It was 16 years ago that a young Mauro Camoranesi packed his bags and left Argentina to try his luck in Mexican football. Nobody, not even the player himself, imagined that he would return many years later with a FIFA World Cup™ winners’ medal under his arm, especially one picked up in the blue of Italy.

Yet it is the very same Camoranesi who turned out for Santos Laguna, Montevideo Wanderers, Banfield, Cruz Azul, Verona, Juventus and Stuttgart that is now plying his trade for Argentinian outfit Lanus. Combative, skilful and as fiercely passionate about the game as ever, the winger spoke to about a range of issues including his current situation, leaving Juve, his FIFA World Cup highs and lows and a possible future in coaching. Mauro, what made you decide to finally return to Argentina now instead of when your time at Juventus ended?
Mauro Camoranesi: Last year I chose to go to Germany instead because I wanted to stay in European football. I was excited about the possibility of playing for a team like Stuttgart. After so many years in Italy I wanted a change of scenery and to tackle a new challenge. I wasn’t there long but I was very enthusiastic about the chance to go there. I didn’t intend to come back to my country, but this opportunity came up and I decided to take it.

What was it about Lanus that won you over?
They were the first Argentinian club to show an interest in me, and they’re a club where everything seems very positive and straightforward. In sporting terms they’re a competitive team who’ve been battling it out at the top in recent years. They didn’t take long to convince me.

Looking back over your career as a whole, which was the best team you’ve ever been part of?
The Juventus side of 2006, when we had ten of the world’s top 30 players. Something like that only comes around every 20 years, because it’s very difficult to find such a good generation of players who are all in the same team. Of the 15 [first-choice] players we had, 11 were the captains of their national teams. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enjoy success on the European stage.

If I were to stop playing football and not stay involved with the game in some way, I’d go mad! And when you talk about being in football after retiring, the only role left is coaching.

Mauro Camoranesi

Do you miss Italy?
Yes, sometimes I get the urge to go back. I’ve got a house there and it’s where I spent many years of my life. In these first few months back in Argentina I’m experiencing so many new things, so I’m not missing Italy as much. But I do have moments when I miss my home, my friends and certain customs. The feeling washes over me sometimes.

What’s your view on the way you left Juventus?
It wasn’t nice. I’m very thankful to the club, and the last thing I wanted was to make trouble and sully all the good things I experienced there. But the way I left wasn’t nice, and the same happened to other team-mates of mine. It all felt a bit strange and we didn’t get much support from the club. We had to leave by the back door, let’s say.

When you originally left Argentina to play in Mexico, did you ever imagine you’d come back having won a FIFA World Cup winners’ medal?
No! Even though everybody dreams of something like that, for most people it remains just a dream – there are very few people for whom it becomes reality. If I think about it, I’ve been fortunate enough to come home with something important under my arm, haven’t I? (laughs) It’s no small feat. I had the opportunity and I took it. I spent seven years with the Italian national side, which were wonderful both in personal and sporting terms. I’ll be forever grateful.

Did you keep one eye on Argentina’s performances, even while you were representing Italy at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010?
Yes, of course. When you’re there [at a World Cup], you keep an eye on everything. And even more so in Germany, where we were close to crossing paths. If Argentina had beaten Germany in their quarter-final, they would have been our semi-final opponents. From a sporting perspective it was a relief not to face them, because they had more chance of causing us problems than Germany did. Given the way they played the game, we would have found life much tougher against them than against a European team. Germany were a more structured side, whereas Argentina had two or three talented players capable of doing unpredictable things.

Turning to the Final of Germany 2006, what’s the first memory that springs to mind from that night?
I remember being on the bench at the start of extra time (Camoranesi started the match and was replaced by Alessandro Del Piero on 86 minutes) and anxiety was eating me up inside. Just knowing that I’d have to sit there waiting for half an hour before learning our fate in that Final. I remember seeing the Trophy on display in front of us, the lads out there on the pitch.

How hard is it to have the Trophy within touching distance while the Final is being played?
It’s terribly tough. Football’s very cruel that way. The winner takes all the glory and the loser’s left with nothing! That happened to me in the Champions League final (in 2003), when we lost to AC Milan on penalties. They took all the glory and went on to play in world finals and the European Super Cup. And us? We only lost on penalties but we were left empty-handed. At moments like those there’s so much difference between the winners and losers, even when that’s not the case out on the pitch.

What’s your view on that shot of Zinedine Zidane walking past the Trophy on his way towards the tunnel, following his red card in the 2006 Final?
Of course, that’s the enduring image of that World Cup. Personally, as a footballer, it pains me that he hung up his boots. He was a great player, the best around at that moment in time, and he’d proved he was still the best at that World Cup. Everything could have been different if he’d stayed on the field for the rest of that World Cup, couldn’t it? It’s a real shame, but that shouldn’t overshadow what he achieved. People mustn’t forget how great he was just because of that episode. Those who really like football and love the sport need to remember everything else he did, including earlier in that game. The other stuff should be secondary.

You shared a dressing room with Marco Materazzi on Italy duty for many years. Is he as fearsome as he looks?
No, Marco’s a nice guy! I definitely think that we all have a different persona once we take the field, compared to what we’re like off it. Some people don’t agree, but I think that out on the pitch you sometimes see a side of us that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. As long as you stay within the rules, anything goes. That’s what he’s like, love him or hate him.

Moving on to South Africa 2010, what do you think went wrong for the Azzurri?
It was a sad World Cup for us, a strange tournament. A lot of us were four years older than we’d been in 2006 and carrying a few problems. And aside from those of us who’d been there four years before, we had a squad of young, inexperienced players. Some only had around ten international caps, which can get you found out at international level. At no point did we show that we were better than our opponents and we ended up paying the price for that. We went home disappointed but we were aware that it had been down to us – we couldn’t lay the blame anywhere else.

Do you enjoy the kind of football played in Europe?
European football’s really dipped, especially this year. That’s proven by the Italian championship, which isn’t competitive. In Italy at the moment, the leaders (Milan) have 65 points, whereas two or three years ago they’d only have been third or fourth with that tally. It’s all very even, the leaders lose a lot of games. Spanish football lacks title challenges from teams like [Deportivo] La Coruna, Valencia, Villarreal and Atletico [Madrid]. Even though Barcelona and Real Madrid are usually contenders, one of those other teams used to be in the mix too, which doesn’t happen anymore. And to be frank, I’ve never liked English football.

Why not?
I don’t know, I just don’t like it. In Europe everybody goes mad for English football, possibly because it’s the most competitive, but I don’t enjoy it. The Bundesliga was a pleasant surprise though, given it’s pretty competitive and everyone can beat anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, Europe remains at the summit of world football, but things are changing very noticeably, more than ever before.

Even though everybody dreams of something like that, for most people it remains just a dream. I’ve been fortunate enough to come home with something important under my arm, haven’t I?

Mauro Camoranesi on winning the FIFA World Cup

Given the passion with which you talk about the game, have you considered moving into coaching after you hang up your boots?
Honestly, if I were to stop playing football and not stay involved with the game in some way, I’d go mad! At least that’s the way I feel now: my mind’s set on staying involved with what happens on the field. And when you talk about being in football after retiring, the only role left is coaching. The other roles available are administrative or in offices, but to me that’s not football.

What kind of coach do you think you’d be?
I’ve taken positive things from all the coaches I’ve had. I respect them all, even though each of them has their own ideas. There were two or three in particular that I really enjoyed working with, especially because of the way they perceived the game. Some of the coaches I had treated football as if it was war, whereas others showed me that it’s just a game in which you have to play better than your opponents. And that works for me: it’s about the game.

And should you go into coaching, can you see yourself one day taking charge of Italy or Argentina?
Why not? You always have to give yourself something to aim for, and I’m aiming for the top.