As UEFA Champions League coaching debuts go, Vincenzo Montella's is about as hard as they come. With his AS Roma team trailing FC Shakhtar Donetsk 3-2 after the round of 16 first leg in Italy – for which predecessor Claudio Ranieri was in charge – the former Giallorossi striker must attempt to engineer the Ukrainian side's first home defeat since October 2008.
In this exclusive interview, the 36-year-old explains the circumstances surrounding his elevation from coaching the Under-15s in Roma's academy, gives his thoughts on the second leg, and, among other things, stresses that he is his own man in the dugout.
Was this your plan – to become coach?
Vincenzo Montella: I started off with passion – as you start off any job. I was there to help the kids, so everything I did was done in terms of that age group, putting myself at their disposal. Now my approach is totally different. Everything's been turned on its head. Now the players have to put themselves at my disposal and try to understand what it is I want from them. That's how I've approached the two situations.
How were you told you were going to get the job?
Montella: It happened the evening before I was appointed. The club knew because the next day I was meant to be travelling to Barcelona to study the players in the Barcelona team, but then the first-team position came up. Of course I'd been following the news, so they told me to wait before I set off, and then the next day they said there was a chance I could become manager of Roma. I took the whole night to think about it, to think through the different permutations, because it was possible it wouldn't happen at all.
I prepared for it, but without deluding myself. I thought it through by looking at all the pros and cons, at the problems the team have – had, I mean – and I thought about what was the worst that could happen, and how I would tackle the potential problems.
What are your thoughts on the second leg?
Montella: Shakhtar are a great team and they showed that at the Olympic Stadium. Their players are young with great futures, their manager is very experienced and he knows Italian football, but, as I said, football is strange. In football especially, anything can happen. We're sure we can play a good game while being aware they haven't lost at home for several years, which I'm pleased about because there's always a first time.
We'll prepare for it and try to take our chances.
We'll definitely need to play an error-free game – a perfect match as they say in these situations. Roma have the ability and the qualities to go out and win the game.
Shakhtar's home form is strong ...
You can analyse the statistics – and we have – but that doesn't mean they're never going to lose. In fact, these records are there to be broken. We just need to think about our own game without getting too affected by the stats. Be aware of them, analyse them, but don't let them affect you.
Have you talked to Ranieri about Shakhtar?
Montella: No. We talked about other things, but not technical matters because I don't want to be influenced by external factors. I'll watch, analyse and make up my mind without outside influence, even from an expert and highly regarded coach like Ranieri.
What are your UEFA Champions League memories as a player?
Montella: Playing in the Champions League is a different motivation for a player as opposed to playing in the championship. There aren't many games that motivate you like playing in the Champions League, so it's a competition that a player dreams of playing in, that a player can only get to on merit. I really love it, and I know how important it is to progress in this competition.
How is it coaching former team-mates?
Montella: It's not a problem. In fact, it could be a help because we talk to each other a lot. I understand the players well but, for the moment, the players are doing everything they can for me and I thank them for that. They're making themselves available. I can see they're behind me but that's only one part of it because players are convinced by facts, not words. If we don't agree on something, we can talk about it, but that hasn't happened at all. I'm very open in this way.
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