Less than a year ago, Alessandro Florenzi was playing his football in Serie B with Crotone. Earlier this month, he put pen to paper on a new contract at Roma that is understood to include a bonus should he be included in Italy’s 2014 World Cup squad.
That would be some achievement for a 21-year-old who is presently uncapped at full international level and who has only made seven Serie A appearances in his brief career to date. However, being named in the Azzurri squad by a tactician who is actively considering youth – outside of the goalkeeping slots – is not as far fetched as it may initially seem. And the clause, even if it is not activated, underlines the status of his current potential.
The midfielder, the latest in a long line of Roman-born players to graduate through the youth ranks at Trigoria and into the first team, has consistently been making the right sort of headlines in a start to the season which has been far from straight forward for Zdenek Zeman’s troops.
Roma signed Florenzi as an 11-year-old from Lodigiani, the same club who delivered them Francesco Totti. He cost the outfit around €8,000, but there was a time when there were doubts whether he would make the grade. Starting life as an attacker, there were fears that he wasn’t physically big enough to turn his promise into reality. But Bruno Conti, the club’s youth sector supremo, thought the player’s apparent physical limitations were actually his biggest asset.
“He’s small, slender, but he bites on the pitch, he’s an animal,” Conti says with a sense of pride. “At the start there were those who thought he’d go nowhere, but people said the same things about me. I see the same desire in his eyes that I had. I was blooded on loan at Genoa, he affirmed himself at Crotone. These are constructive experiences for players.”
Florenzi, who was later used as a midfielder by Andrea Stramaccioni and Alberto De Rossi in the capital club’s youth teams, was one of Serie B’s star performers last term. And his displays, plus his 11 goals, were not lost on Zeman – then in charge of Second Division outfit Pescara – or the Giallorossi who had to pay €1.25m to get him back at the Olimpico.
Zeman’s infamous gradoni – a gruelling low-tech terrace step workout – held no fear for the Under-21 international during pre-season and once the campaign got under way proper the Czech, who ignores age, threw him in at the deep end. Florenzi didn’t drown. Limited to a salary of around €30,000 a year, the Federal minimum wage, he rewarded his Coach by consistently proving to be one of their best performers. A new deal worth €600,000 a season was subsequently agreed.
“It won’t change him,” Conti added. “The other day I saw him arrive at Trigoria in a ramshackle car, with a cuddly toy that his girlfriend gave to him hanging on the inside of it. I complimented him for that, as he is evidently coping well with his moment of glory. He’s not the kind of guy who’ll get big-headed. I’m not worried because he’ll remain humble.”
Florenzi, who scored for the Under-21s in the 3-2 win against Sweden last night, gives that impression from the way he speaks. Understandably at the centre of attention, he’s ambitious but also realistic. He seems well aware that his fine 2012-13 so far is not a point of arrival, it is one of departure which he’s hoping will include a stop over at Brazil 2014.
“Zeman is a Coach who makes us run and run,” noted the youngster, who still lives with his parents at Vitinia. “I have absolutely no problem with the Coach. Zeman gets the best out of my qualities, in fact he actually gets me to deliver even more than I am capable of. He’s teaching me so many things and he’ll help me get into the national side.”