The man who lived twice

“Talent” is among the most abused words. It is far less so in sport. We discussed the issue with Demetrio Albertini

The term “talent” is among the most abused words in the Italian dictionary. It is far less so in sport. We have discussed the issue with Demetrio Albertini, a perfect synthesis of the two fields: a successful midfield player who had an impact on the history of Milan and was eventually a winner also in his second life as a high federation manager.

What’s most important in sport: talent or consistency and determination?
«I used to think that sport is strongly based on merit. Those who have talent often lack of consistency and achieve results only for a short period of time.  A winning and talented footballer is often presumptuous during the match but humble during training. For example, in the youth club I was probably the best player but, getting older, I came across stronger team players. Most of them stopped abruptly. The working culture is essential to succeed but you need somebody to teach it to you. In Italy, there are no chances for young talents. It is not by chance that our national championship has the oldest players of all».

Which difference do you see in the way young talents are approached in Italy and abroad?
«In Italy, we prefer players who are already trained and not too young. It is a bit like when you see the sign outside the restaurant saying: “trainee waiter wanted, with experience”. The actual message is: I pay you little but I expect a lot. A paradox. Another aggravating feature is that in Italy, trained people have generally no interest in handing over their skills, perhaps because they reach success late in life and, once at that point, they are only concerned in keeping their status. This selfishness generates very high entrance barriers».

You have managed successfully to transfer your talent in the field, at the end of the career, into a desk-work as deputy president of the Figc.
«That’s true. In March 2006, I played my last match in shorts and, in May, I put on a suit and had the task to accompany the National Team to the World Championship in Germany. After the victory, I lifted the world cup in Berlin and then I decided to resign as I couldn’t understand which could be my role within the federation. After some thinking, I applied three times for the deputy director position and I managed to get it at the third trial thanks to just one vote. During eight years, I have dealt with three World Championships, two Federation Cups and two European Championships, and I have learnt to keep raising up the level of patience until I had the feeling there was too much politics involved».

In the meanwhile, you have just come out of a new experience as the sport coordinator for Expo.
«It was a great challenge, regarded with much skepticism in the beginning. In the end, Expo has changed the image of our country abroad. It has been a bit like when I had to deal with the Championship League Final in Rome in 2009. The preparation stage was extremely difficult, but we – as Italians – often achieve the best and most unhoped-for results when we are under pressure».

The locker room is a life training ground, what did you take with you?
«Almost everything. I have done the director on the field and the manager of the National Team. The sport teaches you the respect for your mate, because you can win only with his help. No one wins by himself. In the working context, people generally consider themselves as a group of individuals rather than a common project. A winning team, even at work, has clear rules. The first rule is that there isn’t a winning rule, while there are plenty of loosing rules.

Everyone has
to take advantage
of his own talent

The best result of a team-work comes from the capacity to combine the individual and the group development. Oscar Tabarez, one the Milan coaches that I think highly of, used to say that “everything is contagious, even the good examples”. A working team is made of optimists, pessimists and undecided. Achieving a goal often depends on understanding which direction the undecided take».

The challenge often becomes a restraint. How do you overcome anxiety?
«Talent is not enough, because those who have talent are often presumptuous when they are scared. Only work can give you the awareness to get to the match prepared. In sport, there are people who have talent but make no impact in the moment of difficulty . It is right at this moment that the importance of a leading figure emerges. A leader is able to take the right path».

Claudio Ranieri: an epic achievement.  How did he do it?
«Leicester had a bar in front of it, but the trick was to keep raising it. Ranieri has always been a balanced person in an uneven world. He is right when he says that he has managed to bring a bit of fairy tale into sport, generally dominated by “business”. However, even a fairy tale such as his was achieved through hard work and dedication. The victory was, in the first place, to think that they themselves were the first opponents, and that there was no chance for regret. In sport, as in life, there is always a chance to believe in».

Today, we join the European Championship with one of the less quoted team in recent years. How do you cope with it?
«Diego Pablo Simeone, coach of the Atletico Madrid, has gone to the end of the Champions League this year with a saying: “in a tough match the winner is not necessarily the strongest one but the one who is more confident in his own skills”».

How do you cope with failure?
«In football, arrogance is often confused with personality. There are moments in which the players, when in difficulty, think that the situation is the coach’s responsibility. This is too easy».

Have you got a message to address to a young person who is about to start working?
«First of all, I tell myself that my generation has the responsibility to give another opportunity to our children and to the younger generation. Then I would say that good luck comes for everyone: the question is to be patient and be ready when it comes».

What is your personal goal today?
«I am getting ready to pick the good luck I was talking about. I will keep to my world and will continue to respect this 3-words-rule: knowing, confronting with others and sharing».

(translation by Cecilia Braghin)


Dario Donato