Interview: Gianluca Busio

August 20, 2022

Gianluca Busio is back. A year after signing from MLS club Sporting Kansas City for a club record fee, he’s returned for his second season in Venice.

Despite last season’s relegation from Serie A, Busio extended his contract with Venezia this summer, determined to help the club return to the top flight.

A few days after the 2022/23 Serie B season opener, Busio, speaking from home, opened up about his development, his decision to remain at the club, and his outlook on the new season.

New season, new number. Why did you change your shirt number to 6?

The number 6 or a couple of other numbers are the ones that I want to wear with any team. Last year, it was a little more difficult — you have to work your way up to get the number you want. This year, I had the opportunity to get 6. It’s just about having a number that you really like on your back. When 6 became available, it was an easy decision. I wore 6 during my first cap for the U.S. national team and we won the Gold Cup. Between 6 and 10, those are my favorite numbers to wear now.

This is my second year here after a year in Serie A, and I feel like, this year, I can do more and be more of a leader. A number is a mental thing for players, but it’s about taking the next step this year.

You played the “six” in the season opener, but you tended to play on the left side of a three-man midfield last season. Has the manager discussed with you what role he wants you to take up and how he wants you to play this season?

We had a different manager last season, and every manager has their own tactics and their own mindset for how they want to approach the game, and different players will fit better in different roles for them. Last year, the manager wanted me higher up the pitch. But you can put me anywhere in the midfield and I’ll enjoy playing my game.

This year, the manager has different tactics. We want to play out of the back, keep the ball, and play more of a possession style — a nice game. For me, that’s what I like to do also. At the six, I can get a lot of touches on the ball, and I feel like I can help get the best results for the team.

I have a lot of work to do on the defensive side — I’m not used to being a defensive midfielder. I’ve played maybe 20 games in that position my whole career. On the ball, I can play there; off the ball, improvement will help me take that next step and make the difference. The manager and I have talked a lot about it, and I enjoy this position with how we want to play.

How are you learning from your teammates to help you on the defensive side of the ball?

There are a lot of veterans on the team, including some guys who have played at big clubs and in the Champions League. They know a lot more than I do, so they help me a lot. Everyone on the team helps. We have a young team, so a lot of us are in the same spot and trying to help each other out. I’m 20 years old, but I’m helping other guys and they’re helping me. We have a good group, from the younger guys to more experienced guys like Cecc (Pietro Ceccaroni), the captain, so it’s a good combination.

When you’re in possession receiving the ball out of the back, when you pick your head up, what are you looking for when you survey the field? What’s your first option?

My first thought is the goal. It’s to put someone in a scoring position. I wish it was that easy. But that’s the first thought if you get the ball with a little bit of time — you’re looking for a man further up the field, whether it’s between the lines or behind the line. Just something that can really hurt the other team.

But also, at the six, you have to be a little more secure. When I was playing higher up the pitch, when I got the ball, I was already able to turn and be near the goal. At the six, you have to have a second option. You can’t play it forward every time. You have to keep the ball, because every time there’s going to be a guy on you, so you have to make sure you’re strong in possession.

So my first thought is to play it forward for a goal-scoring chance, but I also understand that I’m pretty far back from my goal. I can’t force it and lose the ball, and then it’s a chance for the other team. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking of the next pass if I can’t play it forward. If that pass is back to the centerbacks or to keep the ball, that’s what you have to do. That’s just the role of the six in any team. You want to play it forward, but you also have to be secure.

Last season, from the jump, you looked ready for the speed of the game, and the team placed a lot of trust in your abilities. You ended up playing the fourth-most minutes of all players under the age of 21 in Serie A. How would you assess your first season? What did you prove to yourself, and what do you think you can do better?

We all know the season didn’t turn out how we wanted. Our goal was to stay up, and in the end, that didn’t happen. I’m still young, so I can either learn from this or be angry and get down on myself. The guys that are still here from last year, I think we gained a stronger connection. We’ve been through a lot together from that one season. Now, it’s the road to get back to where we were. We got a taste of Serie A, the level we want to be at and the games we want to play in, and now we have to work to get back there.

I learned a lot about myself last year. I surprised myself a little moving from MLS to one of the best leagues in the world and not knowing exactly what to expect. I had a lot of games where I felt like I could really do this, and that taught me a lot about myself and that I’m ready for this level. But there were also a lot of games where I realized that if I want to stay at this level, I need to do more. There were games where I didn’t play well, and I learned that if I want to be at that level and get back to that level, I need to be more consistent in every game. I took a lot from it, and hopefully, I can take the experience from that year, use it this year, and get back to where we were.

You’ve played a lot of football these past two years. You went from the MLS season straight into the Serie A season plus getting called up for World Cup qualifying. How did you manage as the season wore on?

It was tough. It was the most I’ve ever played, especially at the level I was playing at. Towards the end of the season, it started to take a toll. My body was tired, and mentally, with how the season was going, it wasn’t helping. But I got through it.

I did all that, played that many games — good games and bad games — but I got through it. Now I know that feeling of what it’s like to push yourself to the limit. This year, it’ll be easier for me to manage myself, both my body and the mental side of it.

To stay fit, healthy, and sharp, what are your training values?

The training has been intense, and in response I’ve been approaching sessions with more intensity and energy. I know what the games are like, and I know what it takes to win and achieve our goal. You play how you train, so I’m going into training pushing myself as hard as possible, so when it comes to the game and I have to match the opponent’s level of intensity, it’s nothing new for me.

Even when there are days you don’t want to work hard — if you’re tired or if it’s after a game — you have to push and keep work harder. You can’t have five days of light training and then just expect to turn it on during the game. It doesn’t work like that, at least for me. I have to treat training like a game to get ready for the game.

This summer, you could’ve left Venezia to keep playing in Serie A or join other top leagues. What made you decide to stay and extend your contract after relegation?

There were offers for me, and I thought about it, because every player’s goal is to play at the highest level and in the toughest leagues. But after getting relegated, that feeling — I’ve never felt it before. You feel like you let a lot of people down.

The club and everyone involved have given everything they could, and I felt like I had to stay and give something back. I wouldn’t have felt good about myself after playing for one year, getting relegated, and leaving. I couldn’t deal with that and I wouldn’t have liked that for myself. I wouldn’t want to leave on a bad note. I’m here now to give back after receiving so much help.

What about the project at the club attracted you to stay?

From being inside the club, you can see the changes the leadership wants to make and how invested they really are. It’s not a club that’s just going to give up after getting relegated and be satisfied with a year in Serie A. You can tell we’re ambitious and hungry, and it’s exciting to be a part of something that’s building. We have young players. We have a new training facility. We have a new manager. The fans are invested. We’re making the right steps for building a future.

Who was the biggest influence in your life in terms of making the decision to stay?

My mom was a big part of that. She didn’t really say it, but growing up, she always wanted me to finish whatever I started — to stick through it. Just doing one year at Venezia, it wasn’t enough.

It’s now year two in Venice. How have you adapted to life in Italy? How has the city of Venice treated you?

I’ve lived in North Carolina and Kansas, and I’ve never been somewhere where you can walk into the city and have your day made right there. It’s beautiful. The food and the people — especially the people and my teammates — it’s a good culture. Anytime family and friends come over, it’s easy to do things — you just show them the city and they love it. I have good connections with all the people in the city, and even when we’re losing, they’re supporting us.

What’s your mindset and focus for this season? What’s the ultimate goal?

This year, it’s getting promoted. Whatever league you’re in, your goal from the start is to win. We have to push for promotion whatever it takes. It’ll be difficult and a long year, but that’s my personal goal and our team's goal.