Former Everton defender Alessandro Pistone turns 42 today and to celebrate, we have a feature interview with him from April’s Everton magazine. Click here to subscribe or purchase a one-off copy of the Club’s official magazine.
It was late in the 1999/00 season when an excited Duncan Ferguson bounded over to see Alessandro Pistone at Newcastle United’s Durham-based training ground.
The pair had been Magpies teammates for around 18 months when Ferguson caught wind of Everton’s interest in the Italian full-back.
And in Ferguson, Pistone had the perfect person to ask every possible question about a potential move to Goodison Park.
“Big Dunc was the first one to tell me about it - he knew even before the newspapers!” Pistone recalls with a smile. “He was a good friend of mine and, of course, I knew his passion for Everton.
“I asked Duncan more than a few questions and his thoughts about everything. He spoke so well, so proudly about the club.
“Obviously, it was a great feeling to know Everton were interested in me, but it was unexpected as well. It all ended up happening very fast and there was not much time between discovering the interest and signing for Everton.”
Joining the Blues in July 2000, Pistone went on to play 117 times for the Club in a seven-year spell. He returned to his hometown of Milan after hanging up his boots in 2008 and was delighted to see Ferguson in the home dugout while watching a game on television last term.
And Pistone believes the Scot’s move into coaching makes perfect sense, given his character and long-standing love affair with the Blues.
“I was watching an Everton game at Goodison when I saw Duncan on the bench… When did this happen?!” he asks, excitement in his voice. “It’s fantastic to see him still involved. I’m very happy for him.
“It’s difficult to say if I am very surprised or not because, when we were close, we would not talk about the future, only the here and now. But I always knew he was an Everton man, someone who was very close to the club and someone who everyone at the club seemed to appreciate, so it’s great to see that he is still part of it.”
After sealing a £3million switch, Pistone’s time on Merseyside was hampered by several serious knee injuries and while the now 42-year-old says there was a lingering frustration regarding his lack of playing time back then, he insists he only looks back with fond memories of his time with the Club and relationship with Evertonians.
“When you stop playing football, obviously, you keep thinking about it because it has been such an important part - and such a large part - of your life,” he reflects. “At the end of your playing journey, you recognise how lucky you are to play football. I have never been jealous of anyone in my life, apart from one thing and that is other players who were able to play many games and many years without any injuries. I guess it’s a question of luck, but I wish I could have played more.
“That said, I only took great memories of Everton as a club and Goodison Park… What a stadium! To be honest, my experiences of atmospheres inside English football stadiums was always fantastic. Obviously, Everton was a big part of my career so it’s a particularly special place for me. The Evertonians and people of the city were always great to me.
“Unfortunately, I had a few too many injuries in my career but I always felt like the supporters were with me, backing me and for that I’ll always be grateful. I’ll never forget how they supported me.”
Now looking on from afar, Pistone has been impressed with the progress made under manager Ronald Koeman, as he continues to put his own stamp on the squad and help the Club’s latest batch of youngsters come to the fore.
“It was a great move by the club to get someone of Ronald Koeman’s calibre,” he insists. “He was a great player, he is a great manager and he’s known everywhere in the world.
“It makes me extremely happy to see Everton doing well. I always make sure I watch them on television when I can and, if not, I have to find the result some other way! The Manchester City game really stood out for me this season. The team defended fantastically with very good organisation, as well as getting the goals at the other end. I was very impressed and it shows the club can compete with anyone.
“I’ve watched the young players like Tom Davies and he has done so well. When I see young players stepping up into the first team, it makes me happy and it is such a big achievement because that step is never an easy one. It’s even better that he is from the city and an Everton supporter himself - it’s special. The Club has always had a good reputation for bringing players through the Academy. I remember Wayne Rooney coming through during my time there but there have been lots - and that is great to see.”
Renowned as a dangerous attacking full-back - before the trend of offensive full-backs truly took off - the former Inter Milan defender became accustomed to playing in a number of different formations under British and Italian managers.
Current boss Koeman set his side up with a back four and a back five during his maiden season in charge of the Blues, but Pistone believes the team’s balance, rather than a particular system, has been key to success.
“For me, formations are just numbers - what you really need is a good balance in the team,” he explains. “You need to work in training on the way you want to play and everyone needs to understand that, then you can be successful.
“Whether you play three, four or five at the back, it does not really matter. Every tactic has advantages and disadvantages but playing as a team is always the most important thing in football.”
Since calling time on his playing days, Pistone has opened his own restaurant in his homeland and also turned his hand to coaching.
“I started off at my local club where I was when I was 15, it was a good experience and we had some good results,” he reveals. “After that, I had a spell with Varese, whose first team were in Serie B at the time, working with the young players there.
“Last year I worked with a senior team for the first time - a team called Oggiono in the third division in Italy. Unfortunately, we had some problems and I had to leave in November. Now I’m waiting for another opportunity but it is only a matter of time before I get back into it.
“I love coaching. I love to watch games, analyse things and create ways of winning. Football has always been part of my life and coaching has been the next chapter for me since I finished playing.
And what about a return to English shores in the future?
“I always had good experiences in England, so I would be very happy to come back over if the right opportunity became available,” he reveals. “Never say never.”