Italy star Daniele De Rossi yesterday hailed Steven Gerrard as his “idol” as he prepared to go toe to toe with the England captain in the European Championship quarter-finals.
De Rossi revealed he dreamed of playing more like Gerrard, who has shone for the Three Lions during Euro 2012.
Roma vice-captain De Rossi started the tournament in a three-man defence for Italy but reverted to his favoured midfield position in Monday’s decisive Group C win over Republic of Ireland.
The 28-year-old prefers an anchor role and revealed he would attempt to model his game on that of Gerrard.
He said: “Steven Gerrard has always been my idol. Since 10 years ago, he is among the best in the world.
“You see Gerrard defending and attacking here and there. I would like to be able to play more like that.”
De Rossi, who admitted he had yet to see England at Euro 2012, also described Gerrard as their “symbol”.
He added: “They have other very good players playing on the flanks and it’s a really compact team. They have a manager who has been managing in Italy as well, so they know how to play defensively and in attack.”
De Rossi described England as a very “Italian” team, with former Inter Milan boss Roy Hodgson having succeeded Fabio Capello as manager.
The midfielder expressed sympathy over former mentor Capello’s controversial departure just four months ago.
He said: “Of course, I really feel sorry for him. I really wish him the best for the future.
“I’m really grateful to Capello because, when I was playing for the young team of Roma, he helped me a lot to get to the national team.
“Fabio Capello is the coach who helped me most in my career.
“To say I owe it all to him isn’t going far enough.”
Sunday will see England face Italy in a major finals for the first time since the 1990 World Cup.
De Rossi rejected suggestions England are a softer target than France, who they pipped to top spot in Group D.
He said: “They are both very great teams. So I can’t really say it’s better to play against England or France. Maybe against Ukraine, it would’ve been better. England or France doesn’t make any difference because they are both great teams.”