Wilfried Gnonto has expressed his continued disbelief at working alongside Italy head coach Roberto Mancini as they prepare to start their Euro 2024 qualifiers against England on Thursday.
Italy missed out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after a loss to North Macedonia in their qualifying play-off in March last year.
It was the second successive World Cup that the Azzurri had missed and came just months after their victorious Euro 2020 campaign that saw them beat England on penalties in the final.
Gnonto made his international debut in May 2022 and looks set to add to his eight caps for the national side when they face England on Thursday before travelling to Malta on Sunday.
The Leeds United winger was a product of the Inter youth academy when Mancini was in charge of the Italian side and hailed the national team boss as one of his inspirations.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Gnonto said: "I remember when I was young at Inter and he coached the first team. He was an idol and I never expected to be in the national team with him."
The winger became the youngest goalscorer for Italy when he scored against Germany last June and backs Mancini's recent claim that Italy have young talent comparable to England's Jude Bellingham.
He said: "He gave a strong signal, both with me and with other young people. We hope many others will follow."
We've got super Willy Gnonto #Azzurri #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/sDDMfLDwfz— Italy (@Azzurri_En) March 20, 2023
The 19-year-old also hailed to influence of former assistant coach Gianluca Vialli, who worked with the younger players extensively before passing away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
"He immediately tried to make me feel part of the group and to give me advice. The moments spent together and his words will always remain with me," Gnonto said.
Leeds sit 14th in the Premier League but just two points off the relegation zone, with Gnonto registering four goals in all competitions since his move from Zurich last year.
"I didn't even hope so much, it all happened very quickly and I didn't have time to realise," he said, reflecting on his transfer to the Premier League.
"But it was a beautiful emotion. The impact was good on a personal level, the team is experiencing some ups and downs.
"It seems like a dream to me. I come from Baveno and I never expected one day to get to the Premier League or to receive compliments from such players. I live everything with great pride and I always try to commit myself to improve."