Mattia Perin would do well to keep his feet on the ground as Pescara teammate Ivan Pelizzoli can testify. Antonio Labbate remembers when the latter, like Perin today, was destined for greatness.
Mattia Perin is 20-years-old. He’s played in 21 Serie A games. He’s been linked with clubs such as Milan, Fiorentina and Napoli. Even more than that to be honest. His agent, Matteo Roggi, last week suggested that he was already worth €20m. Basically, he’s widely regarded as an Italian goalkeeping star of the future and the latest to be anointed with the ‘New Gigi Buffon’ tag.
“The Coach has given me the first team gloves,” the Genoa-owned custodian, who is on loan at Pescara this season, says. “I’m just looking to do my best. Ivan Pelizzoli and I work hard in training and I’m learning a lot from him. Ivan is a great ‘keeper and he gives me some great pieces of advice.”
Perin, whose inexperience means that he still has significant margins of improvement to make, would do well to take heed from his 32-year-old teammate. Because at the start of this Millennium, Pelizzoli was in Perin’s shoes, more aptly his gloves, as one of the next big things in Italian football.
A product of the constantly churning Atalanta production line, Pelizzoli was unexpectedly and quickly promoted from third-choice to the No 1 after injuries to Alberto Fontana and Davide Pinato. Making his Serie A debut just shy of his 20th birthday on November 5, 2000, he remained in between the sticks for the rest of the season.
“I became the Atalanta first choice because of a number of coincidences,” he said. “I was on the bench for the game against Milan. As I walked out on to San Siro, I thought to myself that it would be great to play in front of all these people. It was only normal as I had come from Serie C. Then, seven minutes into the match, Pinato asked to be subbed. I didn’t even have the time to get nervous.”
Pelizzoli’s rise from obscurity to prominence was nothing short of sensational at the Stadio Azzurri d’Italia that season. His early form was so good that Giovanni Vavassori allowed Fontana to join Napoli in January. A call-up to the Italian Under-21 side was inevitable, but he had not only caught the eye of Azzurrini boss Claudio Gentile, some of Italy’s biggest clubs were also pondering bids for him.
Roma, after considering Buffon and Francesco Toldo, netted him in the summer after they had been crowned champions of Italy. Coach Fabio Capello gave his blessing given concerns that Francesco Antonioli was their weak link. “I’ve signed a great goalkeeper,” said President Franco Sensi after agreeing to spend 27bn Lire on him. That’s roughly €14m in today’s money.
By then, Pelizzoli had played in only 30 top-flight games. “I’m not scared by the responsibility,” he declared as the move was finalised. “I’m ready for anything and I’m at the total disposal of the Coach.”
Ivan had to make due with a bench role in his first Olimpico campaign as he totalled five League appearances. He was given more opportunities in 2002-03 and was rewarded with his first full international cap by Giovanni Trapattoni as a consequence.
But it was in 2003-04 where Pelizzoli delivered on his Atalanta potential. He conceded just 14 times in 31 League games, the best first-choice goalkeeping record in Europe that season ahead of Stuttgart’s Timo Hildebrand. A bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games confirmed the belief that he was on the road to a glittering career. In truth, that was where it peaked.
The summer of 2004 proved to be a traumatic one for Roma. Capello left for Juventus and took goalkeeping Coach Franco Tancredi with him. While the outfield players suffered without the former Milan boss, Pelizzoli struggled without his personal point of reference.
“I missed him,” Pelizzoli reflected. “I worked well with Tancredi, while Claudio Filippi had different methods. Tancredi worked me more physically and I needed that otherwise I started to gain weight.”
The custodian’s personal situation was not helped by the general chaos which surrounded the Giallorossi that season. New boss Cesare Prandelli quit early on to look after his ill wife and he was subsequently followed into the hot seat by Rudi Voller, Gigi Del Neri and Bruno Conti.
Results were inconsistent and a number of players were targeted by the Olimpico boo boys. Pelizzoli, after some uncertain displays, was one of them. The criticism reached a point that Del Neri actually publicly asked the fans to support the net-minder. ‘Ivan The Terrible’ some scoffed, while Roman comic Maurizio Battista dubbed him as the ‘goalkeeper who didn’t know he could use his hands’.
“I try not to think about what is said about me,” the Bergamo-born player noted at the time. “Nevertheless, it does annoy me when people with little competence try to be Coaches. Take Buffon and Nelson Dida out of the equation and I don’t feel inferior to anyone…”
Pelizzoli featured only 17 times that term – thanks partly to a misdiagnosed injury – and the emergence of Gianluca Curci saw the outfit opt to sell him in the summer a year before his contract was to expire. “The club don’t want me anymore,” he said as Reggina made him an offer. “I would have happily stayed and fought Curci for a shirt, but it is clear that they don’t fancy that and therefore I won’t cause them a problem.”
Ivan never recovered from his Roma burn. In January 2007 he left Reggina for Lokomotiv Moscow with little success. In 2009 he returned to Italy with Albinoleffe and then joined Cagliari a year later. In August of 2012, Pescara snapped him up to act as cover for Perin.
Since then, he’s mostly had to sit and watch his younger colleague catch the eye. But, as Pelizzoli knows all too well, that’s the easy part. Now comes the significant task of turning potential into reality in a game, and in a position, where it takes little to build a star and even less to destroy one.