Wilfried Gnonto expressed his distrust of working with Italy head coach Roberto Mancini as they prepare to start their Euro 2024 qualifiers against England on Thursday.
Italy missed out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after losing to North Macedonia in a qualifying play-off last March.
It was the second World Cup in a row that the Azzurri missed out on and it came just months after their Euro 2020 winning campaign when they beat England on penalties in the final.
Gnonto made his international debut in May 2022 and looks set to add to his eight caps when they face England on Thursday before heading to Malta on Sunday.
The Leeds United winger was a graduate of Inter’s youth academy when Mancini was in charge of the Italian team and has hailed the national team boss as one of his inspirations.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Gnonto said: “I remember when I was young at Inter and he coached the first team. He was an idol and I never expected to be on the national team with him.”
The winger became Italy’s youngest goalscorer when he scored against Germany last June and echoed Mancini’s recent claim that Italy has young talent comparable to England’s Jude Bellingham.
He said: “He gave a strong signal, both to me and to other young people. We hope that many others will follow this example.”
We have super Willy Gnonto #adzurri #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/sDDMfLDwfz
— Italy (@Azzurri_En) March 20, 2023
The 19-year-old also welcomed the influence of former assistant coach Gianluca Vialli, who worked extensively with young players before passing away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He immediately tried to make me feel like part of the group and give me advice. Moments spent together and his words will stay with me forever,” Gnonto said.
Leeds are 14th in the Premier League but just two points clear of the relegation zone and Gnonto has scored four goals in all competitions since his move from Zurich last year.
“I didn’t even hope so much, it all happened very quickly and I didn’t have time to realize,” he said, reflecting on his move to the Premier League.
“But it was a wonderful feeling. The impact has been good on a personal level, with the team going through some ups and downs.
“I think this is a dream. I come from Baveno and never expected to ever make it to the Premier League or get compliments from players like that. I live everything with great pride and always try to improve.”