There are very few players from Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad that improved their value, financially or otherwise, in Brazil. For the most part, the Azzurri’s trip to South America was hugely disappointing regardless of how much you believe Claudio Marchisio’s dismissal against Uruguay affected proceedings.
However, out of the dark cloud and chaos currently surrounding the FIGC in the midst of a World Cup post-mortem, there a few shafts of light. One of them is Torino full-back Matteo Darmian, who impressed many with his calm performances, and the other is Marco Verratti.
Touted as the “the new Andrea Pirlo” the moment his name was thrust into the peninsula’s collective consciousness, Verratti earned fame with Zdenek Zeman’s entertaining Pescara side in 2012, lining up with now Azzurri teammates Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile.
Despite the number ‘10’ on his back during his time with the Delfini, it was deeper in midfield where the youngster shined - finding teammates with regularity and picking apart helpless Serie B opponents.
Just 12 months later, fresh from a season where he earned a starting role next to Thiago Motta for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, Verratti was the conductor for Italy’s U-21 team, picking apart an England side containing future World Cup opponent Jordan Henderson as the Azzurri ran out 1-0 winners.
Another year on from that and Verratti had the chance to do the same thing, this time as a teammate of the man he had been compared to for the better part of his career. Alongside Marchisio, Verratti acted as Pirlo’s go-to guy when the veteran was dogged by opposition defenders, allowing the Azzurri to maintain possession without an over-reliance on the Juventus veteran.
In a trend that directly opposes Italy’s own World Cup journey, Verratti actually got better as the competition progressed, and was arguably the Azzurri’s best midfielder in their final group game against Uruguay.
The 21-year-old was dropped in favour of the more defensive Thiago Motta against Costa Rica and against Uruguay displayed why that was a bad decision. Emanating cool and poise with every touch, he even had the audacity to show a few flicks on the edge of Italy’s box in the first half.
It’s the composure that indicates the comparisons with the similarly unfazed Pirlo are more than an example of lazy punditry, but Verratti possesses an extra facet of agility and an a tendency to weave away from tacklers that his older teammate has perhaps lost as time has worn on. It’s an example of modern football – Pirlo a vintage wine while Verratti is more of a spritzer, bubbling with tenacity that can occasionally overflow onto the pitch.
Despite Pirlo’s decision to make himself available should the next Azzurri Coach decide to call the World Cup winner, Verratti has ensured that when the day comes that Pirlo won’t answer the phone, his successor will be waiting on the next line.