Born in Naples on 29th June 1997, Rolando Mandragora is the youngest player in Luigi Di Biagio’s U21 squad. He grew up in a football oriented family, his father being manager and sporting director of the Fabio e Paolo Cannavaro academy and two of his cousins futsal players. The new Pescara midfielder made his Serie A debut with Genoa on 29th October 2014, when he was just 17 years old. His opponent? Italian defending champions Juventus. Mandragora’s task was to mark Paul Pogba in midfield, and Genoa won the game 1-0…
Where did you learn play football?
On the streets, in Scampia, near Naples. My father and my uncle pushed me towards this sport, but without any kind of pressure. My first teams were Ponticelli and Mariano Keller. I left home aged 14 to have trials all over Italy. It seemed like no club wanted to sign me, but then Genoa came and put some faith in me. I had four fantastic years there. I’m in Pescara now and I’ll always give 100% for this shirt.
In recent times, Pescara allowed the footballing world to discover one of the most popular midfielders, both in Italy and worldwide: Marco Verratti…
Yes, but we’re different players. It would be great though if I could follow in his footsteps …
What kind of player are you?
I’m a midfielder who loves to be on the ball a lot. I have good technique but I also carry out defensive tasks. My role model would be a player like Thiago Motta. I always try to give 100% for the team.
Who was your idol as a child?
Well, I’m from Naples, you know…Maradona. Therefore I would say Messi, because he reminds me of him a bit.
Even though you’re the youngest in Gigi Di Biagio’s squad, you can already boast a real achievement in your career: You marked Pogba in your Serie A debut!
We were hosting Juventus. Lots of midfielders were unavailable and coach Gasperini put his trust in me. When I realised that I was about to play against Pogba I got a bit anxious. Fortunately, it all went well, but thanks in no small part to my teammates’ help.
How would you assess the new U21 side?
It’s a great group! There are lots of individuals with quality, such as Bernardeschi, Cataldi, Romagnoli and Rugani. We’re a very close-knit group.
You’ll take on Slovenia in Reggio Emilia this Tuesday in the first European qualifier to the 2017 EUROs …
The match against Slovenia will be the first one, but we’ll play it as if it’s the most important game of the season!