Hull City: Vito Mannone interview

It's been a bad week for diplomatic relations in light of the Wikileaks disclosures.

Dealings between Hull City and Arsenal have struggled to climb above cordial in the past. You don't need leaked documents to tell you that.

When former boss Phil Brown marched on to the Gunners' pitch following a stormy FA Cup tie at the Emirates last season, the ensuing 'Spitgate' scandal ensured ill-feeling between the clubs continued.

It all began when Brown took his globetrotting City team to the capital in their inaugural Premier League season and duly beat the masters of the beautiful game.

An incredulous Arsene Wenger barely acknowledged the Tigers' feat, which no doubt became the epicentre of dislike between North London and the North Bank.

Throw in some keenly caught contests and a few red cards prior to Brown's galling antics and you have a recipe for a poisonous cocktail.

No doubt any documents recording the private thoughts of the two parties would have been enough to turn the air blue.

But it has been to Hull's benefit that Arsenal were willing to help their not-so-dear northern colleagues when they needed it most.

Unnerved by the lack of goalkeeping competition in the KC Stadium ranks, new manager Nigel Pearson looked to the capital for back-up.

Step forward Vito Mannone, an Italian number one in the making. The keeper linked up in mid-October but had a patient wait before he could jump into Matt Duke's jersey.

However, he took that chance with aplomb and has since formed the backbone of City's recent unbeaten run.

The recent snowfall has proved a throwback to the 22-year-old's home of Desio, a small town snuggled in the shadow of the Alps, but whether that's added to his experience of East Yorkshire remains unclear.

But Mannone told Yorkshire Sport he has been pleasantly surprised by his switch up to Hull.

Mannone said: "It's very nice. Everyone was telling me 'it's not so great', but when you're actually living here it's alright. I'm just moving into a house, so everything is fine.

"It's a bit different, it's a bit quieter, less busy. But it's a good style of life so I think it's very good.

"It's going well– I'm in a good team and with a good club. It's a happy time for me."

Memories of Desio prompt Mannone to chat about his path into football. As he reveals, it didn't take long for him to be head-hunted.

His first taste of the big time came two years ago, when he made his Gunners debut in an end-of-season defeat of Stoke.

And, as he explains, it's been a long journey from the continent to the bright Premier League lights of the English capital.

Mannone continued: "I was five years old when I started. I always loved football and played in a small team where I used to go to church.

"A scout from Atalanta saw me and asked me to go there. I lived in Milan so I had to travel every day, a few sacrifices along the way.

"I did 10 years with that club, all the youth stuff, and at 16 the Arsenal scouts saw me. Now, I've been living in England for nearly six years.

"I started in the youth level but last year I had a few games and made my debut two years ago against Stoke. It's a positive club, everyone knows Arsenal, especially for young players."

As the former Italy Under-21 international rightly points out, the footballing school led by master Wenger wasn't a bad place to nurture his talent.

And plying his trade alongside many of the club's Invincibles helped develop some skills away from goalkeeping.

Indeed, Mannone is well equipped for the rigours of the outfield – a fact that might keep some of the club's midfield contingent on their toes.

"I've seen so many players in six years there," he adds. "I met the whole team from (Robert) Pires, (Dennis) Bergkamp, Thierry (Henry), everybody knows what a great team that was.

"That team has moved on but they still have young talents, you can learn a lot from them.

"My old boss Wenger wanted me to play outfield, sometimes I even train outfield to improve a little bit. I always liked to play outfield as well.

"It was different – different country, different culture. I didn't speak so much English and it's been tough, but at the same time it's a new experience."

Mannone insists, though, he'll be keeping the gloves on.

After signing a new long-term deal at the Emirates in January, Mannone set about the sizeable task of trying to dislodge Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski as the top two stoppers.

He's been unable to achieve that so far, but he hopes his time on the east coast will help him acquire the cunning to be a top-flight

custodian in his own right.

A similar loan spell at Barnsley in 2006 perhaps came too soon for the youngster, who admits he is still a 'baby' in keeper terms.

Off-the-field, a move away from friends and family in cultured Italy to the perhaps more agricultural isles of Great Britain ensured he grew up fast.

And he's grateful to have been handed that chance. Had he not, he may not have been living the dream today.

A certain ingredient has helped him through the journey, although it's not the stereotypical trait of 'craziness' that is usually attributed to keepers.

"I learn a lot in myself, I have grown," he sayss, proudly. "I couldn't wait to learn another culture, football – it's been great.

"Of course, you grow up quicker. You need to because even in Italy they are starting to think 'we need to put players in the first time younger'.

"In England it has always been like that. As you can see, every club is trying to push their young players and give a chance to them. This is what I love of England.

"I played only one game outfield when I was five. I changed my mind and asked my dad if he could ask my manager to put me in goal. From that time I never came out of the sticks.

"You say 'we are crazy'. I'd say, 'we are just strange'. We have character, and you need to have that. It's a tough position – you can be the hero, the blame. At the same point, you could have the best day of your life.

"If you're not strong enough then you need a bit of personality to play in goal. I'm not saying you don't need it in other positions, but especially the goalkeeper needs it.

"It looks like a long time and at times I am impatient. I'm a baby

still for a goalkeeper, it's a young age but I want to be playing until I'm old."

To have a long and happy life in football, Mannone knows more matches are the starting point. He's at Hull until January but admitted to being open to extending his spell under Pearson's stewardship.

If Mannone does return to Arsenal in the new year, his parent club can be assured that connections between the two will have undergone a thaw, thanks entirely to their stopper.

"The main thing for me is to play and get experience. I'm delighted to

help the team. It's perfect. I'm really focused on week by week.

"I don't know what will happen. If the club is happy, and I'm happy, then we'll sit down and make a decision."

Richie Myler.

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