Davide Zappacosta recalls his early days in the game, from playing street football in his local town square in Italy to making his professional debut in a position he had never experienced before...
Zappacosta, who could make his 50th Chelsea appearance when we take on Eintracht Frankfurt tomorrow night, grew up in a small town 70 miles south of Rome and it was there that his footballing journey began...
I was about six when I started playing for my first team which was in Sora, the town I come from in Italy. We were the youngest age group, Under-6, and in the meantime I would play street football with my mates in the town square.
The main reason I ended up playing there was because my dad had been playing for Sora until shortly before. It was easier for him to take me there more than anything else! All my mates, including my best friend at the time, played there as well. When I was there Sora’s first team were in Serie C, the third division. I remember I used to go and watch them every now and again.
I am still in touch with almost all of the guys I played with at the time. I have really good memories from then. Pretty much the same group played together all the way through from Under-6s to Under-16s. We had some really good players and we won quite a lot as well.
Training was always enjoyable. I remember one game very well: you would have two goalkeepers, and all the other players would be in the penalty area. You had to keep the ball up, and after five passes you had to try and volley it in without the ball touching the floor. The two goalkeepers would try and win by keeping the ball out for the longest amount of time, and then they would get a prize at the end of it.
My parents always supported me but they never pushed me in one particular direction. It’s always been up to me. They have helped me to grow in the best possible way and develop, and fortunately I have been able to reach the best possible level, but they have never said I need to do this or that.
I have always been very humble and a bit shy so there was never one moment when I thought I’m pretty good at this. There were a lot of very good players in that team and I wasn’t necessarily the best player. But when I was 16 I was made captain by the coach and began to play as a trequartista, a playmaker. I was the top goalscorer in the regional championship and that was when I went to Isola Liri, the team I joined at Under-17s. That was a step up. I became a professional player the following year.
There are quite a lot of clubs who have got a really good youth set-up in Italy. I was a fortunate to spend a year with one of the best: Atalanta. But where I was born and places around where I was born, there is not that much money and so it’s difficult for clubs to have really well-organised youth set-ups.
I moved to Atalanta when I was 18. I joined in the January and trained with the youth team for six months. I spent another year there before joining Avellino, where I spent three years.
When I got to Avellino they were convinced of the fact I was a full-back! My debut for Avellino went disastrously to be honest. I had come from the youth set-up at Atalanta where I had played wide left and up front, and then they put me right-back in a four-man defence! I had never played that position before. It was really difficult for me, defensively in particular.
It wasn’t easy, but slowly things got better. After a while out of the team I got my place back and kept it for three seasons. We won promotion to Serie B, I had a good season there, and then I returned to Atalanta who were in Serie A.