After leading the Italian national side to World Cup victory in 2006, the former Juventus and Real Madrid player joined Al Ahli in June. We caught up with him to find out how he’s enjoying life in the emirates.
What have you found most difficult about adjusting to life in the UAE?
The club has made me feel most welcome, and has made the adjustment smooth in terms of settling into the squad and settling into a new life. I have not been used to training so late in the evening and clearly the heat and humidity have an effect, but everyone at the club is professional and we can all adapt. Personally, it is just like every time you move house – it takes a little bit of time to settle in. What I love is the freedom that life in the UAE allows for the family. One of the great attractions of me moving here was the fact that Dubai is so safe. It’s always important to make personal decisions that suit you and your family, and that peace of mind makes it easier to concentrate on developing in your professional life.
Does the language barrier make it difficult for you to marshal the defence and captain the team?
All relationships take time to build, and of course language is a big part of that. I feel we will reap the rewards of working hard together in training and getting more games under our belts playing as a unit. We are developing an understanding and learning each other’s styles. It is also important to me to let my experience benefit some of the younger players in the squad.
What’s your stance on footballers fasting during Ramadan? Has it affected their performance?
The club has great back-room staff who are experts on nutrition and conditioning, plus great coaches and support staff, so the players are always in good fitness whether it is summer, winter or whatever. There is a proper infrastructure in place to meet their specific needs no matter what.
Al Ahli’s season has got off to a shaky start. What aspects of the game do you think the coach and players need to work on?
Training is an ongoing process and there will always be room for development – a lot of it is about being disciplined and knowing when to take our chances. As the season continues, we will benefit from David’s experience and will keep working to improve across all aspects of the game.
From what you’ve seen so far, what needs to be done to raise the standard of the UAE football league?
Al Ahli has started from the bottom up. Behind the scenes there is an amazing team of coaches, tacticians and health specialists who are striving for excellence. The investment of hard work in the reserve and youth teams is also a big part of it. You cannot change things overnight, but it is on the right course.
Before coming to Dubai, did you receive offers from any English Premiership clubs?
There are lots of offers to consider as a footballer, but once the time came to move on from Juventus, the Al Ahli offer really interested me. It was not a financial move. As I said earlier, the reason was a lifestyle and family one.
Where next for the Italian national side?
I had a great time with the Italian national team, and lifting the World Cup in 2006 was one of my proudest moments. Now it is up to the next generation and I hope they can build up to something special again.
Finally, what did Marco Materazzi really say to Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final?
[Smiles] I was too far away to hear at the time.
Date of birth
September 13, 1973
Napoli (1992-1995), Parma (1225-2002), Internazionale (2002-2004), Juventus (2004-2006), Real Madrid (2006-2009), Juventus (2009-2010), Al Ahli (2010-present)
Coppa Italia (1999, 2002)
Supercoppa Italiana (1999)
UEFA Cup (1999)
La Liga (2007, 2008)
Supercopa de España (2008)
UEFA Under-21 European Championship (1994, 1996)
FIFA World Cup (2006)