Enzo Maresca opens up on importance of teenage West Brom spell
'Emotional' Leicester boss Enzo Maresca labelled Albion "one of the most important clubs of my career" after a first Hawthorns return in 23 years.
Maresca ended his return to the stadium by leaping on to the pitch in celebration of Harry Winks' 94th-minute winner to down Carlos Corberan's hosts as the Championship leaders marched on.
But it started with a commemorative cap and emotional reunion with former team-mates Daryl Burgess and Paul Raven. Maresca had not been back since his exit to homeland giants Juventus in early 2000, following 47 games and five goals from midfield, where fans had marvelled at teenager of fine ability and potential. The record fee received of £4.3million is claimed to have been an important financial boost as the club entered the 2000s – and finally a return to the top flight two years later.
The midfielder spent four years with Juve and later featured for other European big-hitters Fiorentina, Sevilla and Olympiacos, among others – but none more important than his spell in the Black Country.
Maresca told the Express & Star: "To be honest, I was very emotional. I met some of my teammates downstairs and it was a good one.
"The problem is you realise how quickly 25 years goes. Look how many people in this room...no hair! No hair! No hair! But it's been fantastic to come back especially to this stadium, where I scored and had some good moments. I can remember."
The 43-year-old, who swapped Manchester as Pep Guardiola's No.2 for Leicester in the summer, added: "To be honest since I left 25 years ago, 1998 I was here, it doesn't matter whether they've been Premier League or Championship, I always want to know at the end of our game what the final score of West Bromwich was.
"It's been one of my clubs and probably one of the most important clubs because I was very young – 18, 19 – and they helped me a lot to grow. Burgess and Raven were downstairs. It was a good moment."
Former AC Milan youth teamer Maresca and compatriot Mario Bortolazzi, a far more experienced midfield operator at the other end of his career to Maresca, both checked into The Hawthorns in the summer of 1998 under Denis Smith. Smith was sacked the following year after a 12th-placed finish in the First Division, and Brian Little took over.
Maresca lived nearby to team-mate Graham Potter, and they started a car school and shared lifts to and from training. Aside from a failed brief stint with Parma in Serie B two seasons ago, the Foxes hotseat is the Italian's first venture into senior management.
There was no animosity between Maresca and Corberan at full-time, despite some suggestions. The pair shook hands – not shown by Sky's TV replays which led to questions of the alternate (Corberan had also been very ill, too under the weather to conduct a pre-match press conference the previous day, and was keen not to overly mix with his or opposition staff).
The visiting Italian was booked by referee Tim Robinson for encroaching on to the pitch in celebration in stoppage time and accepted his emotions got the better of him in the heat of a very important goal and key Foxes result.
Asked about going head-to-head with Albion's Spanish boss, Maresca added: "Unbelievable. If you don't see who the manager is but see the team, you can tell it's a Carlos team.
"It's the way they're intense and the way they want to play. That's why Saturday was a tricky game because they are probably one of the best teams we've faced so far."