It seems an age ago since Marco Verratti was hailed for his domineering performance against Chelsea in the Champions League. Yet that was only in 2015. Xavi had effectively crowned the Italian his heir at Barcelona, and it merely seemed a question of when he would make the move to another big club, and for how much.
Yet three years on and millions spent later, Paris Saint-Germain are in no better a place in Europe and Verratti’s development has similarly stunted.
His performance against Real Madrid typified what has been a growing trend of the ineffectiveness and ill-discipline in big games for the midfielder. Booked for a typically overzealous tackle just 20 minutes into the affair, he then earned a cheap red card for dissent to make his side's herculean task now an impossible one.
Seemingly every time these important games come around, he loses his composure and his head. Three of PSG’s last four red cards in the Champions League have been shown to the Italian.
Now 25 years old, with bounds of European and international experience, Verratti should be running games like this – especially with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos not starting.
The diminutive midfielder looked head and shoulders above the rest in the first leg against Barcelona last season, but put in an equally anaemic performance in the return leg.
In a star-studded side, it can be difficult to get your foot on the ball as much. PSG under Unai Emery now seem to rely on the talents of individuals, as opposed to cohesive offensive football. And no doubt he is not being challenged by teams every week with the same rigour as he would if he were in Italy or England. But things have hardly been better on the international scene either.
When the Azzurri played Spain in World Cup qualifying earlier, Verratti was thoroughly embarrassed by Isco in a 3-0 loss. In the play-offs against an unfancied Sweden side, he couldn’t influence the game in any way, with Giorgio Chiellini making twice as many passes. He also foolishly got himself suspended for the second leg, where creativity was in short supply for the Italians.
While many can (somewhat justifiably) point to then-manager Giampiero Ventura as the cause for fault, this microcosm of games is a valid reflection of his Italy career, one of few, if any noteworthy performances.
Verratti doesn’t have the same stock in Italy as he does in France, and poor performances for the national team have led to criticism from former players like Ciccio Graziani, who said “I don’t think he is worth even €50m.” Perhaps the real Ballon d'Or winner here is agent Mino Raiola, who continues to maintain the hype over a player who simply hasn't warranted it and earned more and more lucrative contracts.
The midfielder makes an easy target for PSG and Azzurri fans alike, but was not the only reason his side lost 5-2 over both legs. In fact, before he was dismissed, he was arguably their best performing player (which likely says more about his teammates’ performance than his).
But he must deal with this mental malaise which seems to affect him in crucial ties. Carlo Ancelotti reportedly branded the midfielder an ‘imbecile’ after he received his first red card in French Football, and Laurent Blanc didn’t see the funny side of his ill-disciplined performances either. Years on this shouldn’t be a problem for Emery, but it is.
On his day he can be a game changer, which is why he to this day still courts attention from the likes of Barcelona, but those days should have been yesterday at the Parc de Prince and three weeks ago at the Bernabeu. We know he has the talent. Whether he can fully mature to unlock that potential when it matters is another question.
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