England are just Italy in disguise, says Azzurri enforcer De Rossi
23:35 GMT, 20 June 2012
When the Italians look at Roy Hodgson's England, what do they see According to Daniele De Rossi, a reflection.
England's performances at Euro 2012 may have divided opinion at home, but if there was a country that would appreciate the virtue of defensive organisation and victory on the counter-attack, it is the one that gave the world catenaccio.
The mockery that seemed to follow England through their earliest matches here has stopped. Unbeaten and top of France's group by three clear points – the most convincing performance of any nation bar Germany – England have earned significant professional admiration.
Net gains: Rooney heads home the only goal of the game as England beat Ukraine and top Group D
Some may consider England's progress through this tournament fortunate, yet when De Rossi spoke of Italy's quarter-final opponents, he acknowledged the influence of Italians and Italian football in shaping the impressively obdurate nature of Roy Hodgson's squad.
'England are a very Italian team,' he said. 'You can see the signs, from Fabio Capello to now, with Hodgson. One is Italian, one worked in Italian football. Hodgson was managing in Italy with Inter Milan, so his teams know how to play defensively and then attack. They will have very good players on the flanks but also be a really compact team. It won't be easy.
'As for Capello, he was the coach who helped me most in my career. To say I owe it all to him doesn't go far enough. I was playing in the youth team when he came to Roma and he steered me through to the national side. He really improved me as a player, and I have always been grateful to him. He is a great manager in terms of preparation and motivation of the players, and England will have learned a lot from him.'
Making his point: De Rossi claims England have adapted an Italian style to their play
Yet, even under Capello, England did not demonstrate the resilience shown since Hodgson has been in charge.
In five matches it has brought England's first win over Norway since 1980, their first competitive win against Sweden and a first victory over Ukraine in Ukraine. Sunday in Kiev brings an all together tougher test, however.
England's sole competitive win over Italy came on November 16, 1977, a dead rubber World Cup qualifying match after Italy had already taken the sole qualification place.
England have never beaten Italy in a match that mattered – or won a tournament knockout game against what might be termed major opposition outside Wembley.
To beat Italy, then, Hodgson would have to do better at a foreign tournament than any England manager in history.
In training: The Italian squad are put through their paces on Wednesday
It is Italy who boldly display the four gold stars on their national crest; Italy's players who grew up watching previous generations winning matches like this.
There is no precedent for England defeating Italy – or anyone of stature – in a European Championship quarter-final. Italy, by contrast, in post-war football alone, have claimed the scalps of Germany (1970, 1982 and 2006), Spain (1994), Holland (2000) and France (2006) in major tournaments.
Yet, plainly, it was not the past that concerned De Rossi but England's present and, in particular, the arrival of a reborn Steven Gerrard at this competition.
Often considered Italy's equivalent – the positional difference being De Rossi doubles up in central midfield and defence rather than central midfield and attack – when De Rossi was asked his opinion of England, his thoughts centred on one man.
'Steven Gerrard is my idol, he has been at the pinnacle of football for 10 years,' De Rossi said.
Kop idol: De Rossi spoke in glowing terms of the England captain who has starred during Euro 2012
'He is the symbol of the England team and the symbol, I think, of the universal player, too, because he can play well in defence and attack. You see both sides of his game all the time – I would like to be more like that.
'He is such a positive player for England because, if you want to play quality football, you need complete players who have to adapt to different positions. Gerrard has played this way for so long now.'
De Rossi said he has received interesting overtures from a number of English clubs – a link with Manchester City remains strong, particularly if Nigel de Jong runs down his contract, which has a year to go – and it was clear he was a fan of the modern English game.
'There have been rumours and many offers from English football,' De Rossi added, 'and I must say that I feel attraction for them. I like English football very much.
Concern: De Rossi outlined the threat that Roy Hodgson's side possess ahead of their last-eight showdown
'I think now it is probably more interesting than Italian football, with a lot of outstanding and talented players. But I think this is also the case for Spain as well.'
So what is it like, Italy's Krakow base As one would expect, very Italian, a home from home. Capuccino in the bar, a giant table football game and a labyrinth of blue corridors and walkways, as befits its name: Casa Azzurri.
Steven Gerrard is my idol. He is the symbol of the England team
To create their blue house, the Italian federation took over the Rotunda, an arts and cultural centre to the west of the city. Most weeks it plays host to obscure bands or obscurer cabaret acts and folk dancers; this summer it holds entertainers of a different sort, not least Mario Balotelli, whose incessant need for attention one suspects is beginning to tire the likes of De Rossi, whose answers to questions about him yesterday often came in the form of admonishment.
A short walk across Blonia Meadow – where Pope John Paul II spoke to the largest group of Poles in history, his last public appearance in his native land – is the Jozef Pilsudski Stadium, the tidy ground of KS Cracovia which has been co-opted as Italy's training pitch.
Panorama denounced it as one of the stadiums of hate but yesterday a few hundred happy locals watched as the Italian squad went through their paces in measured fashion, drawing enthusiastic cheers as they lapped the perimeter at a slow jog.
No laughing game: Balotelli's antics are beginning to tire the likes of De Rossi
The intensity will rise as the days pass before both quarter-finalists leave Krakow for Kiev on Saturday. For now, England can only dream of emerging from the shadow of Casa Azzurri.
But, as De Rossi understood only too well, they're pitching a tent on the lawn.