Week 2 opened up with the Day of the Registi - as earlier on we recapped De Rossi’s morning interview to Roma TV, and the afternoon session began with Maxime Gonalons facing the club cameras.
Regista/Mediano/DM - whatever label you wish to use - is the one position the club hasn’t touched this summer and arguably the one position on which the season will hinge on the most. Sure, the club has Kevin Strootman as a third option and EDF has mentioned Ante Coric could be tried out there (even if Coric doesn’t sound like anyone told him that?), but ultimately the season hinges on Gonalons finally finding his feet in Rome in a big way.
Some of Maxime’s answers were contradictory (‘it’s been hard to adapt to Italian football’ vs. ‘French and Italian football is not that different’) and other answers were not comforting even if honest (‘tactically I was not used to what the coach expects of midfielders’) but one thing that struck me was looking at the highlights of Gonalons playing during this video. I’d underestimated just how quality some of his key plays were, especially intercepting, running up the field and feeding the ammo to make a goalscorer out of Gerson (how many people can say that in football right now?)
He’s a quality player and I hope it works out for him, but it would take the coach changing formation for him to get the kind of regular 1-every-3-day gametime he wants alongside De Rossi, and not just waiting every other game to replace the captain. Is that change of formation going to happen from the very beginning of the season? Probably not.
How are you feeling this ritiro?
Gonalons: “I’m happy to start this season with teammates old and new. It’s been a week that we’ve been working hard to be able to relive moments we lived last season, while improving what didn’t work so well in some moments and maybe cost us doing better in the league and reaching that Champions League final.”
Before talking about Roma, we can’t not talk about France being world champions. Have you heard from the players, some of your ex-teammates?
Gonalons: “Yes, I know practically all of the players that make up this France team that was crowned world champions for the second time in history. It’s true that yesterday we lived through a big moment, I was able to watch it here with Greg. Defrel. We watched it together and it’s true we were very happy. You have to congratulate them because they’ve achieved something giant and congratulations to them. I hope they make the most of it and go on to win some more.”
There are some people who said this France played badly. Not us, some people! France managed to win this after a few years where unbelievable things happened - revolts against the coach, players refusing the train, the legal case of Valbuena and Benzema - how did they manage to get out of that?
Gonalons: “Yes, well it’s true that in France we have some really good development staff. In all the clubs, they develop players really well. For some time, there have been young players who are not only very good on the pitch, but intelligent off it as well. That’s the strength of the French team today, led by a coach who’s got a ton of experience by way of Italy. He’s won over the players and today he’s won over a lot of the coaches. Even if not everything was perfect in the gameplay, they showed a lot of character, desire and they’ve restored a smile to the French people who really need that right now.”
Onto Roma: A first season in giallorosso that was probably tied to an injury. After that, you’d stopped a bit. How do you rate for first season in Rome?
Gonalons: “I knew the first season was going to be difficult for many reasons. Because it had been 17 years that I’d played in my first club, where I knew everyone and grew up. So I think it needed a little time, but this year made me aware of different things. It made me discover another way of being, another way of knowing myself. Even if I’d have preferred it go differently, because I was nonetheless away from the pitch for two months because of an injury, well the days will start to get better. I feel better and better, the last six months have been a lot better in terms of understanding the language, understanding this way of play that is very different to what I was used to at Lyon. Today, I’m ready to kick off a new season and I’ve prepared well during the holidays because I needed to. I’m happy to be here.”
Were you unhappy not to have been born earlier, considering all the success at Lyon came before you broke into the first team? And is Italian football really that hard or really that different from the French game?
Gonalons: “Well, I was at the club but I was younger than everyone. I experienced it inside the club even if I was younger and wasn’t in the team, but I had the chance to play some very big Champions League games, to fight in some top league games with PSG. Today, I’m at Roma and I’d say they are two leagues that are pretty similar. I’ve always spoken about it from a tactical and physical point of view. But it’s true that here tactics are something... it’s the most important thing, where the teams are extremely well prepared. That’s where it was different and where I had to adapt. Now I understand very well how the team plays, how well other teams are prepared and I understand now why they say the Italian league is very tactical.”
Di Francesco has always spoken well about you, especially on your vertical game. How is your relationship with him? Do you feel his confidence in you? Because you’re the kind of player he likes a lot...
Gonalons: “Yes, we know the coach loves that we play it forward with vertical football. What I knew at Lyon was different. It was a game based on possession and, today, at Roma we look to break forward quickly, and it’s a game that I like a lot. I like to get forward even if I’m a defensive midfielder and my first concern is to recover the ball. But playing the ball is also important, and playing it well. So I had to and I think I have improved in that area. The coach is very important in that respect, he gives me a lot of advice. I have his confidence and the confidence of the club, and that’s all I need from that point to give the best of myself on the pitch and repay that faith.”
Do you not look to score goals because of your position or is it more of a mental thing?
Gonalons: “I have to improve on that, too. On that note, I’ve scored a few goals in the past but I know that I’m capable of scoring more from long-range shots. In my position it’s a little harder than those that play ahead of me but when I have the opportunity to do it, I have to let myself do it. It goes well in training and now it’s time that it goes like that during the matches.”
What kind of relationship do you have with Pastore from the days you played against one another in PSG vs Lyon?
Gonalons: “He’s a player that put is in a lot of trouble. By his way of playing, his way of moving, he’s a player who tends to make himself hard to mark on the pitch. I faced him a number of times and it’s true he’s a very intelligent player. I’m thrilled he’s joined us this summer because he’s going to bring us a lot with his talent, his experience and the man he is because he’s someone who leaves a strong impression.”
You don’t play any tame style of football. You look for balls into the box and the less tame you play, the more risky your passes can be. There were moments in the season where people were saying that Gonalons would be leaving Roma at the end of the season. Then came the end of the season where you played better and better in 5 or 6 consecutive games. But did you ever think ‘at the end of the year let’s pack it in’ or not?
Gonalons: “To express myself the best, I need to play game after game. I need to play every 3 days, which was the case at Lyon. I spoke about it in the past with every one of my coaches: I’m a diesel engine. I need to play to feel better and better. But I knew I arrived at a big Italian club and the captain is playing in my position. So I knew when I got here it would be complicated. But I have moments where I can say I’ve looked to give the best of myself. I know that I’m capable of doing a lot better. It’s true that there are some plays, in my position, where sometimes I have to be more careful, but that’s a part of my game. I tend to take risks with my passing. Now I have to try to limit those mistakes but, above all, on the pitch I try to give the best of myself for this club.”
Have you found a place here where you can enjoy fishing?
Gonalons: “Ah, not yet!”
Watching the final, did you wind up Coric or just give him a handshake at the end?
Gonalons: “We teased him a lot, me and my two French friends: Gregoire and William. He wasn’t pleased, obviously. But in a final you always need a winner and a loser. And the most important thing is it was us who won!”