Stephan El Shaarawy speaks to UEFA.com about his form, growing shirt collection and Roma's quarter-final with Barcelona.
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Few installed Roma as favourites to reach the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League when they were pitted against Chelsea and Atlético in Group C, but the Giallorossi proved the doubters wrong by topping the section.
Expectations are similarly modest as Eusebio Di Francesco's charges now take on Barcelona in the quarter-finals. For Stephan El Shaarawy, however, the underdog tag suits them perfectly as they head to the Camp Nou for Wednesday's first leg.
On his role models as a child …
My first idol was Ronaldinho when he was at Barcelona. I remember watching videos because I really loved his skills. I always tried to learn something from them and put that into practice at home. But my biggest idol was Kaká, both as a player and a person. I held him in such high regard, particularly when he played for Milan. When I was little, I used to compare myself with him in terms of my ability to dribble at speed. I was lucky enough to play alongside him at Milan. As a person, he was just as I'd expected: a good and humble guy.
On signing for Roma and his performances …
As soon as I arrived, I managed to do my talking on the pitch. That was the most important thing because I was coming off the back of six not-so-positive months at Monaco and I managed to turn the situation around very quickly by scoring quite a few goals and producing good performances. I'm now getting back to my best, both physically and mentally.
Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I've felt positive about joining the club and being part of the squad since the beginning, partly because I already knew some of the team. I was able to integrate easily and all the guys who work at Trigoria [Roma's training ground] are good people, so I've really landed on my feet. I'm doing well and I'm happy.
On his shirt collection …
I have so many shirts. I have a wall at home, which I've posted on social media, where I keep my shirts, or at least the ones that mean the most to me. They belonged to the best players that I've played against: Neymar for Brazil, Messi for Argentina and Barcelona, Francesco Totti, and Kaká's first kit – which he gave me after the first match between Milan and Real Madrid that I played in. I treasure those shirts because they belonged to players who've made history.
On the UEFA Champions League and his debut …
It's the most important competition, alongside the World Cup. I think it's every player's dream to play in it and experience those nights, which are so special, particularly because the whole world is watching you. That's why it feels so wonderful when you manage to go far and win games, or even finish top of the group as we did this year. Those are things that stay with you for the rest of your life.
My debut was against Arsenal in the last 16. I was 19 years old. It was a brilliant feeling, even though we lost the game 3-0. We still made it through because we'd won 4-0 at home. It was a wonderful feeling, a special moment. Hearing the Champions League anthem on the pitch for the first time was certainly an unforgettable feeling.
On being underdogs against Barcelona …
We know that it'll be very tough to play against Barcelona at the Camp Nou but we have nothing to lose. We have to try to show our spirit, work hard and capitalise on any chances we get. We have to be mindful that the tie is played over 180 minutes. We'll have to try to get a good result in Barcelona while remembering that there's still the home leg to come.
We'll have to be alert in terms of how they knock the ball about, keep possession and the moves that Messi comes up with. He's the best player of the lot at the moment, and I'm not just talking about Barça but the whole world. We're up against the very best and every time he gets on the ball, he can make something happen. That's why we'll have to try to act accordingly and restrict his influence as much as possible.
On the anticipation of the home leg with Barcelona ...
There's definitely a lot of excitement and eagerness for that game to come around because it's an evening that everyone wants to experience. Everyone wants to play in these types of games. However, first of all we hope to get a good result in Barcelona in order to get the fans fired up in the return leg.
Everyone says we're not the favourites and that's the truth. However, nobody gave us much of a chance of getting out of the group so we've got to forget about what people think.