Andrea Ranocchia will turn 25 on the 16th of February, and he is a young prospect; one of the most interesting centre-backs in the Italian football movement. He played for Arezzo in Tuscany for three years early on in his career - not far from his birthplace, Assisi, in Umbria- and then moved to Bari, in the south of Italy. With the Biancorossi of Apulia, Ranocchia first made an impact on Serie A in the 2009/10 season, with Giampiero Ventura at the helm and with a team - now heavily involved in the “Calcioscommesse scandal” - who were at the time one of the most interesting young teams in Serie A.
In the 2010/11 season, Ranocchia moved to Genoa and, thanks to manager Giampiero Gasperini, the team started to play with a three-man back line. In January 2011, he moved to Internazionale, where he has become one of the most valuable defenders in Serie A.
We met him, on a cold winter’s day in Appiano Gentile - Inter’s training centre, just outside of Milan - and he was friendly and helpful. He looked more like a student than a professional player, displaying both a shy and serious side to his character.
He is rated as one of the best centre-backs in the first half of the season by WhoScored.com's rating system, and he replied with interest to all of our questions:
- Andrea, how much of an impact has the new manager had on your game since his appointment?
Well, he had a great impact on me. He trusted me and believed in my potential from the beginning, unlike the previous manager (Claudio Ranieri) and that is extremely good for me. I worked throughout the summer to improve my style of play, and now I think we can see the results.
- Are the management or players at the club interested in statistical performance analysis?
Yes, I know that Stefano Rapetti - one of Andrea Stramaccioni’s assistants and the one more involved in the athletics of the game - and our doctors are interested in statistics, and they are particularly involved in analysing data to prevent player injuries. I believe it’s an important aspect of the modern game.
- Do you feel that live statistics have aided the game in terms of performance analysis and has it become more prominent in the game in recent seasons, or does it depend on the coach?
I have seen the film “Moneyball” with Brad Pitt, and I really liked it, because they talked about something quite unknown in Italy, but in the meantime, I think that American sports like baseball and American football are very different to European football. In our game, there is more tempo, not a lot of time to stop and think about the game. Football has become faster than in the past, and it’s difficult to see an assistant on the bench with a laptop who can provide live statistics to the manager. But statistics in general are interesting, and I believe that football has to give more attention to that in the future.
- You currently rank as the top rated defender at WhoScored.com. How much progression do you feel you have made this season?
I think I have improved everywhere. When I came here in January 2011, I was very young, and since then, I have grown physically and especially psychologically. Now I am more confident about my potential and my capabilities, so I believe I am a stronger player than when I first came to Appiano Gentile.
- Who are the defenders that you most admire in Serie A, and who has been your toughest attacking opponent?
I have always had only one great example in the past, but he doesn’t represent the past, because he is a current player: Alessandro Nesta. He is still playing with Montreal Impact in the MLS and he is the most elegant, reliable and skilful player that I have ever seen, a real example for me to follow.
There are a lot of good attacking players in Serie A, but the most difficult to face was Filippo Inzaghi, a centre-forward who usually stayed behind you, not in front, and for a defender that is extremely difficult. A defender needs to see the forward in front of him, but Inzaghi played behind your line, not in front, sometimes in an offside position, and that is very difficult for a centre-back.
- How has playing in a back three benefitted you personally and what areas of your game do you feel that you have needed to work on to adapt in that system?
I experimented with a back three line firstly at Genoa, with Giampiero Gasperini as manager, so I am now quite accustomed to playing in this system. I think that Gasperini is one of the best managers to play with a back three, and, after Genoa, he insisted on using the system here at Internazionale, and now with Palermo as well.
Playing in a back three requires more speed, because in comparison to a back four line, there is more distance between the three centre-backs and the two players on the flanks. Personally, I believe that playing in a back three has developed my physical strength.
- You have made more blocks than any other player in Serie A this season and rank among the top players in the league for aerial duels won, interceptions and clearances, but do you feel there is a part of your game in particular that you still need to improve upon?
I have to improve my capabilities against small players, the type of player who is not very tall or strong physically, but is very fast and skilful. I feel better with the typical centre-forwards, tall and strong, but I often have difficulties with smaller players.
- Inter seem to be in the race for second place in Serie A at the moment, but does your victory against Juventus earlier in the season still give you hope that you can challenge for the title?
That was an important victory and I am sure we can play for the Scudetto again. Now we are 9 points behind Juventus, and it’s not easy, but when I arrived here in January 2011, we were 13 points behind AC Milan and, with Leonardo as new manager, we did very well and we arrived at the derby only two points behind them. I know, we lost that match (AC Milan won 3-0 and marched on to the Scudetto) but we had a great race.
- Inter are the joint-sixth best rated team in Europe’s top five leagues on WhoScored.com. In what aspects of the game do you think you are performing particularly well under Stramaccioni this season?
We are better as a team in terms of consistency. Last year we conceded a lot of chances to our opponents, but last summer we worked on that aspect a lot, and now we are a better team. This season we are more confident about our potential and generally I think we are a more balanced team.
*To see more Serie A team and player statistics click here.