Nazionale U21

Calafiori thriving in his new centre-back role

The Bologna defender: “I think I deserve my place here with Italy”

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Calafiori thriving in his new centre-back role

Five years ago, Riccardo Calafiori didn’t know if he’d ever walk again, let alone play. While wearing the Roma jersey in the Youth League, he suffered a near career-ending injury to his knee. But with a spirit of sacrifice and the desire to fight back and reclaim what that game against Viktoria Plzen took from him, Calafiori succeeded in becoming a footballer. Now, he’s back with Italy’s Under-21 side, who are training in Tirrenia (Pisa) ahead of their clash against Norway at the Stadio Druso in Bolzano on Tuesday 17 October (17:45 CEST kick-off). Born in Rome, the 21-year-old has returned to Italy after a spell at FC Basel and is making a good impression at Bologna, where he’s been playing at centre-back as opposed to his usual full-back role.

“I already experienced this position in Switzerland last year, but I was part of a three-man backline,” he explained. “Now, I’m playing at centre-back in a four-man defence, and I feel very much at ease. Thiago Motta asks those who are selected in this position to not be afraid to play from the back and not just get it down field. He also wants to see aggression.” His performances have led to him making his return to the Azzurrini fold: “I’ve always been part of the Italy youth setup, and it’s always been a fantastic feeling. It has a different significance compared to playing at club level, and I think I deserve my place here with Italy. I’ll try to retain my spot.”

Calafiori has learnt a lot from the many coaches he’s played under: “I made my debut under Fonseca, while Mourinho helped shape me character-wise. From a tactical perspective, I’ve tried things under Motta that I’ve never experienced before. We work on our solidity in defence, and you can see this during matches: it’s a sign of a united team. I’ve already played under Nunziata during my time in the Italy youth setup, and now it’s great to do so again.” From FC Basel to Bologna, two sides that wear the same colours: “My experience in Switzerland was vital for me in terms of my growth as a player and person. I’d make the same choice again because it allowed me to have continuity: I want to play for teams where I’ll get playing time. During the summer, there was interest from clubs which could be seen as more prestigious than Bologna. However, if I’d joined one of these teams, I would perhaps have played half the number of games. I decided to move to Bologna, where I signed a four-year contract, and I’m delighted to be there.”

PLAYER NEWS. Having received confirmation about the unavailability of Jacopo Fazzini (Empoli), Carmine Nunziata has called up Ascoli’s Samuel Giovane, who was training with the U20s and will now join up with the U21s in the next few hours.

Squad list

Sebastiano Desplanches (Palermo), Filippo Rinaldi (Olbia), Gioele Zacchi (Giana Erminio)
Riccardo Calafiori (Bologna), Diego Coppola (Verona), Daniele Ghilardi (Sampdoria), Gabriele Guarino (Empoli), Michael Olabode Kayode (Fiorentina), Lorenzo Pirola (Salernitana), Matteo Ruggeri (Atalanta), Riccardo Turicchia (Juventus), Mattia Zanotti (St. Gallen)
Midfielders: Tommaso Baldanzi (Empoli), Alessandro Bianco (Reggiana), Edoardo Bove (Roma), Cesare Casadei (Leicester), Giovanni Fabbian (Bologna), Samuel Giovane (Ascoli), Fabio Miretti (Juventus), Cher Ndour (Paris Saint Germain), Matteo Prati (Cagliari)
Giuseppe Ambrosino (Catanzaro), Francesco Pio Esposito (Spezia), Sebastiano Esposito (Sampdoria), Luca Koleosho (Burnley) Marco Nasti (Bari), Gaetano Pio Oristanio (Cagliari)


Friday 13 October

14:00 Latvia vs. Republic of Ireland 
18:45: Turkey vs. San Marino

Tuesday 17 October

14:00 Latvia vs. Turkey
17:45: ITALY vs. Norway (Bolzano)

Standings (number of games played in brackets): Norway (2) and Republic of Ireland (2) 6, Italy (2) and Latvia (3) 4, Turkey (2) and San Marino (2) 0


Tuesday 17 October (17:45):
 Italy vs. Norway (Bolzano)
Thursday 16 November: San Marino vs. Italy
Tuesday 21 November: Republic of Ireland vs. Italy
Friday 22 March 2024: Italy vs. Latvia
Tuesday 26 March 2024: Italy vs. Turkey
Thursday 5 September 2024: Italy vs. San Marino
Tuesday 10 September 2024: Norway vs. Italy
Tuesday 15 October 2024: Italy vs. Republic of Ireland