Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella has played for some great coaches in his relatively short career. The 24-year-old from Cagliari has a Scudetto and a European Championship title to his name already while he was also part of the Inter side which lost in the final of the UEFA Europa League back in 2019-20.
Barella, who recently extended his contract until 2026, sat down to chat exclusively with CBS Sports about several topics including the Nerazzurri's Serie A title last season, former boss Antonio Conte and current coach Simone Inzaghi, as well as the UEFA Champions League and Italy's Euro 2020 success. He reflected on Conte's role in that Serie A title win (you can catch all the Serie A action this season on Paramount+) and why he was the perfect leader to bring an 11-year wait to an end at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
"Wonderful," the Sardinian told CBS. "It was an intense and difficult journey as working under Conte is very hard. The emotion of winning Serie A in 2020-21 was huge after a year of fighting for that and the Europa League.
"I owe Conte a lot. He brought me to Inter and wanted me here. He is an extreme coach who builds a winning mentality. He wants the whole team around him thinking only about winning. That is his great skill, plus being very tactically good. He gives you incredible winning belief."
If Conte was the right man to bring success back to Inter, then replacement Inzaghi is a good bet to sustain that with the champions now back at the Serie A summit after Napoli and bitter rivals AC Milan had led the way until recently.
"Inzaghi is the perfect coach post-Conte," said Barella. "He gives you peace of mind and confidence. His interpretation of work is different to Conte, but they are both winners. After two years of Conte, Inzaghi helps us greatly and is boosting our confidence."
Barella recognizes that whether the manager is Conte or Inzaghi, Champions League success at Inter, like that enjoyed by now AS Roma boss Jose Mourinho, will be difficult to pull off given the strength of rival team on the continental stage at present.
"It will be tough to win the Champions League," he said. "There are teams better equipped to win the title than we are. They are more experienced. We are Italian champions, though, and we want to surprise. We will do our best.
"Inter must always be at the highest level, even in the Champions League. It has not been easy as we have been close to reaching the knockout phase before. However, we were more aware of our situation here. We deserved to reach the last 16 and we will see what happens."
On the topic of inspirations, Barella named Serbian icon Dejan Stankovic as one of his main influences with the now Red Star Belgrade boss winning 15 titles during his time with Inter as well as seven more with Italian rivals SS Lazio.
"Many players inspired me," Barella said. "One of my role models was Stankovic. I was crazy about him when I was younger as he scored spectacular goals -- ones I can only dream of! I liked how he read games and his ability to score."
Serie A is enjoying praise for raising its level of competition of late and Barella is relishing the added challenge with this season's title race already looking like it will have multiple challengers with four teams within reach of top spot if you include Atalanta.
"Serie A is very competitive," said the Azzurri star. "There are teams who have stepped up from last year. The title race will be tough, but that will make winning it all the better for the victors. Over the past year, the league has gotten very competitive."
Barella was part of the Italian squad which won UEFA Euro 2020 this past summer and the Inter man recognized Roberto Mancini's key role in that success having enjoyed his own successful spell as Nerazzurri boss in the past.
"Winning the Euro at Wembley was wonderful," said Barella. "I still remember Mancini saying in public: 'we will go to the Euros to win.' Nobody believed it! Making that come true was wonderful. Many were surprised but we expected greatness because Mancini has built a fantastic group these past few years. The final itself was odd. Good, but difficult with the fans against us -- we could only hear them!"
Barella is also not giving up on qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar yet either, despite a difficult qualifying draw which will eliminate either the European titleholders or deposed continental champions Portugal.
"Not going to the World Cup directly sounds strange to us which is normal to us as European champions," he said. "We had many chances. Unfortunately, situations influenced us. Everything is open and we are Euro titleholders which puts pressure on the other teams. We will give it everything as we want to go to the World Cup to play a key role."
Finally, Barella admitted that he is keeping an eye on Major League Soccer and the sport's development in the U.S. with fellow Euro winner Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli potentially the next to move Stateside as Toronto FC court him.
"Recently, I am getting into American soccer," Barella told CBS. "Many players who have made history in Europe have gone on to play in the USA. The women's game is also growing. I am starting to know soccer well over there."
Inter will face Liverpool in the Champions League last 16 when it returns in February, and you can follow the Italian giants over both legs exclusively on Paramount+, but Barella might miss both of those games due to a straight red card against Real Madrid in the last match of the group phase.