Luigi Riva. Roberto Boninsegna. Angelo Domenghini. Gianfranco Zola. Daniele Conti. Radja Nainggolan. A volatile crossroad in the Mediterranean since the wars between the Aragonese and the Saracens, the ancient island of Sardinia has harboured top talent throughout its history.
Such energy has played its part in manifesting great players for its football club, and Cagliari Calcio’s list of marquee names above is something noteworthy – especially when gazing through the club’s humble trophy cabinet. The Sardinians have produced another gem on the emerald coast isle, in the form of Nicolò Barella.
The young midfielder’s growth has been exponential, so much that he has already attracted the eyes of some top suitors within the league and abroad. Sure, at 20 years old he possesses the features you would expect from an up and coming player. He is energetic, can hold his own in the centre of the pitch, and is watchful of his defense – all attributes needed to become a decent central midfielder.
Yet this attention is granted due to the rarity of his style – the finer details that set him apart from utility midfielders, or those that rely purely on their attacking skills. Seeing the fine points of the game is what makes Barella so coveted.
When the Sardinian native faced off against Hellas Verona in the beginning of November, he made a case for his maturity. Weaving pass after pass through Verona’s middle and defensive third helped Coach Diego Lopez claim a victory in the mid-table scrap. A brainy performance paired with a certain calmness would become almost regular as the season moved forward.
Just two weeks later, an away trip to the Dacia Arena saw another win for the Casteddu. After resisting countless pressure from Udinese in the first half, Barella kept his composure with his teammates to launch an assault just as whistle restarted play. In a movement that would put shame to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, his lobbed ball curved between three defenders and on to the head of Joao Pedro for the only goal of the match. That missile pass has become something of a trademark for his vision.
His two goals came during the months of September and October, against SPAL and Torino respectively. While the former was a left-footed volley, the latter came as part of a spectacular counter-attack, which the midfielder gained after a blistering run down the right flank. As the team grows in confidence throughout the second half of the season, we can expect to see him keep scoring a variety of such goals.
His attacking talents are juxtaposed to his defensive reading of the play. Leading the Sardi in tackles won on average, the hometown boy’s timely precision to win the ball back has helped dissipate the opponent’s attack, as Lopez’s squad often find themselves facing high pressure. Sliding and winning, he produces that threat to commence the attack, and immediately drive play forward with another long pass.
As the January transfer window reaches its halfway point, President Tommaso Giulini has raised his price for the young player twice – first at €30m, before claiming he was suddenly worth an additional €20m on top of that. While the number sounds like a bluff, any deal during the winter could climb well above the initial quote.
The young Italian’s future will surely take him to the heights of world football, if not this winter, then surely in the near future. But in just a short amount of time, whether staying or sailing to new shores, Barella has quickly cemented his spot as a Cagliaritani hero.