The Montreal Impact’s locker room has been influenced by Italian culture. How can it not be?
Walking into the locker at the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex, the Montreal Impact’s training centre, you would notice plenty of vowels in the name tags above the players’ stalls.
Alessandro Nesta, Marco Di Vaio and Matteo Ferrari’s names will all jump out at you as former stars of Italy’s top flight, Serie A. Then you have the likes of Felipe, Nelson Rivas and Dennis Iapichino who have all been touched in some way by La Bella Italia.
The latest addition... Zarek Valentin-O.
“Donovan [Ricketts] started calling me ‘Zareko’ as a joke,” said Impact defender Zarek Valentin, who was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but is of Puerto Rican descent. “They always joked around about how I wanted to be Italian, mainly because of my hair. After a while, I thought it sounded more Polish than Italian, so I figured why not go with Valentino…I’ve seen the name around and there is actually a Valentino’s Pizza shop right by the stadium, so I figured I’d go with Valentino, embracing the nickname and the culture!”
Part of embracing the culture is to understand how important family is, and Valentin has seen firsthand what it means to be a part of ‘La Famiglia.”
“There is a big emphasis on family,” he said. “Everyone in the locker room is close. The way they (the Italian players) talk with us and treat us, it makes you feel like everyone is an important part of the group. No one at any time has felt left out."
That Italian influence has even stretched outside of the locker room, as Valentin is an avid cook, and he’d love to get a few pointers.
“Andrew (Wenger) and I have become prosciutto connoisseurs. We’ve taken that in. I actually joke around and say that I want to go and watch their wives cook one day. I make a pretty mean shrimp and pasta dish, but obviously I’d like to go and learn from the masters, maybe sit in while their wives or grandmothers are cooking one day.”
Valentin’s long hair and penchant for fine meals are not the only reasons he has felt a kinship with his Italian brethren. The second year defender also has a keen fashion sense and just as he learns from the experience of the Italians on the field, he is not opposed to getting advice when it comes to his wardrobe.
“I try to take some pointers here and there. One of the main things I learned from Bernardo (Corradi) was that Italians always wear black dress socks. He’d come in and pull up my jeans to see what colour my socks were. For a while, I was being scrutinized for it. So I revamped my whole sock collection. Black socks, all the time… unless it’s with running shoes!”
With Corradi in town two weeks ago for the team photo, Valentin felt it was important that the Italian striker still feel part of the family when he visited Montreal last week. Corradi had been in Italy following season ending surgery prior to his visit.
“Bernardo came into the locker room and he went to go sit in his old locker. That is where Alessandro (Nesta) is sitting now, so he jokingly said, ‘c’mon guys, how could you do this to me. You gave my seat away.’ So I offered him my place and put his name tag over mine out of respect.”
And it seems Valentino is a proud student of Italian culture.
“Matteo is like the GQ model of our team. Every once in a while, he’ll come into the room, look over at me and give me a little nod of approval. It means a lot to me!”