I remember the carpet [on the floor]. The sound it makes when you’re home and you walk on it. You can’t forget it.”
Why do you think things didn’t work out at Chelsea – staying there and making it in the first team?
“I consider myself lucky to have just trained with some real legends like the Chelsea players. Then, I had other requests in order to get more playing time, as it was very difficult to find space at Chelsea, as we have seen with other players in recent years. Only now some youngsters are managing to play in the senior team. Chelsea are a great club with top level players, so it’s extremely difficult to break through. So even just training with them is, for me, an honour. I wanted to play, to show my qualities, and that’s why I left in the end. If I could choose I would have stayed at Chelsea.”
Have you been following Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea?
“I have been following Chelsea ever since I left, it’s [a club] in my heart. I grew up there, I was young and I spent my teenage years there. So I always follow Chelsea.”
Can Chelsea win the Europa league?
“They’re a great side and have won it already. They’re favourites to reach the final, I think.”
You’ve played in three countries – Italy, Germany and England – what are the biggest differences between them all?
“In Italy all the teams are tactically very organised, in an almost perfect way. The details make a difference. In Germany they are physically very strong. They run a lot and focus a lot on athleticism. In England the game has much more freedom, where they focus on the one v one. These are the three main differentiating factors.”
Moving back to Genoa, the derby is coming up soon. What is it like to play in? Better than playing with Hellas Verona against Chievo?
“I have nothing against Verona, but it’s not a derby that has the same importance for the fans and the city [as the Derby della Lanterna]. In Genoa everyone talks about it from the start of the season. Before the fixtures are released everyone is already just thinking about those two matches. The first thing that matters is winning the derby, then comes the rest. First the derby, then we can think about doing well in the league. The first time I played in one there was an incredible atmosphere. You feel something that you can’t explain. I’ve been lucky enough to win some too, and it’s an amazing feeling. All the fans just wait for the derby all year long.”
What was your footballing idol growing up?
“Given that I used to play further up the pitch. My idol was Kaka.”
How has the Ponte Morandi tragedy impacted on you and what can football do in these situations?
“It was a tragedy. When these kind of situations happen they really get to you. Especially for us who live in Genoa. We used to go over that bridge almost every week. It hurt us all. It hurt Genoa, the city. But I must add that the city, the people, reacted in an incredible way, with such strength. Everyone gave their time and helped, everyone showed that when people want to, they can get together and help each other for the common good.”