I have wonderful memories of playing under Roy Hodgson. He was an honest, sincere person but, above all, a great coach with a lot of knowledge. He prepared for matches extremely well and taught us a lot. Although he didn’t win anything at Inter his impact was excellent.
I have a fixed image in my mind when I think of Roy: before every training session he would shake hands with the players, one at a time. We looked at each other smiling, almost incredulous, because we didn’t understand it, but he was a real gentleman and this was his way.
I never experienced that at any other point in my career but he was a man from another time and a fantastic person. Sometimes I would talk to him after training, chatting about golf or tennis, which were his great passions, but also confiding about things from my private life.
Roy repeated Björn Borg’s name before, during and after training. “We have to be like Björn Borg. I want a mentality like Björn Borg.” Then, once training was over, he stopped to chat about tennis and Borg with some of us. Let’s say Borg was a beautiful obsession of his.
Roy’s only flaw was that he hated the press, because he received a lot of criticism. He bought newspapers every day to learn the language but he considered journalists his enemies. It was a constant struggle between Roy and the reporters.
He would come into the dressing room really nervous because of it. I told him with my teammates: “Forget it … no problem. Inter are a great club and criticism is normal.” But he could not accept the criticism from journalists. It made him furious.
When he got mad, he spoke only in English. Thinking about it makes me laugh – the scenes were bizarre: once we entered the dressing room and saw him scream and swear at every article that criticised him, almost desperate. I will never forget when we were top and lost 2-0 at Juventus, and Roy was furious when he returned to the team bus. He went up and down saying: “We didn’t deserve to lose, that’s not fair” – plus some rude words in English. We had deserved to lose but he was worried what the newspapers would write.
Roy was an intelligent man who lived for human relationships as well as for football. He wanted to learn Italian to communicate better with the team and he made himself understood. His language was not perfect but these things are appreciated by the players. Roy spoke English only with Paul Ince.
We qualified for the Uefa Cup in Roy’s first year and got to the semi-finals before losing to Schalke on penalties, but Roy was attacked because his defence was deemed too high. We played very attacking football, always risking conceding goals, but he did not accept the criticism.
In that semi-final Roy replaced Javier Zanetti, a real symbol of the team, five minutes before the penalties to bring on a penalty taker. Zanetti showed his anger in front of the whole San Siro and 85,000 furious fans shouted at Roy for his choice. Roy responded to the fans in turn, and after that episode we got to penalties pretty much thinking the game was lost.
Generally, Roy loved to compliment players. In the early days, when he didn’t speak Italian well, if we won he would hug me and say: “Good save, Gianluca. Dai, Gianluca. Forza grande, Gianluca.” He was always motivating me.
I had only one verbal fight with him. At a Coppa Italia match against Cagliari he said a bad word in English in a low voice, I understood him and I answered in the same way. The next day, he got the team together and apologised. I appreciated that a lot and the problem was resolved. It was the gesture of a great person.
There is a popular legend here in Italy that Hodgson asked for the sale of Roberto Carlos to Real Madrid. Everyone blames him for supposedly forcing Inter to sell Roberto Carlos, who was young and became for many years the best left-back in the world. But that bothers me because in my opinion the club sold Roberto Carlos. I think they didn’t believe in him.
Roy has never gone into the details on that story or accused the club over the sale and Inter fans love him as a person because of this. It shows what a man he is.
He has an extraordinary style that has made him one of the most popular figures in football over the years. I wish him all the best. He’s a gentleman, not just a manager.