BIG INTERVIEW - Simone Naddi reflects

Words: ACFC Media

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Former Auckland City FC goalkeeper coach Simone Naddi opens up about his time with the Navy Blues, his favourites moments, his difficult ones and memories he says will last a lifetime.

Signed by the club seven years ago, Simone Naddi remains the club's most successful goalkeeper coach having worked with Tamati Williams, Jacob Spoonley, Louie Caunter, Danyon Drake, Diego Rivas, Conor Tracey, Cam Brown and Enaut Zubikarai.

The Italian-born goalie found a home in New Zealand thanks to his Kiwi-born wife and made his first connections with Auckland City FC by turning out for Central United's social age-group teams.

"It helped me to integrate into New Zealand. I came to New Zealand because my wife is a New Zealander so to leave Italy as an Italian is a big deal.

"I played over-55 at Central United and made friends inside the club and it was good for me to find my place in New Zealand.

"Not long after that, Ramon brought me into the coaching set-up with Auckland City FC," he said.

Success was immediate - Auckland City FC won the ASB Premiership league and grand final titles, the ASB Charity Cup and the OFC Champions League in a memorable season that also included a heart breaking last minute loss to Raja Casablanca at the FIFA Club World Cup.

Naddi believes working with Ramon Tribulietx was a key factor in developing himself as a coach. He says working with top goalkeepers like Williams, Spoonley and Zubikarai also extended his abilities.

"Ramon for me is a teacher. He is a teacher of how to reach the top level. He is very professional and wants everything perfect. He always pushed me which was good. I learned a lot from him. I will never forget what he did for me.

"It was very challenging working with someone like Zubikarai or Rivas. When you have a goalkeeper from overseas and they set a high standard in everything.

"They expect good training because they came from Spain so their expectations were very high - especially Zubikarai.

"When you see the curriculum at the start of that journey then you understand the challenge ahead of you.

"I enjoyed coaching Zubikarai, he's a really good guy and very good goalkeeper," he says.

Working with Williams was a lot tougher. The New Zealand international goalkeeper was back at Auckland City FC for a second spell and Naddi says the pair got off to a difficult start.

"I enjoyed coaching all of the goalkeepers I worked with at Auckland City FC but the one I struggled with was Tamati Williams.

"The first three months Tamati pushed me very hard. Not everything was perfect with the training in the beginning and it wasn't easy.

"It was difficult to find the right note in training, it was start-stop, and we struggled a lot.

"He questioned me a lot and was upset and that upset me. I said to myself that maybe I couldn't do it.

"We needed to find a solution and I had to be stronger.

"Things improved a lot after the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013. After we lost 2-1 to Raja Casablanca, Tamati came to me and apologised - he said, "Sorry, I'm sorry because I'm an intense character."

"Tamati said it twice. It meant a lot to me and says a lot about him as a person that he had humility to say that," Naddi said.

"In the game with Raja Casablanca, we did the warm-up inside the main stand.

"When Tamati and I came out the stadium was so noisy. Before we entered the field of play, I stopped. There is a big difference between being inside the stadium and in the centre of the stadium.

"Tamati turned to me and asked, "What are you doing?", and I said to him, "Well, it's intense out there," and he added, "Come on, let's go, who cares!" - so when we walked out onto the pitch the noise, the booing of 50,000 Raja fans was incredible. It was so noisy.

"I watched a lot of games in Italy from the stands but when you're standing in the middle of it, thats a different matter.

"Tamati just loved every minute of it and its a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life", he said.

While Morocco 2013 was a heartbreaking experience, a return to North Africa a year later would be the stuff of dreams.

A penalty shoot-out win over Moghreb Tetouan, a 1-0 win over ES Setif, the heartbreaking extra-time 2-1 defeat to Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo followed by the exhilirating high of a penalty shoot-out win over Cruz Azul after a 1-1 draw and a bronze medal finish.

Naddi says closing the gap between amateur and professional was a constant struggle for Auckland City FC and was something that drove the coaching staff on.

"It's hard for us when you play in the ISPS Handa Premiership and then play professional teams. The gap between us and a professional team is big. We can always do better but it is tough.

"We played good football but there is a limit to what you can do. But in Morocco the atmosphere, the situation - I still don't know what happened!

"The team found a good feeling and good emotion and weren't intimdated inside a big stadium atmosphere and it was unbelieavble in Marrakech.

"Standing on the pitch after the Cruz Azul game while Real Madrid, San Lorenzo and Moroccan fans chanted 'Auckland City, Auckland City' is emotional even now.

"When Tamati saved the penalties against Moghreb Tetouan it was the culmination of working with him for six or seven months. We did things a little bit different.

"Tamati was having difficulty coming for high balls - at 1.95m its something that should be a big plus. And he did it, he improved a lot.

"When a goalkeeper does something that you helped them work on you feel so very proud of seeing them do it and have a big game like he did against Moghreb.

"Jacob's saves in the Cruz Azul game were also incredible.

"When you see the semifinal with San Lorenzo you say to yourself, wow.

"When the penalties came out in the Moghreb and Cruz Azul games Sanni Issa was the first one to put his hand up and I have to say I was uncomfortable about that because he had hardly trained and he hadn't played a competitive game for the club before we left New Zealand.

"But to Sanni's credit he hit the best penalties I've ever seen. Not once but then in the final game with Cruz Azul. It was unbelievable - he was so cool, so confident. It is a great story.

"I think about the difference in levels - and can Morocco be compared to Japan.? When Japanese teams push the accelerator it is difficult to live with them.

"Any game you go into you never say you can't win but also you have to accept the level and they're extremely skilful and very fit.

"I know Ramon will always believe winning is possible but in countries like Japan it is very very tough.

"In Morocco, maybe the level was a little bit closer for us to reach. Take for instance what happened in the game in 2016 when we took the lead against Kashima Antlers and then lost 2-1.

"They changed their team in the second half and attacked us relentlessly. Takuya has his face busted open which showed you they meant business," he said.

Its understandable that Naddi refers to former Navy Blues coach Ramon Tribulietx as he runs through his many memories.

"Ramon pushed the club to the highest levels and it was a privilege to be involved with the club during that period.

"The leap in standard in Japan was too big for us to bridge. We lost to Kashima Antlers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima on two visits but we were not disgraced.

"Ramon did a very good job because otherwise you could easily lose a game in Japan by 6-0 or 7-0," he said.

Naddi's exploits with Auckland City FC caught the attention of Italian media and the self-confessed Fiorentina fan freely admits had he not come to New Zealand his chances of experiences the big game atmospheres of major stadiums and hostile atmospheres wouldn't have happened.

"Media in Italy picked up on what happened in Morocco in 2014 and my family and friends were following. They saw my face inside the newspaper in Italy and it was amazing.

"I would never have the experiences I had with Auckland City FC if I had stayed in Italy. It was a beautiful football experiences, amazing stadiums, big crowds, business class travel and great life experiences.

"After eight years I was involved every summer and it is the best part of the year and my family supported me. But year after year, it was hard for us.

"I want to continue to coach and I will never say that I will stop coaching. I'd like to be involved in some capacity.

"I will be coming to watch games at Kiwitea Street, to watch Auckland City FC - it's my club.

"I am very grateful for the opportunity Auckland City FC has given to me. I want to say thank you to everyone for everything that has happened.

Ends

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