Swapping texts with Jose Mourinho and urging a young Bruno Fernandes to tie the knot – Paul Gilmour talks to Andrea Stramaccioni, former Inter Milan manager and wedding matchmaker.
In 2012, Andrea Stramaccioni was embarking on a dream job as the new head coach of Inter Milan. To say accepting the surprise offer was a brave decision is something of an understatement.
At 36 Stramaccioni had only ever managed in youth football and following his promotion from Inter U19s he walked into a daunting dressing room where he was three years younger than club captain Javier Zanetti.
He has vivid memories of his first meeting with a group of players still longing for their treble-winning serial winner Jose Mourinho, who had departed for Real Madrid just two years earlier.
“If you remember this dressing room it was full of unbelievable players,” Stramaccioni tells Sky Sports News.
“Lucio, (Walter) Samuel, Zanetti, (Esteban) Cambiasso, (Diego) Milito, (Dejan) Stankovic, (Cristian) Chivu, Maicon. One was the captain of Brazil, one was the captain of Argentina and I was a nobody.
“My thought was ‘the bosses decided to put you here. They look on you as something. So close your eyes and don’t think about the name on his back and think only about what I’m able to do.’
“I remember Milito came and knocked on my door before a game against Genoa. He said coach you are working very well, don’t worry. On Sunday we will score four. And we scored five!”
The young pretender had a helping hand in those early days from the man who had won the hearts of Inter Milan players and supporters.
“Mourinho is fantastic,” the Rome-born coach explains.
“I didn’t know him and he started to send messages to give me suggestions, tips. Unbelievable, I will never forget it. It was crazy. I will always say thank you to him.”
Stramaccioni had replaced Claudio Ranieri – “a father figure” – and one of the many high profile casualties of the then trigger happy owner Massimo Moratti in a list that included Rafa Benitez and Gian Piero Gasperini.
The highs included an impressive 3-1 win at Juventus, among the lows was a 3-1 Europa League defeat at White Hart Lane against a Gareth Bale inspired Tottenham.
“Thanks to my players we had a strong first season and in the second season until December we were second and unfortunately Marotti decided to sell the club,” he says.
“The new owners made different decisions. It was a fantastic experience and will be forever in my heart at the start of my career.”
After Inter he spent a year at Udinese where he developed a bond with a young Bruno Fernandes.
“Bruno was one of the talented young players of Udinese. He was playing but not established. He was learning a lot and growing up and was very shy,” he explains.
“He’s a good person and a hard worker. His approach was always positive, even in a bad situation. He never came with the nose up and his team-mates appreciated that.”
Stramaccioni has watched his impact at Manchester United from afar and hopes he can follow in the footsteps of Roy Keane, Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney.
“I didn’t expect such a quick impact at Manchester United, but they are different from the past. There are many young players and he was clever and earned his leadership,” he says.
“Traditionally the Manchester United captain is a really charismatic player and also loved by fans and respected by team-mates, even opponents.
“To be captain at United is something really important. I hope he will be. I think keep doing what he’s doing and gain respect with the high level of his performances.”
Fernandes’ character traits and natural ability meant the Italian found him easy to manage.
“He was such a hard worker. Every training I said you have to come back this afternoon and do extra and he always did,” he says.
“He did two or three extra training sessions per week and worked hard on his technical side, and his strength in the gym. He is so strong mentality. He never said ‘no, why do I have to come back.’
“Look at videos of him six years ago and look at him now. It’s all from his work and his mentality. I am very happy for him.”
Supporters of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have become accustomed to the skip and jump penalty taking technique from Fernandes.
“He’s very cold. He has a killer instinct,” Stramaccioni says of his skills from the spot.
“I don’t know if he did it in Portugal, but in Udinese he did it. He wasn’t our penalty taker but he did it in training.”
The pair did often joke about Stramaccioni’s desire to see his young players settle down away from football.
“I was pushing him a lot to get married,” he says.
“‘You love this girl, you need to marry her’ and when he did marry her he called me to say ‘coach I did it.’ It was funny, it was a way to joke with him.”
Following spells in Greece, Czech Republic and a successful spell in Iran, Stramaccioni feels he’s ready to return and revealed he has been close to managing in England.
“Italy is my priority in Serie A. For me I will wait for the right situation,” he says.
“I learned in my 12 years that it’s better to wait for the right situation and the right plan. Maybe it will be in the UK.
“I was close to Sheffield Wednesday four or five years ago. I was in touch with Aston Villa two years ago and I was very close to Watford because you know it’s the same owner as Udinese.
“With respect to the other leagues I think Premier League and Championship are the best in the world. For me the Championship is not a second division, it’s a different first division! I really appreciate English football.”