"We will be as enthusiastic as kids playing in the park for the first time," captain Francesco Magnanelli told UEFA.com as Sassuolo gear up for their European debut against Luzern.
Article top media content
When midfielder Francesco Magnanelli joined Sassuolo in 2005, they were in Serie C2; now they are preparing to take on Luzern in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round for a place in the play-offs, and dreaming of a maiden group stage campaign. The 31-year-old captain – Sassuolo's appearance record holder – spoke about the Emilia-Romagna club's incredible rise with UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: How does it feel to have come from the lower leagues to Europe with Sassuolo?
Francesco Magnanelli: I'm delighted. In one sense, I am like a child doing something for the very first time; in another, I know I'm mature enough for these important games. I may lack experience at this level – this is a completely new world for me – but all my career experience will help me.
UEFA.com: Sassuolo finished sixth in Serie A last season to qualify for Europe for the first time. How did you do it?
Magnanelli: We only really deserved to lose a couple of games all season. We played well throughout, even when results were not great in January and February, when we had a few important players out injured. We kept working hard, and we started flying again in the spring. The last four wins enabled us to achieve something incredible, but I don't want to call it a miracle because there was plenty of hard work behind it.
UEFA.com: Saturday 21 May 2016. How special is that date for you?
Magnanelli: I will never forget that date! We had secured sixth place in Serie A the week before but we had to wait until after the Coppa Italia final between Juventus and Milan to know if that would be enough for a place in UEFA Europa League qualifying. [Milan would have taken Sassuolo's place if they won]. I watched the final on TV with some friends. After the final whistle I walked home and it was great to see so many people celebrating in the streets. It was very emotional. A bit strange, but great.
UEFA.com: Are you ready for Europe?
Magnanelli: New things always give you an adrenaline rush but also a few doubts. It's a different competition to Serie A – it's another world. We have had the same coaching staff for the last four years and that certainly helps. [Head coach Eusebio Di Francesco] has clear ideas about how we have to play and he is great at helping players develop. We have complete faith in him.
Luzern are a strong team who have more experience than us, but we will be as enthusiastic as kids playing in the park for the first time – but also confident in our style and our team-mates. We will look to surprise them. We have to stay humble and focused. We know it will be very difficult. Nobody will give us anything, and every step we make in the competition will be a success for us.