As Udinese warmed up to face Bologna in the shadow of the tower at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, it emerged that the Zabrette’s first choice goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic had a problem. Coach Francesco Guidolin was forced to make a change on the cusp of a pivotal contest.
Udinese had lost four matches in a row and risked being dragged into a relegation battle. The obvious choice seemed to be Croatian Ivan Kelava. The 26-year-old was signed as cover for Brkic and though a little sluggish, had proven reasonably reliable.
Guidolin, however, looked elsewhere, turning to 17 year-old Simone Scuffet. It was a bold move, made ‘within five seconds’ according to the tactician, but one that was ultimately justified, as Udinese won 2-0.
Scuffet faced just one shot on target that day, but has subsequently proven himself more than capable when put under greater scrutiny. Since his debut, the stopper has gone on to keep four clean sheets in 13 appearances. A mistake at Atalanta aside, he has been almost faultless and is becoming indispensable.
Guidolin describes the stopper as ‘calm and collected’, while Scuffet insists: “my family taught me you need to be humble and dedicated to your work.”
Those qualities shone through with his standout performance in Udinese’s 0-0 draw at San Siro against Inter, whilst he also made notable saves in a 1-0 win over their city rivals Milan. Scuffet’s performances have also unsurprisingly drawn admirers. Sporting director Cristiano Giaretta insists ‘he will not be moving’ this summer, whilst the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Roma are believed to have taken an interest - as has Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli.
Just 39 days after making his Serie A debut, Scuffet found himself in Rome as part of a group of Italians called together for a pre-World Cup training camp. He spent three days working alongside fellow stoppers Francesco Bardi, Nicola Leali, Antonio Mirante and Mattia Perin, as Prandelli took an opportunity to assess the Azzurri’s future options close up.
Scuffet’s inclusion for the coming World Cup is an argument becoming more convincing. Gianluigi Buffon and Salvatore Sirigu are seemingly certain of their places, but a third goalkeeper is required. Federico Marchetti, the initial favourite, is struggling for form. Morgan De Sanctis, who retired in 2012, has been suggested, but Prandelli is increasingly likely to look elsewhere. In Bardi, Perin and Scuffet, he has three promising goalkeepers who have been regulars in Serie A this season to consider.
If not Marchetti or De Sanctis, taking one of the aforementioned trio makes more sense than the likes of Mirante, who is equally inexperienced at international level and too old to benefit from the experience.
Coming into the season, Bardi, after impressing with the Under-21s, was perhaps head of the queue, but Scuffet’s emergence has altered the landscape. Of the three, he has the least experience, but is arguably the most mature. His desire to do ‘the simple things and run as few risks as possible’ highlights as much.
Such an attitude will not be lost on Prandelli as he considers his options. The experience would be invaluable to Scuffet, who is still in school, but there is also an outside chance he would have to play. Whether Prandelli believes such an outcome is more likely to make or break the youngster will forge his decision.