Former Chelsea midfielder and Italian prodigy Samuele Dalla Bona says the one thing he regrets the most is leaving the Premier League, as he admits his career is effectively over at age 33.
Dalla Bona made 61 appearances for the Blues, scoring six goals and debuting in the Champions League at the age of 18. In 2002, he joined AC Milan, and that is when his decline started. Although he made five Champions League appearances and played four games in Serie A for the Rossoneri, the damage had already been done by turning his back on England.
"If only I could turn back time, I would have stayed there forever," Dalla Bona told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "In Italy, football's repulsive, particularly everything which goes on around it. The pressure, the mentality -- I'm not made out for the Italian culture, and I also paid for this."
Dalla Bona was sent out on loan to Bologna, Lecce and Sampdoria before joining Napoli in 2006. Further loan spells followed at Iraklis Thessaloniki, Hellas Verona and Atalanta before he joined Mantova in 2011, playing his last game for them two years ago.
"I was very attached to my father and he fell ill in 2011, when I was on loan at Atalanta," Dalla Bona explained. "I still had a year on my contract with Napoli, but I terminated it because I wanted to be closer [to him], so I joined Mantova. My father died that October and I couldn't cope any more. I became depressed and I practically stopped playing."
Dalla Bona has a Champions League winners' medal and celebrated Coppa Italia glory with Milan, but the defining memories of his career are overwhelmingly negative.
"There are players who have been banned for life, then their sentences got shortened and they are playing now, while there are honest players who are unemployed," Dalla Bona said. "[Simone] Farina, who reported an approach to fix a game, had to quit playing and he had to go to England to find work. It makes you ask yourself 'what's the point in being honest if it's the sly ones who get on in their careers?'"
The culture is also different off the field in England, according to Dalla Bona, who left Italy at the age of 16.
"I remember once playing for Chelsea and we went to play Manchester City, who had already been relegated, and the stadium was full and the atmosphere was amazing, and City really made us sweat," he said.
"Another time, Robbie Fowler dived in the penalty area and he was booed and whistled at by his own fans. I don't know if English football has changed in the past ten years, but if it's still the way it was, then somebody like [convicted match-fixer Salvatore] Masiello wouldn't have a chance of finding a club. In Italy, though, those who mess up get a second chance while those who never did a thing wrong, and are without a job, are made out to be the idiots."