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Fabrizio Ravanelli interview


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Fabrizio Ravanelli has been sticking the boot in on his former Boro team-mates in a Q&A-style interview for The Athletic website and this is what the White Feather had to say about life on Teesside - including his hopes of returning to the Riverside to become Steve Gibson's manager.

Having had the dubious privilege of writing about the ill-fated 1996/97 season for FourFourTwo magazine and for my book Boro Tales, this interview not only confirms that despite being a class player he must have been a nightmare to play with if you weren't up to his level but it also shows that he's got a very selective memory when it comes to events on FA Cup final day.

TA: How did your famous shirt-over-the-head celebration come about? Are you aware school kids across England copied it in playgrounds?

I was very happy to know this. It started at Juventus. Marcello Lippi was a fantastic man in the changing room. He would rev you up. This is where the celebration first came from. We were playing against Napoli. He said, “Guys, we are not playing well but stay easy because we will arrive to win the game because we have 11 players with real quality. When you have the possibility with fantastic quality, you can win, even in the last minute.” Then, in the last five minutes, Alessandro Del Piero gave me a fantastic ball and I scored the goal. I don’t know why I put my T-shirt over my head but I did it. And it came from Lippi’s motivation that day.

When I arrived in Middlesbrough, there was a lot of enthusiasm for me. Everyone was happy for my arrival, for Juninho, for Emerson. In the first game, I scored a hat-trick against Liverpool and the fans were crazy for Ravanelli. If I scored a goal, all the fans would put their T-shirts over their heads. We got to two finals in one season with me. We were unlucky because we were relegated as we did not go to play one game at Blackburn (and had points deducted). I do not think this thing would have been accepted nowadays.

I remember loving this period in Boro. My performance was fantastic, I scored lots of goals. I had a fantastic relationship with the chairman Steve Gibson. It was honest and frank. Everything he and the director Keith Lamb said, they followed through on.

TA: Honestly, what did you think when you arrived at Middlesbrough? 

This is my character. I like to be professional. When I go cycling nowadays in the Italian mountains, I do the same training as a 51-year-old as the professional bike racers. The big thing, though, was that I had been in an extraordinarily professional club at Juventus. It defined my life and helped me to arrive as a big man and a big player. This mentality helped me build my family values.

When I was in Middlesbrough, my mentality was the same as it was at Juventus. I wanted to be professional and do the maximum for the team I represented. I would do second training sessions for myself after the first session. It was very hard for me. Honestly. When you arrive after winning the Champions League in Juventus, I had everything for my training before.

When I got to Middlesbrough, there were a lot of problems at the training ground. We went to the park for training! I spoke very quickly with the manager Bryan Robson and with Gibson, telling them to build a new training ground. It was not important to buy big players if you then didn’t have a training ground for them. I told them every day, “Please, please, build a new training ground.” Now they have one of the top 10 training grounds in England.

TA: How did Boro get relegated with the amount of goals (31 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions) you scored in your lone season there?

Honestly, this is just my opinion. When we built the team, we had a lot of problems at the start of the season with the defenders. We let in a lot of goals. With myself, Nick Barmby, Craig Hignett, Juninho, Emerson… we had good quality to score goals. The problem was about the defenders!

Every shot on the goal was a goal! We did not have any quality defenders. This is the first problem, but a big problem. We bought Gianluca Festa from Inter Milan and he made it better but we needed a goalkeeper. We had a lot of problems. Then Mark Schwarzer arrived and he stayed for a long time in goal, and he was excellent. At the start of the season, we did not have a good idea to build a strong team. If we started the season with the team that finished the league, we would have stayed up, for sure.

What is the truth about the alleged argument between yourself and your team-mate Neil Cox on the morning of the 1997 FA Cup final?

Nothing, nothing. There was no problem with me and another player. In the final, every player dreams to play at Wembley. My family came over from Italy for the match. Cox… it is impossible to speak about football with Cox because he was not professional. He was not a quality player. It is impossible for me to take a relation with a player who is not professional. There was no fight. In my life, in my career, I did not fight. I don’t like this.

This was only speculation. The difficulty sometimes is there is a very big difference between four or five players and myself. I was very professional and some others were not very professional. This was a big difference in mentality in 1996. When we lost a game, for me, my life is football. For others, football is sometimes only joking. This is not correct: not for the club, not for the fans, not for the people who pay you. When you represent the club, you must be professional.

Did you ever talk to players in the squad and say, “Let’s be more professional and achieve great things together”?

Many times. We had meetings in the changing room about this, with Gibson and Robson. Many times. This was the first problem in Middlesbrough, because many players were not professional. Now the mentality has changed, in every part of Europe, but especially in England. I built my career on my professionalism. I am 51 and continue to lead my life this way. If you do one job, you must be professional. This is normal to me. But for many players, this is a problem.

So to be clear, Fabrizio, there was NOT a fight?

Noooo (laughs). It is very easy to fight with Cox. Honestly. It is the same as if I would have a fight with my son if he was 14 and if I was 35. It is impossible. It is too small to call it a fight with Cox.

TA: How close were you to joining Liverpool at the end of that season in the summer of 1997? 

I was very close to joining Liverpool and Tottenham. I tried for one month over the possibility with my agent to sign for Manchester United but it did not happen. But Liverpool was a real opportunity. The Liverpool manager Roy Evans called me when I was on holiday in the summer and said he wanted me to join the club. I said, “OK, no problem.”

After, I have no idea why, it did not happen. Liverpool, at that moment, I think it would have been a great move for me. I wanted to leave Middlesbrough because I had to play in the top flight and Middlesbrough had been relegated. I needed to be in a big league because we had a World Cup the next year in the summer of 1998. If it was not for the World Cup, I would have stayed there (in the second division), for sure.

Before leaving Middlesbrough, I received a call from Alan Sugar, the Tottenham chairman. He said to me, “Please come in to Tottenham, please come in to Tottenham.” But I was literally in the taxi to take the flight to Marseille. If this call had arrived one day earlier, I am sure I would have been in London and signed for Tottenham. It is a shame because I liked the Tottenham team. They had Teddy Sheringham, a quality player, and they had Sol Campbell behind. They or Liverpool would have been the same for me.

TA: You’ve spoken in the past of wanting to be Middlesbrough manager. Have there ever been any serious discussions about this, and is it still something you want?

I have managed at Ajaccio in France and Arsenal Kiev in Ukraine. I would love to manage again and my agent, Craig Honeyman, is based in England. In life, there are many surprises. Why not? My heart is in Middlesbrough. When I arrived there, I remember the Italian flag at the Riverside, “Welcome Fabrizio”. They were fantastic with me.

I would want to do the same fantastic job as a manager as I did as a player when I scored many goals. I don’t know if I could take one day the management with Boro. But one day, it would be the best thing if I could come back to Boro.

Fabrizio-Ravanelli-Bryan-Robson.jpg

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Rav was a brilliant striker, one of the best I've seen in a Boro shirt and it's hard to disagree with a lot of things he says there.

I remember watching the team training at Tollesby Road where the training ground was and it was a disgrace. It's also right about the defence, we were really poor at the back, I think the team that finished the season would have finished in the top half the following season if we'd stayed up and added a couple of other players. 

I bet Rav was a nightmare to manage and play with at times though. 

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No doubt about it, if we had Festa and Schwarzer from the start of that season we stay up. Also I think Nigel Pearson was injured for the first half of that season, with him back fit and the addition of the other two we could suddenly defend a bit. 
 

Rav was clearly not a nice bloke though, pretty much all our players from that time have agreed on that in interviews. 

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