Spezia Calcio face SSC Napoli on Wednesday (2:45 p.m. ET, Paramount+) looking for their first win in six Serie A outings against Luciano Spalletti's title contenders with Emmanuel Gyasi hoping to end 2021 on a positive note as the Aquilotti look to defy the odds by staying in the Italian top flight again this season.
"Every player must be motivated because when you play, you dream to feature in these big games and at this level," the Italy-born Ghana international told CBS Sports exclusively. "Napoli, Juve, Milan -- all big teams. For us, it is big motivation to play at Stadio Diego Armando Mardona's. It is a very big game for us.
"We started a new project with young players," said Gyasi, whose club is under American control after U.S. investor Robert Platek completed the takeover of the club back in February. "The president and the club are ambitious -- we all are. We are a young squad trying to build day by day. Some results have been difficult. I think that the future is ours. We must continue working to build a brighter future."
Spezia's squad is constructed around talented young prospects rather than veterans, as is often the case in Italy, and Gyasi is one of the elder statesmen of Thiago Motta's group with just three players older than his 27 years of age.
"The ambition to try to build up youngsters is good," said the Torino youth academy graduate. "At this club and in our team, our players have years ahead to learn and improve. To do it at a club like Spezia is a big opportunity for them to build their careers. As one of the older ones, we try to let the youngsters understand how this is special to us. Proving ourselves in the top division is not easy."
Former Brazil-born Italy international Motta is now leading the team after a difficult and short-lived first foray into senior coaching with Genoa CFC back in 2019 and the ex-Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Barcelona man cut his teeth in the youth game before leaving France.
"I think he is a good coach," Gyasi said of Motta. "He has big experience. He has not coached for long, but he has some good ideas. We all like his idea of playing football. We are with him. We try to listen and practice what he trains us for, and I think we have done well in some games. Football is like that and sometimes you have good and then bad moments. His idea of football is great, though."
With three goals so far this campaign, Gyasi is the joint-best scorer in the squad along with Daniele Verde and takes great pride in setting an example as one of the most experienced players to the blossoming young talents developing at Stadio Alberto Picco.
"It is a bigger responsibility as I have been here for a few years and in that position, you must take some responsibility," he told CBS Sports. "We have young players who watch your footsteps to improve, and it is something that I always wake up and want to improve -- to be more prolific for the team. If the goals come, we get more points."
Palermo-born and of Italian-Ghanaian background, young Gyasi looked up to Mario Balotelli as he burst onto the Azzurri scene starring for the likes of Inter Milan. However, while Super Mario opted against representing Ghana, Gyasi has embraced it and debuted for the Black Stars earlier this year.
"When Mario was in the Italian national team, he was a huge influence for us Ghanaians," he said. "We see him as something of a hero because representing a country like Italy internationally and scoring in the Euros as well as for Inter Milan, it was hugely motivating for me, and others like me. Yeah, we can say he was an influence."
Balotelli was not Gyasi's only influence, though, and Spezia's extended foray in Serie A afforded him the opportunity to rub shoulders with personal idol Cristiano Ronaldo whom he sought out after a clash with Juventus before the Portuguese superstar left Italy.
"What a great moment that was for me as he is my idol," Gyasi explained. "When you are younger, you dream about maybe playing with or against your idols. My dream became reality, and we were on the same pitch, so I went to him after the game and told him how much of an inspiration he is for us young players and he told me to keep chasing my dream, to keep working hard. That was emotional for me and highly motivating."
Asked about his teammates, Gyasi was reluctant to pick just one given the abundance of potential in the squad. He did admit that Kelvin Amian and Janis Antiste -- both summer signings from Toulouse -- can go a long way in the game, though.
"We have many, many players with big talent," he said. "I cannot pick one so I will just say that we have many very, very good players.
"Amian and Antiste are very good players. They are adapting in a new league like this which is not easy. Some big players come from other leagues and struggle to adapt because of the style of play. Antiste started well scoring against Juve while Amian is also doing very well and getting playing time. They are two talented guys who have big futures."
Ultimately for Spezia, Gyasi and Motta, this season is all about staying in Serie A. They currently have their heads above water although an upcoming transfer embargo could make life tough soon, survival at the top level is as good as silverware for the Ligurian outfit.
"We must keep working hard to try to bring us as many points as possible," Gyasi admitted. "This is our biggest ambition. Staying up is like winning the league for us. That is the big motivation to try to stay up like we did last season. If we can do it again, that will be a great achievement for us."
With Salernitana facing serious questions over their ability to remain in competition for the remainder of the campaign and Cagliari as well as Genoa utterly wretched, Spezia could yet live to fight another day regardless of Wednesday's result against Napoli.