DANIELE DE ROSSI: GERRARD IS MY IDOL
Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi says he is relishing his clash with "idol" Steven Gerrard when they face England on Sunday.
The Roma midfielder, who will line up against Gerrard in the Euro 2012 quarter-final, has not been surprised by England's impact in the tournament.
All about De Rossi:
The 28-year-old midfielder has spent his entire career at Roma
Was in the Roma side thrashed 7-1 by Man Utd in a Champions League match in April 2007
Made his Italy debut in 2004 and has 75 caps
Played at Euro 2008 and the 2006 and 2010 World Cups
Scored a penalty in 2006 World Cup final shoot-out v France
"It's not like we're discovering England now," he said.
"Gerrard has always been my idol and he's a player who's been at the top level of the game for 10 years."
He continued: "You see Gerrard defending and attacking. I would like to be able to play more like that.
"But they've also got many interesting young players, especially on the wings.
"And (England coach Roy) Hodgson has experience in Italy, so they know how to defend, too."
De Rossi is set to win his 76th international cap in the Kiev quarter-final.
After eight years in the Italy team, who won the World Cup in 2006, De Rossi is full of anticipation for his first meeting with England.
He added: "When I think about, I've never really made an impact against an English squad.
"But I've never faced England's national team - not even at the junior level.
"It's an honour to play against such a great squad. I've played in a lot of matches with the national team, so this gives me a new reason to get excited."
Some may consider England's progress through this tournament fortunate, yet when De Rossi spoke of Italy's quarter-final opponents, he acknowledged the influence of Italians and Italian football in shaping the impressively obdurate nature of Roy Hodgson's squad.
'England are a very Italian team,' he said. 'You can see the signs, from Fabio Capello to now, with Hodgson. One is Italian, one worked in Italian football. Hodgson was managing in Italy with Inter Milan, so his teams know how to play defensively and then attack. They will have very good players on the flanks but also be a really compact team. It won't be easy.
'As for Capello, he was the coach who helped me most in my career. To say I owe it all to him doesn't go far enough. I was playing in the youth team when he came to Roma and he steered me through to the national side. He really improved me as a player, and I have always been grateful to him. He is a great manager in terms of preparation and motivation of the players, and England will have learned a lot from him.'
And while we're on the subject of Fabio Capello, he has gone ‘crazy' at suggestions he has been helping Italy prepare for Sunday's showdown against England.
Capello's son, Pierfilippo, said the Italian former England manager is torn over which country to support.
Just before Capello reached Miami for Saturday's charity match with Leo Messi, he was told of reports claiming he might betray England after four years coaching the country.
‘Who the fuck is writing this shit?' Capello demanded to know. ‘I will sue them.'
Pierfilippo said: ‘Fabio went crazy when I spoke to him about this. We will start legal action against anyone who has suggested he has been helping Italy's coach in any way. They haven't even spoken for a year.
‘It is an insult to Fabio to suggest he would reveal anything after four years working for the FA.
‘He still has many close relationships with people at the FA. He wouldn't do it, he values what he had with the England players too much.'
So has Capello been working for England against his native country? ‘No,' said his son, who acts as his father's agent and part of his legal team.
'Fabio doesn't know the Italy players any better than Roy Hodgson does.
He hasn't been helping either camp, though he very much wants to watch the game.
‘I genuinely think his loyalties are divided. He is a proud Italian and played for his country, yet he wouldn't be able to support Italy against England without having some trouble in his heart about it. I will support Italy but I think my father is 50-50.'
De Rossi has admitted he is attracted by the Barclays Premier League ahead of Italy's European Championship clash with England.
De Rossi, who signed a new five-year contract with Roma in February, appeared to reignite speculation about his future yesterday when he claimed English football was "more interesting" than its Italian counterpart.
The midfielder has previously been linked with Manchester City and Manchester United and claimed he had received several offers to defect to the Premier League.
He said: "I have received many offers from English football. And I must say that I feel attraction for it.
"I like English football very much. I think now it's probably more interesting than Italian football.
"There are lots of outstanding and talented players, as is the case for Spain as well."
De Rossi's versatility makes him particularly attractive for potential suitors, with the 28-year-old having played both in defence and midfield for club and country this season.
He admitted he preferred the midfield anchor role, a position that would put him in direct confrontation with his "idol" in Sunday's quarter-final.
De Rossi is also sure that Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli can handle coming up against England.
Balotelli's two years in the Premier League have included a host of disciplinary issues but De Rossi is convinced the 21-year-old forward can cope with the pressure of the situation.
De Rossi said: "He's more used to this pressure than we are. They talk a lot about him because he's a really great player, he's young and he plays in England.
"I'm convinced he'll play this match without any problems."
However De Rossi has urged him show some more maturity and also accept being part of a squad saying: "Balotelli's a great player, but if he wants to grow he has to know how to react to situations.
"Everybody is treated in the same way, so everybody has to take his own responsibility. He has to accept the manager's decision.
"Sometimes, Balotelli commits mistakes off the pitch, but that's his responsibility, too.
"There is a lot of talk and scandals around him because he's young and playing at Manchester City."
Italy midfielder Alessandro Diamanti, who spent the 2009-10 season at West Ham, is looking forward to facing his old Upton Park team-mate Scott Parker.
Diamanti, 29, made his international debut in Monday's 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland.
The Bologna man admits he never believed he would have a chance to be involved in a game of the importance of Sunday's clash.
He said: "I would really like to face and beat Parker. He is a top player, a great rival, but since I left (West Ham), I haven't spoken to him.
"Now I have a chance to play in a game that only a couple of years ago I could only dream of playing on the PlayStation.
"It's going to be a big battle, we respect them but we have no fear."