West Ham’s Gianluca Scamacca admits he can improve as he aims to succeed in the Premier League

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If only West Ham’s shirt came with a collar, Gianluca Scamacca might have been wearing his upturned. That is the impression you get listening to the £35.5million striker talk about why he wants to be more like Eric Cantona in his first interview since moving to English football.

As with every new Premier League import, it is necessary to ask who he grew up admiring. Cantona is his surprise choice, given the enigmatic Frenchman stopped playing football before Scamacca was even born on New Year’s Day in 1999.

Yet this 23-year-old Italian would search YouTube for clips of Cantona, including his old Nike adverts. He was in awe. How he was always so cool and confident. Fearless and formidable. Arrogant in a good way with that popped collar and puffed chest.

Gianluca Scamacca moved to West Ham from Sassuolo for £35.5million in the summer

He has revealed that Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was his idol growing up

He has revealed that Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was his idol growing up

That is the aura Scamacca wants to bring to the Premier League, too.

‘Years ago they were doing ads with Cantona,’ he says, sitting on a sofa in the club’s training ground. ‘I watched them and saw some videos of when he used to play for Manchester United. He was an influence and very imposing, also a little bit arrogant in his approach.

‘I am still trying to work towards that for myself. I’ve got to get that confidence. I’m at 70 per cent of my potential. In a couple of months, I’ll get there or be on my way there.’

Scamacca has scored six goals this season, the last two assisted by Lucas Paqueta, West Ham’s other summer signing at £51m. ‘I’ve got a great understanding with Paqueta. But I know I can do better. That’s why I want to work on my confidence, intensity and presence on the pitch.

‘Here in the Premier League, you need to be more imposing. I am not worried about comparisons (to Erling Haaland or Harry Kane). This is for others to do. It doesn’t affect me. My main concern is to give the best of what I can do.’

Scamacca has made a bright start to life in England, but thinks he can get even better

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Scamacca has made a bright start to life in England, but thinks he can get even better

Scamacca has already struck up a strong relationship on the pitch with Lucas Paqueta

Scamacca has already struck up a strong relationship on the pitch with Lucas Paqueta

There is an Italian translator sitting next to Scamacca, though he tries to conduct most of this interview in English. There is no mention of seagulls and trawlers, but he has a surprisingly good grasp of the language, given he only moved to London in late July.

The Cockney slang is coming along nicely, too. ‘Watch ya, me old China,’ was one of the first phrases he learned after arriving. Smiling, he continues: ‘It is definitely different! England is good. I like it and I am enjoying myself at West Ham. They support new players.

‘It is very different. In Italy it is tactical. Here it is fast and physical. It’s a different type of game. But it will get better. When my agent told me West Ham were interested, I said: “Try to do it quickly.” I was happy.’

He was intrigued by the ‘projecto’ sold to him by manager David Moyes and spoke to former West Ham players in Italy, including Pedro Obiang. The word ‘brividi’ — ‘goosebumps’ — cropped up when discussing the fanbase.

Scamacca also sought the opinion of Italy manager Roberto Mancini. ‘He said it’s a big opportunity to grow up. He said, “When it’s difficult, you can grow up”.’

Scamacca spoke to ex-Man City boss Roberto Mancini before moving to the Premier League

Scamacca spoke to ex-Man City boss Roberto Mancini before moving to the Premier League

Patience is needed with new Premier League players, but Scamacca dismisses the timeline mentioned. ‘A couple of years? No. A couple of months. He (Mancini) said work hard and you will see the results.

‘This is my work. This is my passion. I live for that. It is a dream for me. I don’t worry about pressure. I don’t worry because I’m far from home. No. I just live for football. It’s enough for me.

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‘I found confidence on my journey. I had a lot of difficulties in the past. I had to work on myself, on my mind. This made me more confident. Everyone lives their football experience. If it wasn’t for the fact I’m so passionate about football I wouldn’t be here now.’

Underneath his casual clothing, Scamacca wears a tapestry of tattoos. The words ‘Dios bendiga mi familia’ – ‘God bless my family’ – are beneath an angel’s wings across his chest. On his left hand is an elephant with its trunk running down his middle finger. On his right is a rose and the word ‘HOPE’ spelled across his knuckles. A portrait of a woman sits on the right side of his neck and a lion on the other. Not to mention a sleeve of tattoos running down his right arm.

They tell a story, but one that Scamacca does not want to reveal. ‘I prefer to keep that to myself.’ A little mystery never hurt. Certainly it did not do the cryptic Cantona any harm.

Scamacca was brought up in Borgata Fidene on Rome’s northern periphery. A fan of Roma, he played street football. ‘We play, we play, we play. I was in love.’ Was he the best of all the local lads? ‘Si,’ he says, amazed at the question. ‘Why do you ask?!’

He is close to his mother, Cristiana, and sister, Giuly, but there are complications with the other side of the Scamacca family.

Scamacca has said he 'lives for football' and is determined to succeed in the Premier League

Scamacca has said he ‘lives for football’ and is determined to succeed in the Premier League

In May 2021, reports in Italy emerged that Scamacca’s father, Emiliano, had broken into Roma’s training ground and smashed up cars with an iron bar. Months later, it was reported his grandfather, Sandro, had put a knife to the throat of a bar patron in Rome.

‘I find myself again having to distance myself from violent and unspeakable episodes committed by people linked to my surname but with whom I have closed all kinds of relationships,’ Scamacca said at the time.

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‘I grew up with my mother and my sister and they are my family. Nobody else.’

Scamacca does not like to dwell on the family he does not see. Instead he prefers to praise the parent who gave him everything. ‘She supported me and helped me when it was a little difficult.’

After time in the Roma and Lazio academies, Scamacca signed for PSV Eindhoven, moving to Holland aged 16. It raised eyebrows in his homeland. Youngsters were not supposed to want to leave Italy to enhance their football education. But Scamacca did.

‘I went there because I wanted to improve myself,’ he says. ‘It was the best place to learn about football. I felt that I could not do it in Italy.

‘In Italy, it is different. In the academies, the Under 18s, Under 19s, they don’t work on the individual. They work on the team, on the tactics, how to win games. But in other countries they work individually on the players.’

Scamacca has taken on board advice from former Man United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy

Scamacca has taken on board advice from former Man United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy 

Mark van Bommel was one of his mentors at PSV. As was Ruud van Nistelrooy, who gave Scamacca special attention. ‘It was very good. He told me you have to stay in the box.’

Was Holland a scary prospect for a teenager who did not speak a word of Dutch? ‘No,’ he says. ‘Fear about what? Because I was alone? No.’

That fearlessness sums up Scamacca, who became the 50th striker signed under West Ham owners David Sullivan and David Gold. Some buys were good. Some bad. Some worse, like the £45m wasted on Sebastien Haller.

Scamacca is determined to be a success. He plans to use Italy’s absence at the 2022 World Cup to better himself, one of his mantras being to ‘train while others sleep, study while others have fun’.

With that, our time with Scamacca is up. ‘Ciao,’ he says, leaving after an intriguing half hour in the company of West Ham’s newest striker.

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