In the midst of a national striking dilemma, polarised by conflicting views of the modern-day forward, Manolo Gabbiadini’s unique fusion of styles could bridge the gap in the Italy squad.
In a Utopian world, the Azzurri’s surplus of diminutive second strikers and old-fashioned marksmen would go hand-in-hand with each other, but the volatile nature of attackers and formations on the peninsula has meant there has been constant chopping-and-changing on the international front.
Many consider Christian Vieri to be Italy’s last truly complete No 9 and shades of the man who once commanded football’s largest transfer fee can be traced in Gabbiadini’s armoury once you look beyond the first similarity – the wispy mop of brown hair.
Born into a family with footballing pedigree and raised by Atalanta’s fruitful youth system, Manolo – younger brother of renowned women’s star Melania - is one of only nine Azzurrini who can boast about breaking into double figures at Under-21 level.
Such free-scoring exploits at youth level, however, did not immediately translate into senior success. The prolific form of German Denis, still spearheading the Atalanta attack, meant he encountered trouble breaking into Serie A consciousness with his hometown club.
What followed from Gabbiadini was a refreshing display of proactivity - in an era of over-indulgent young footballers - to prioritise his development, rather than allow himself to be suckered into the rumoured race for his signature which was trumpeted by his agent.
He showed enough promise in five goals and 27 appearances at Serie B side Cittadella to warrant a place in Stefano Colantuono’s plans in the subsequent season, and he spent the 2011-12 campaign honing his craft, as he kept a studious eye on more experienced colleagues.
“I am learning a lot from my teammates in training and during games,” he said at the time. “I pay close attention to quality players like Denis, Maxi Moralez and Simone Tiribocchi. They are greats and examples for me.”
A co-ownership deal involving Juventus and an Italy cap was Gabbiadini’s just reward for completing his first-team education, before he was immediately shipped out on loan to Bologna.
Although he struck just six times and found it difficult to maintain a rhythm during his stay at the Dall’Ara, due to the unbreakable bond of Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti and pressing matters of top-flight survival, his potential was evident in fits and spurts.
Since his move to Sampdoria last summer, Gabbiadini has flourished in a new wide-right position of a 4-2-3-1, where his thunderous left foot, deceptive pace and ability to adapt to different positions have been showcased more than ever.
However, it is this flexibility which could cost him an international career, akin to the situation of Claudio Marchisio. Can he lead the line or is he better suited in a support role? These are questions the man himself must answer on the pitch.
Plus, for all of his technical aptitude, Gabbiadini risks wasting his 1.86m stature, which he has criminally underused at professional level. It may point to why he has yet to record more than 10 goals in a single campaign, although he is capable of banishing that hoodoo before May.
Cesare Prandelli’s desperation to seek an alternative to Mario Balotelli has seen him persist with the likes of Alberto Gilardino and Dani Osvaldo, both of whom are deemed too one-dimensional to partner or rotate with the Milan striker.
Gabbiadini could do a lot worse than re-enact Balotelli’s conversion from a raw forward into a polished reference point of attack, and Italy could do the same in return by giving the boy from Bergamo another shot.
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