Having spent his early career in his native Argentina, Julio Cruz knows more than most about the intense nature of football fans. With the recent events occurring in Serie A, following the senseless death of Gabriele Sandri and the rioting Ultras in Italy, Cruz is saddened by the situation the game of football finds itself in and is keen to focus attention back onto the pitch.
First making the move to Italy with Bologna in 2000, the Argentine striker boasts an impressive scoring record in the Italian league and earned himself a move to giants Inter Milan in 2003.
Now, with the departure of Alvaro Recoba and uncertainty over the future of Brazilian Adriano, Cruz has a chance to make an impression alongside first choice striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and spoke exclusively with ESPNsoccernet.it about his hopes for the future.
Q. Hi Julio, thank you for speaking to us during this collective moment of sadness in football. Tell us about the battle against CSKA: you were two goals down and then came back to win 4-2 in a great result. Was it due to alarm bells or is it a sign of strength of character?
A. I would certainly say a sign of strength. Because CSKA are a good team, with technical players who know how to exploit an opportunity. Inter returned to its old self, not giving up easily, and above all, keeping the ball moving and scoring goals. This now brings us closer to Champions League qualification, which was our prime aim for the season. Now we have the chance to secure first place.
Q. So far this year you have scored five goals in 11 appearances, often coming off the bench. Do you feel a bit like Jose Altafini for Inter?
A. To start with Altafini was Brazilian and I am Argentine [laughs]. No, he was a great champion, a great striker, but I am Cruz, and I believe that I have demonstrated in recent matches that I can be important for Inter even when I play from the beginning of the match. I do not want to hear that I am a substitute striker: I am a striker for Inter and as such I try to give my contribution, irrespective of the minutes played on the field.
Q. What do you think of the fact that, for everyone, you as a team are clearly favourites for the Scudetto?
A. If you win the championship it is normal that people will believe you will win it again. But overall, I think that a team like Inter are always favoured. Obviously, this must be demonstrated on the field to become reality and this is what we are trying to do at the moment.
Q. Ibrahimovic is at his best this season: but you do score your goals, that's for sure. How are the other Inter attackers coping with the situation?
A. Inter's strength, also in past seasons, has been in the fact it is 'one for all and all for Inter'. I think Adriano must find within himself the strength to overcome the difficult period he has had, and he can do so by knowing that, here, all of the Inter team are with him and that nobody is against him.
On the subject of Davide Suazo, I would say he has already scored and has already proved his class. But it is not easy to join a big club, to adapt to a new environment and to a different situation. I have been through it at the start of my career, if you are not lucky at the beginning there can be some disappointments, especially for a striker who is always judged on goals scored.
Q. If you had to choose only one trophy in the current season which would you choose?
A. If I think of what we can win, I wouldn't choose: we would try to win everything. It is the mission of Inter. If I have to indicate one important victory for this season, it would be over Roma.
Q. What kind of relationship do you have with Roberto Mancini? Tell us about Inter's coach - the most successful coach of recent history?
A. It is good. Just like a relationship between a player and a coach should be. They are two different roles, but they both point towards the same direction. Taking the team to victory. There is respect from both sides, and that is what counts.
Q. Your Milan cousins are behind in the league so far; is it down to bad luck, bad games or even something else?
A. It is difficult to judge from the outside, and if I have to be honest, I have never liked it when Inter is judged from the outside. Milan are a strong team and with many champions, it can be seen every time they play in the Champions League. They have had a bad start, but there is time to recover and Milan has quality, so they can catch up easily. I believe that they shouldn't be underestimated.
Q. Finally, looking outside of the game, with everything that has gone on in recent times, what is your opinion of the fans of football and how can we stamp out the violence that has become so endemic in society?
A. I think it is a difficult time of transition and especially in Italy. With the Inter fans, for example, we have always had a good relationship, even during tough moments for the team, and I realize that, for them, even to come to the stadium is no longer a simple thing.
There is fear and high costs, as well as many constraints that may take away the desire to watch the team play - but not the passion, of course.
I think it is a social phase that must be overcome courageously, so as to install peace. We must work every day to eliminate the violence around football, which is the same violence that has been affecting our world in general.
Choices have been made that I have neither the role nor the expertise to be able to judge; but I believe that the overall goal is to return to the time where stadiums were filled with families, and happiness. This is of great importance for all.
It is also why I believe that the change should be largely cultural. Giacinto Facchetti [former Inter President and legendary player] spoke about the culture of sport being taught in schools, starting from kindergarten, and especially in sports training schools, not just football. Fun and respect must be a priority. And this is a goal that we must never forget.