With Marco Verratti on the verge of signing for PSG, Scott Fleming argues that there’s nothing romantic about a move to the city of love for the prodigiously talented teen.
From the serene seaside surroundings of Pescara to the bustling metropolis that is Paris. From playing in front of 13,000 – on a good day – at the Stadio Adriatico to playing in front of 42,000 at the Parc des Princes. From lower division football to the Champions League.
There's a certain Roy of the Rovers quality to Marco Verratti's pending transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. But there's nothing romantic about the 19-year-old's move to the city of love. When even the man who is working to make the deal happen, Verratti's agent Donato Di Campli, describes it as “a defeat for Italian football,” you know something's not quite right.
Four years ago Verratti was a 15-year-old debuting for his home town club down in Lega Pro Girone B, the southern section of Italian football's third tier. Now he is the most coveted young player in the country, thanks in large part to Zdenek Zeman, who converted the teen from a trequartista to a regista in his first training session as Pescara boss around about this time last year. Verratti went on to play an integral role in the club's promotion to Serie A, as the Dolphins surfed into the top flight on a wave of goals.
His surprise inclusion in Cesare Prandelli's preliminary Italy squad for Euro 2012 was both a validation of his blossoming talent, and the precursor to a feature length transfer saga, with Juventus, Napoli, PSG and various others all attempting to lure the petit playmaker away from the Adriatic coast during the last two months.
Now, it seems the Parisians have won the day, with Di Campli stating yesterday that “the boy intends to say yes to PSG,” and talk of a €13m fee whizzing its way from the deep coffers of the Qatar Investments Authority, who own the French club.
Nothing can be taken for granted of course, not in this saga. Only a few weeks ago Pescara announced that the player was “definitely off the market,” and a few weeks before that Di Campli was telling us “Verratti will certainly stay at Pescara for another year.” There are some suggestions in the Italian sports Press that the club were willing to accept PSG's bid last week, and it was Di Campli who put the brakes on the deal, from which it has been inferred that the boy is still holding out for a move to Juve, the team he grew up supporting.
But PSG are certainly in pole position, and it’s hard to put a positive spin on that. There can be few clubs in Europe for whom developing young players is less of a priority than PSG. They want success and they want it now, more desperately than ever after the embarrassment of losing last season's Ligue 1 title to little Montpellier, an outfit with a fraction of their budget.
The fact that Les Rouge et Bleu are coached by an Italian certainly helps – Carlo Ancelotti has said “Verratti could be the future of this club” – but Carletto's first choice midfield last season consisted mostly of combative types. In Paris, Verratti could find the path to progress blocked by Thiago Motta, Mathieu Bodmer and Momo Sissoko, bigger and older stronger players.
Verratti is by no means 'our only hope', Beppe Rossi and Fabio Borini have both proved a lack of game time at a big club early in your career isn't fatal, but his potential departure from Italian football would certainly be unsettling. And premature. He has never played, or indeed lived, anywhere but Pescara. He has only recently been integrated into the Italian under-21 set-up, making three Azzurrini appearances, sent off in the last of them against Ireland last month.
The proposed deal which would have saw the skinhead midfielder purchased by Juve, but left on loan at Pescara for a season, was quite probably the best solution for all concerned. It would have allowed Verratti to ease himself into top level football in a familiar environment, and allowed the Biancazzurri, who look weak after replacing Zeman and Ciro Immobile with Giovanni Stroppa and Elvis Abbruscato respectively, to retain a key protagonist in their promotion and someone who has symbolic value as a hometown boy.
Sadly President Daniele Sebastiani doesn't appear to agree, and given that his club were bankrupt less than four years ago, who can blame him.