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Why Domenico Berardi Is The Man Italy Must Take To Euro 2016

Monday 7th March 2016
With the international break fast approaching, and along with it perhaps one of a last handful of chances for fringe players to stake their claims for Euro 2016 squad spaces, It's Round and It's White run the rule over Italy.

Or, to be me more precise, we contemplate why the always enigmatic Azzurri and coach Antonio Conte have not yet hauled Sassuolo's brightest talent Domenico Berardi into the fold.

A regular at youth level with Italy, with at least 17 appearances under his belt, Berardi is still to collect a senior cap, despite almost three seasons shining for Emilia-Romagna outfit Sassuolo in Serie A.

By comparison, England seem to have been hardly able to contain their excitement about the emergence of Tottenham duo Dele Alli and Harry Kane, with the pair fast-tracked into Three Lions prominence.

While, rumblings of Manchester United talent Marcus Rashford gaining international recognition was greeted with only a smattering of disbelief.

By contrast, as is their football culture, Italy are infamously much more patient and cautious in regards to youth. A quick glance at the most recent Conte roster sees just three, aside from Berardi, aged under 23 to have received a recent call-up, with AC Milan's Mattia De Sciglio, Rossoneri-owned Stephan El Shaarawy and PSG midfielder Marco Verratti the chosen trio. Notably, none of the aforementioned are exactly raw talents.

Born in Cariati Marina, on the Ionian coastline of Calabria in scorching southern Italy, fledgling forward Berardi finally received a Conte call-up back in October 2015, for two Euro 2016 qualifying games against Azerbaijan and Norway, but was forced to withdraw through injury.

Unlucky; but there has barely been a sniff of serious Berardi for the Euros talk since. Has the youngster missed the boat and his slot to star? For Italy's sake it is to be hoped not.

Inventive, adaptable and energetic, Berardi is best-utilised on the right wing, where he is most lethal cutting in on his favoured left-foot, but could offer Italy a host of options with his versatility across the frontline.

Having contributed 11 strikes to Sassuolo's promotion from Serie B back in 2013, before his goals helped keep the Neroverdi firmly in the top-flight, the young Italian does not shy away from a scrap, making him ideal to add fighting spirit to Conte's squad.

Indeed, the young-gun illustrated his strong character recently, addressing his reputation for a poor disciplinary record on the pitch. As these translated quotes from Football Italia show, Berardi told press: “We'll try to bring satisfaction and – why not? - fight to the end for a place in Europe. It's been a difficult time for me personally, but I'm working every day to get better.

“I've changed a lot in terms of my character. I tended to react after the first foul, now I'm much calmer and you can see the results.”

Discussions of learning curves aside, it almost beggars belief that the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year 2014 and Serie A Top Assist Provider of 2014/15, who ranked first alongside the likes of imaginative playmakers Miralem Pjanic, Marek Hamsik, Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez, has received just one failed call-up.

Recently linked with a move to Manchester United by Metro, at age 21, Berardi is hardly too green around the gills for a squad space. In addition, the youngster has shown a tremendous tendency to strike in big games, having famously hit four goals against AC Milan back in 2014, to make him the youngest Serie A footballer since 1931 to score four in one match.

View Berardi's fine range of finishing and poaching instincts below, from the foggy highlights of THAT match versus Milan:
There has since been another three smashed past the Rossoneri, seemingly the Sassuolo star's favourite opposition, with hat-tricks also occurring against Sampdoria and Fiorentina.

Berardi's goals often seem to arrive in gluts and purple patches, which is no bad thing when potentially playing within the short time frames of international tournaments.

Furthermore, Berardi possesses a handy penalty nous, having converted around 17 already in his young career, including one for Italy Under-21's at the 2015 European Under-21 Football Championship; a pretty useful attribute to have on-board should Italy find themselves in a spot-kick shootout this summer.

In a season which has arguably been his toughest challenge so far, Berardi has still contributed six strikes and three assists to the Serie A cause. Yet, previous top-tier campaign stats of 61 league outings yielding a combined 31 goals and 23 assists, show his ceiling is much higher.

The new youth flavour of the month is undoubtedly Fiorentina fledgling Federico Bernardeschi, a unique talent in his own right, but with one Serie A strike so far this season, the unpolished 22-year-old's end product can not yet compare to Berardi's consistent returns.

Admittedly, some pundits may question why former Sassuolo partner in crime Simone Zaza was instead snapped up by ex-co-owners Juventus last summer, with the Neroverdi permitted to purchase Berardi's full rights instead.

As per reliable source on Calcio-related matters, Gianluca Di Marzio, the end of co-ownership in Italian football forced Juve's hand, though it appears the Old Lady have found a loophole by inserting a buy-back clause for Berardi.

This softly-softly approach seems to have paid off, as Berardi, who many expected to have arrived in Turin already, has had his most statistically underwhelming season. Though, after struggling with a patch of injury and form, the Italian looks to be on the ascendancy again.

Still arguably the Neroverdi's main man, Berardi has been afforded the game time required to grow and find rhythm. While, by comparison, older peer Zaza has been little more than a squad player in Piedmont.

The Old Lady may be chasing the Italian top-flight title now, but fell behind earlier in the term, at which point there would have been little patience for the youngster, with even comparatively experienced Alvaro Morata toiling at points to make an impact.

Juventus' reluctance to prise Berardi from his comfort zone just yet is indicative of, instead of trepidation surrounding his talents, great faith in the forward.

The Azzurri, perhaps, are employing the same tactic; but can they really afford to? There is some sentiment in allowing the old guard one last shot at European Championship glory, to nab the second title which has evaded the four-time World Cup winning nation since 1968.

Yet, veteran wisdom and guile requires fresh legs in support. However, there is an obvious generation gap between decorated golden oldies such as Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi et al.

Many in their prime such as Alessio Cerci, Andrea Ranocchia and Ciro Immobile are talented, but still far from the aforementioned vintage of those 30 years plus players.

According to reports from The Telegraph, it has been suggested current Azzurri coach Conte is in line to take over the Chelsea hot seat following his Euro adventure. Perhaps, then, going out as Italy gaffer in a blaze of glory is understandably at the forefront of his thoughts, rather than taking the risk of blooding youth.

Yet, if Berardi is more likely to bag a goal off the bench than a Cerci or Immobile, surely introducing the next top talent, while still boasting Azzurri greats in the ranks, would be far a greater legacy to leave behind.

With pace, instinctive scoring and dynamism in abundance, Berardi's graft and nose for goal would be a brilliant option to change games should Antonio Candreva's craft come up short, or poacher Graziano Pelle require a more fleet-footed foil.

So, when it comes to wildcards, Berardi is the pick of the potential bunch, and Conte may well rue failure to save the forward a seat on the France-bound plane...

Stats via Transfermarkt and Wikipedia.
Holly Thackeray
Full-time content writer, English Lit grad and long-time Manchester United fan with an affection for Japan and the Azzurri. Also, if you like darts, I definitely belong to the Barney Army ;)

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