World Soccer: When did you first find out that you were going to Milan? Had it all been settled for quite a while?
RUI COSTA: Not at all. I went off for my summer holiday in the Algarve knowing that I had to stay at least one more year at Fiorentina. Then, to my annoyance, I learnt from the press and my lawyers that negotiations had been going on, but that Fiorentina hadn’t made any calls to me about it. The last time I’d spoken to the directors was two days after wewon the Coppa Italia and at that point I had practically signed a new contract with them. But I must point out that Milan spoke to Fiorentina first, and only then to me. That’s the way these things are done. Whenever there has been any interest shown in buying me, it’s not my views that are looked for.
It looked at one point as though Parma were certain of signing you.
They have always been very insistent, but it had concerned me a little that they never gave me time to think things through properly. Fiorentina were keen to sell me quickly and Parma were ready with the cash, but I needed to be able to think about what would be the best move for me.
And what did you decide?
I wanted to stay at Fiorentina. When I heard that they were going to have to sell some players, I was sure that I would never be one of them. When I found out that even I was up for sale, I felt really down – I even cried. I felt I had been lied to. Perhaps they were just embarrassed about telling me.
But presumably you still feel some attachment to the club and to the city.
Yes. I can’t and won’t wipe out seven years of my life. I’m happy that I was there, it was a great time, from a personal point of view; it’s just a shame that I didn’t win a great deal on the pitch. But I’m not at all sorry that I stayed for seven years. They helped to make me who I am.
But what’s it like to spend every year so many points off the top and watch whileother teams battle for the championship?
It’s a very tough thing to go through, though, as I’ve already said, I was always happy there. But I know how it upsets the people of Florence. It’s unique for an Italian team of that size to find itself in such a position.
You haven’t been at Milan long, but what has struck you most about the club?
I’ve rarely changed teams and I was very curious to find out what it would be like to be somewhere different after seven years in the same place. The thing I noticed first here was the impressive level of organisation, and the hunger to win. You see the likes of Maldini, Costacurta and Albertini – players who have won everything and who still want to keep on winning. They’ve got this incredible, crazy sense of motivation. That’s infectious, and it is they who drive me on to want to do great things.
Can we expect more goals with your new team?
I know I can score more, but bear in mind that I will also be creating goals, particularly for Inzaghi and Shevchenko.
Sheva says it was he who asked Milan to buy you, even ringing up club president Silvio Berlusconi.
I’m happy to please others, as they say. I’m very pleased that a player such as Sheva should want to play with me. He and Inzaghi are the attackers who have scored the most goals in the past two years. It’s sucha great feeling – hitting the back of the net.
You must be used to getting assists. You played alongside Batistuta for six years.
He was quite different. These two are much faster, and it will be great for me to know that there are two attackers always in the area and ready to make runs.
Let’s talk about your coach at Milan, Fatih Terim.
You appear to dote on each other. Very true. I remember saying a few months ago that if I ever become a coach, I’d like to be like Terim. Look what he did at Fiorentina. In just a few short months last season, he pulled together a fantastic team which played above itself. He believes in his players, knows how to motivate them, to be persistent.
He let you play in a free role,behind the forwards.
He let me play wherever I wanted, whereas others have used me to play wherever the team needed it.
The Milan fans are hoping you’ll become the new Rivera.
That’s a bit like what happened at Fiorentina, when everyone kept comparing me to Antognoni and to Baggio. To be frank, I’ve only ever seen Rivera play on TV, and he’s a little like Eusebio. I can’t give an opinion, with only pictures to go on.
Milan have got problems in midfield with so many players out through injury – Albertini, Redondo, Ambrosini, Gattuso.
It is a problem and it may be that the formation will need re-shaping. Perhaps I’ll even have to go into midfield – I don’t know. But what I do know is that when I was at Fiorentina you really felt it if youhad a player missing. Here, there are plenty of great players to rely on, who are ready to fill whatever position is vacant.
What are they saying about all this in Portugal?
They’re all very pleased. Some had been saying that I really ought to join a big side, otherwise I’d end up like Futre, a great player who nevertheless spent most of his career at Atletico Madrid.
But Futre did get to Milan. You are the only two Portuguese players who have played for the club.
The Portuguese game is full of great players – just look at Figo too. There are always at least seven great players in our national side, but no front men. It’s just a feature of our game.