SPAL President Joe Tacopina explains why he sacked his ‘close friend’ Daniele De Rossi and praises Radja Nainggolan: ‘He’s been exemplary.’

Tacopina’s SPAL hired De Rossi in October 2022, but the 2006 Italy World Cup winner only remained in charge for 17 matches, winning three and losing eight, including the last three of his brief tenure.

“It became a tougher decision [to sack him] when you add to the mix that he’s a very good friend of mine,” Tacopina told The Italian Football Podcast.

“And he’s been a good friend of mine since my days at Roma, he was somebody I was very close with and still am very close with. 

“Which made it more difficult and more awkward but that’s the risk you run when you hire a friend in any business. It was disappointing but it had to be done. Look, we had 15 points in 16 games under Daniele. That’s not acceptable and Daniele himself acknowledged and understood that.

“To be honest had it not been Daniele De Rossi it would have happened earlier, but because I know who he is as a person, character and leader I assumed he would be able to muscle through this thing with us but it didn’t happen.

“Part of it is that he’s a new coach, the first time he’s had a head coaching job. He’s not particularly familiar with Serie B, which is a completely different world than Serie A or the Champions League. Different types of football. 

“Our model of play didn’t really suit our squad; it was a tiki-taka sort of Barcelona type of play. We possessed the ball 65% of the time under Daniele but we only had like two shots a game. And at the end of the day, you definitely can’t score if you don’t shoot.

“But let me make this absolutely clear: there is no doubt in my mind that Daniele De Rossi will become one of the great coaches in football. No doubt. Nothing changes. I said this when I appointed him and I think maybe the timing wasn’t right, perhaps he wasn’t ready. 

“Unfortunately, we’re in a position at the bottom of the table and have a roster that should be at the top. We have La Mantia and Moncini up front and behind them a certain guy named Radja Nainggolan, a world-class player.

“We’re not where we should be, and this is a result-oriented business.”

Naingglan joined his former Roma teammate as a free agent in January and has one goal in five Serie B appearances so far.

“It’s been unbelievable. A lot of people said there’s the good Radja and the bad Radja and that sometimes he goes off the reservation and he could be a wild man and all this stuff, despite being a world-class player,” said Tacopina.

“He’s been exemplary. He has been a leader on the pitch, talking to the players. His skill set is obviously unique. It’s like watching two different types of athletes when you compare him to anyone else in the Serie B and I don’t want to take away anything from anyone in the Serie B. 

“But he is a world-class player even at this age because he’s in phenomenal physical shape still. He is a beast. When he kicks a ball it’s like a hockey puck going in 102 miles per hour. You just feel his presence on the pitch.

“And in the locker room, he’s always there with the guys. He is always speaking with the young players during training and also afterwards goes out with them for dinner. It’s nice to see.

“One example of Radja’s commitment to SPAL is after Daniele left people speculated that he was going to leave because he and Daniele are very close. He got very angry and posted about it on social media calling them idiots.”

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