October 31, 2017
Onorati at home
He belongs to the old days. The days of suffering and flashes of lightning. From the last relegation to the last trophy. A refined attacking midfielder in his prime, Roberto Onorati (51 years) returned to his native Italy at the end of his playing days. The game against Lazio, at the Stadio Olimpico (kick-off on Thursday at 9.05pm), therefore offered the perfect opportunity to give him a call. The Roman who played for (amongst others) Fiorentina and Genoa, picked up the phone, set himself up and let rip. Some things never change.
Roberto, before anything else, what are you up to nowadays?
I have always worked in football. And still do so in Italy. Now, I am a talent scout and I travel the country.
Despite only spending two seasons with the Gym (from 96 until 98), the supporters still hold you in very high esteem.
It’s both kind and strange, because my story in Nice was a bit special. When I signed, I was at the end of my career, I couldn’t give my maximum. But, I was the first Italian player to come to France, it was a good experience.
What motivated you to take that choice at that time?
I knew a bit about the Côte d’Azur, there is a real proximity to Italy and I used to come from time to time when I played at Genoa. I was made the offer and I accepted. It’s a simple as that.
So you decided to leave Italy.
Exactly. But when I came to France and Nice, there wasn’t all of this professionalism. It was a lot more “amateur” than what I had known throughout my career. Now, everything seems to have changed. The Gym have improved and have become an important side. The club buys well, is managed well, improves its players, plays in Europe. Unfortunately, it is restricted by movements in each transfer window, like all clubs, except Juve, Paris, Barcelona, Real and the biggest clubs. So it’s difficult to stay at the top.
You seem to be really up-to-date with Red and Black news...
I followed a lot last season. Nice were at the heart of a surprise in finishing on the podium. I have watched a bit less this season, although, I know that their start has been a bit more complicated. Once again, that’s often what happens, except for the most powerful clubs.
OGC NICE 1997-98 (Challenge of the Fort Carré)
Valencony, Angibeaud, Onorati, Aubame, Rol, Stéfano, Pottier, Huc
Benali, Aulanier, Calégari, Gioria, Martin, Savini
What do you remember from your time here?
The penalty in the final, the parade in the city with lots of fans after the win in the Coupe de France (1-1 , 4-3 on penalties against Guingamp), the European games that followed, when we were knocked out by Prague whilst we were playing in the 2nd division... I have lots of good memories.
“At the Ray, at the end of one of the games, two supporters waited for me... to go clubbing”
Is there one that stands out?
Yes, but not really on a footballing level. At Genoa (where, in 7 seasons, he played in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, finished 4th in Serie A and also played in Serie B, Editor’s note), I was used to lots of pressure. If you lost at home, the police could take you home. In Nice, it was more calm. Once, we had just lost at the Ray and two supporters waited for me at the end of the game... to ask me to go out clubbing. I went (he bursts out laughing). I did get to quite a lot of the clubs, because I stayed in Nice after my career (under President Sensi, Onorati provided links between the board and the sporting staff), before returning to Rome.
You speak about the win in the Coupe de France in 97: can you explain with the benefit of hindsight, the fact that you lifted that trophy having been relegated?
Our team couldn’t go the distance. Over 38 matches, the weaknesses can eventually be seen, not in a elimination game. We were able to cause surprises. That made us smile.
The Gym 1996-97 in the Parc des Princes, before the club’s last Coupe de France final.
You were born in Rome. Is your heart more for Roma or for Lazio?
What do you make of the other club from the city, Lazio?
At the moment, they are playing very well, with lots of confidence. You can see that in the league table. Lazio have got some very good players, especially in attack, with Immobile. Their side has improved a lot, and Inzaghi is doing some very good work. Tactically, he is very strong and manages all aspects very well. In short, the team is doing well. With Napoli, they are the most in-form, and Nice have come up against both of them.
In your opinion, is it possible for the Gym to get a result?
It will be difficult to get something, Nice are struggling whereas Lazio are on-fire. If they can correct that, the Gym has the quality to do something, even though it’s going to be very tough. But then again, a point would be good for everyone...
Finally, as an Italian, what do you make of Mario Balotelli’s adventure in Nice?
I was very surprised when I found out he had signed for the club. He’s a lad who has huge quality, massive potential. If he is confident, he makes the difference, and then, he manages great things. A return to the national side? The problem is that the forwards (Immobile and Belotti) are doing well at the moment, so Ventura doesn’t see the need to recall him. But if he plays well and continues to score, there will be spaces, because in terms of talent, he’s above the rest...