It was a surprise because it was him that asked the first question: “How are you?” You can’t ignore that kind of courtesy. “When I was in the youth system of Racing Club, we worked a lot on our concentration. With a psychologist, we had tests with numbers, letters, sentences and I always had the best score. One of these tests was a sheet with scattered numbers from 1 to 100 and we had to connect them without lifting the pen from that sheet of paper. I got to 95 while my teammates stopped at 40-50 more or less, maximum was 70. Yes, concentration is my gift. It helps me so much on the pitch and to stay focused for all 90 minutes.”
Especially if it’s against Juventus…
“Inter are doing well, better than the results say, which are not always what we want. The last draw with Roma is one point earned for our objective: there is only one left and we cannot fail. We have to play like we did in the derby.”
Did you expect to progress a bit further in cup competitions?
“Yes. Against Lazio, we ended up on penalties and then bad luck happened. In the Champions League, we had great first part of it and then we stopped. In Europa League, I was very confident because I saw the fire in this team. Instead, we got eliminated by losing at home. We were all very disappointed.”
Juventus are Cristiano Ronaldo. What one of his attributes that you would love to have?
“Heading the ball. He knows how to attack the ball from corners or free kicks. And he almost always succeeds. He has many weapons but this attribute is the most dangerous.”
Can Inter fill this gap with Juventus as early as next season?
“Looking at the points, one would say that the difference is huge. We are aware of this and we have to change it next season. We are a huge club and it is mandatory to do so. My big dream is to win a domestic league with Inter. But to do that, it is not enough just to talk about it. All of us must be psychologically convinced: the fans, the directors, the players.”
The current season, was it what you expected?
“I managed to play for many minutes and so I am happy. In pre-season, I played and scored a lot but then I had to go to the bench but due to what happened to a teammate I became a starter. And then I also scored in the derby.”
Did you ever think about leaving when you didn’t play a lot?
“In those moments, everything goes through your head. I came from Racing where I always played. Here, I had a great player like Icardi, a captain, a top goalscorer. I knew that it would be difficult to play as he would never leave the games because it is always either one or the other, we never play together. So I thought of Argentina, of wasted opportunities, of a lot of things. But my family always has trust in me.”
Speaking of family… What was the first thing that you told your father after he criticized Spalletti?
“I called him and shouted that he should not have done it. He is a human being and he can make mistakes. He was a footballer too and so he immediately understood. He then deleted the tweet but it was too late. He apologized to me and then he called Spalletti to apologize on his and my part. We had a three-way meeting between me, Zanetti and Spalletti.”
You became starter after the case of Icardi. Did you talk to him during those days?
“Sure, for a while. I always told him how important he was to this team. But I also told him that the problems existed between directors, his wife and agent had to be solved directly by them. And that we, as a team, shouldn’t have been involved. We didn’t cause it.”
Is your relationship with Mauro Icardi still good, even now as you two are in competition?
“He was the first to welcome me. He also helped me finding a house. He took care of everything. He was not obliged to do any of that but he did it because he is a good person. We are aware that we would be fighting for just one position: we find ourselves well together off the pitch but in training, everyone does their own thing.”
Do you think that without those extra problems it could have been a better season for Inter?
“Maybe we would have improved more because it is better for you to work when things are calm. But there is always a teammate, an agent, a problem… These things also exist at Juventus or at Racing…”
Radaelli, the man that brought you to Racing, said that ‘Lautaro is like two players in one.’ What did he mean by that?
“He adored me. He often repeated that I could cross and the head the same ball in: this is where the “two in one player” came from. He is a master and I still hear from him. At Racing, I arrived very young and I wanted to leave. He convinced and supported me: I owe him my career.”
You don’t suffer any more nostalgia?
“I grew up and know my responsibilities. And then at home there is my girlfriend by my side. She is very intelligent. She comforted me when I wasn’t playing and when I was disappointed and sad. And not a day goes by that I don’t hear from my family.”
You played basketball up to the age of 15. Why did you choose football?
“I was just practicing basketball but without playing in tournaments. I gave it up when I joined the first team in Bahia Blanca. Had I not become a footballer, I would definitely be a basketball player today.”
What did you learn from that sport?
“When to cut in, the ability to clear myself from the defender. Movements without the ball, quick cuts: basketball still helps me on the pitch until today.”
Ginobili is from Bahia Blanca just like you. Who is better, Manu or Messi?
“How can I not say Messi? There are no words to describe him.”
Let’s continue: Falcao or Milito?
“Milito. I have a special friendship with him as we played together and he often calls me.”
Scoring a goal in Inter-Juventus or in Copa America?
“This time I won’t choose: first score against Juve, then with Argentina.”
Does that weigh on your shoulders?
“No, I never had any doubts. When I met Ausilio he asked me which number I preferred and I answered 10. It is really a special number.”
Dybala also wears the number 10.
“Paulo is a great player. He is someone that I would like to play with because he helps you improve and score more. But I cannot say anything about his future…”
Going from South America to Italy, has your style of play changed?
“Changed? No. I just had to add more to it.”
What did Spalletti add to your game?
“He corrects me a lot in training about techniques and ball control. He always tells me that he is surprised by my capacity to learn.”
The best defender that you have faced?
“Can I say Skriniar?”
“Koulibaly, a great defender. And I also like Kolarov for how he attacks and then runs back to defend.”
How is your life in Milan?
“It evolves around football, most of the time I think about it. I look for places that I can relax and have fun, without too many fans. I love meat restaurants and my favorite is Porteno. Now, I have also discovered sushi. I just have to be careful with the diet.”
“I know my ideal weight and I must keep it that way. I should eat meat less. I take care of these details since I was introduced to a nutritionist at Racing. I wanted to learn to eat well and I started to follow his advice and I have not stopped since.”
What is your relationship with social media?
“I only have Instagram but I use very little. Once in Argentina, I decided to close them permanently because after receiving a red card in a match, people started to write me about everything. But people don’t know anything, they are behind a computer and so it is easy. But I know how it works: if you miss a goal then you are the worst, if you score you become the best.”
Your partner (probably talking about Icardi here…), however, thinks differently…
“I see everything but it is his account and I have no problem.”
Do you have regrets experiencing such a short Champions League?
“I hope the next one is mine. First let’s quality. Then I will certainly have some more experience and knowledge on how to deal with it.”
Your career is moving very fast. Isn’t there the risk of doing too much?
“I always give myself short-term goals: now is Champions League qualification, then Copa America, and then Champions League again: thinking of being able to win it. If you think of victory, everything becomes easier. If you plan to finish second, you will never win.”
You are 21 years old but have the ability to always think about the team.
“That’s how it is supposed to be. Scoring goals would obviously make me go home very happy but the collective results are those that make individual performances stand out. And if you play for the team, the team helps you score more goals. If you only play for yourself, things get tougher.”
When will you renew your contract?
“You have to ask an Inter director.”
Last question: why do they call you Il Toro (The Bull)?
“At Racing, two of my teammates (Brian Mansilla and Santiago Reyes) gave me that nickname because of the strength that I had on the pitch. And because every time I asked for the ball, it was always like the last play of the game.”
Not a wrong choice with all things considered: always entrusting the ball to those who are always focused.