Thursday November 15 2018
Scouting Sandro Tonali

Much excitement has surrounded Sandro Tonali's call-up to the Italy squad, but what is he actually like as a player? Elio Salerno investigates...

Stadio Mario Rigamonti, Brescia. A long-haired ‘regista’ can be seen gliding across the surface, spraying an array of passes around the pitch in the famous Biancoazzurri colours. However, this isn’t a scene from the late 90s where a young Andrea Pirlo began to make his impression on calcio, it is his heir apparent and Italy’s latest talented prospect.

The player in question, 18-year-old Sandro Tonali is the new maestro forging the beginnings of his career at the Lombardy club, with the eyes of Europe’s big hitters monitoring his every step.

Tonali’s resemblance to Pirlo extends beyond a similarity in appearance. Both players are composed technicians, grew up in the youth ranks at Brescia and were afforded their first taste of senior football at the club, while also experiencing a shift in playing position from an attacking role to that of a deep-lying midfield creator. Tonali’s move to a midfield anchor has come at an earlier stage in his career than that of the aforementioned Pirlo, showing exponential growth in the process.

In August 2017, at the age of 17, Lodi-born Tonali was handed his professional debut during a Serie B clash against Avellino and quickly established himself as a regular in the starting XI. The subsequent summer is where the youngster really began to attract attention, following a string of impressive displays for his country during the 2018 Under-19 European Championships. Conducting play from the centre of the pitch, the promising Italian was pivotal in the Azzurrini’s run to the final, playing with intelligence and control beyond his years.

The player’s stellar form in that tournament did not go unnoticed and Tonali has carried momentum from those performances into the current season. Starting all 11 of Brescia’s league fixtures to date, the number 4 has already contributed four assists and also grabbed a goal in his side’s recent victory over Verona. Alerted by the Brescian’s quality, Italy head coach Roberto Mancini added to the hype surrounding Tonali by providing him with his first call-up to the senior squad.

As ‘Mancio’ continues his redevelopment of La Nazionale, he has already proven to be courageous in affording Italy’s youth an opportunity to taste the national set-up.  With pass masters Jorginho and Marco Verrati working with Tonali on the training pitches at Coverciano, frequent spells with the squad will provide the ideal learning environment for him. It remains to be seen if Mancini will hand Tonali his first cap in the games against Portugal and USA, but the boss has made it clear he is curious to find out more about the talented starlet.

It is easy to understand the excitement around Tonali after watching him play. A player of his ilk makes for enjoyable viewing, the nonchalant way he manipulates the ball and appears pressure free even under challenge is a skill few can replicate at his age. Playing off either foot, Tonali’s technique, fused with his awareness of the game, allows him to quickly execute a range of passes at pin-point accuracy. Be it retaining possession to build play or a raking diagonal ball, Tonali holds all the technical attributes to become a first-class regista. Look out for his penetrating first-time pass over the opposition defence, a passage of play that that will have Italian football fans reminiscing of a move that was seen on a regular basis in the Pirlo days.

Not limited to passing, Tonali often looks to combine his close control, dribbling ability and clever use of his body to make driving forward runs from deep in midfield.

This is an important additional asset as it makes Tonali a difficult player to press and allows him to break defensive lines in a variety of ways. On occasions he does get caught in possession by staying on the ball for too long but that - along with his positional sense - are deficiency’s Tonali will iron out over his career. The energetic Tonali does have another side to his game. A gritty and determined worker he can mix it when it comes to breaking up play, if he is a little over exuberant in challenges at times.

A set-piece specialist capable of delivering a high quantity and quality of passes, it is no surprise to see the likes of Juventus, Inter, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea all linked with Brescia’s young star.  The Pirlo role is recognised worldwide and the comparisons to the former Milan and Juventus player are somewhat inevitable, but Tonali himself remains unfazed by the talk, “He inspired me but I’ve never seen another like him. Maybe my hair is similar.”

Replicating anything like the career of the l'Architetto would mean Tonali has achieved something extraordinary while carrying the tag of “the new Andrea Pirlo” invites unwarranted demands. However, Tonali is hot property and fans of the Azzurri will be eager to catch a glimpse of the highly-touted midfielder over the next few days. In what feels like a rare positive moment for the national team, Tonali’s inclusion has only added to recent optimism.

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Have your say...
I remember when verati was compared to pirlo,now tonali.when this does make alot of sense. But tonali should be allow to stay in italy for further development.but going to inter will be a big mistake
on the 18th November, 2018 at 7:45pm
It looks to me like Tonali has some talent. He should be given playing time in serie A mid to lower table team where he will play regularly, allowed to make mistakes and learn. Juve should snap this one up pronto. Italy can now build upon a good midfield and worthy defence though I think if perin gets playing time, he is better than Donnarumma.
on the 17th November, 2018 at 4:51am
I really don't know who draws these caparisons tonali effectively came out and said i am not the new pirlo yet people still make this comparison, i suppose it doesn't help when the club owner proclaims tonali better than pirlo.

There is only one comparison i would like to see with pirlo and that is tonali staying at brescia for a couple of season even if they stay in serie b it is probably the best place for his development as a player.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 9:53pm
Let the kid grow without having all these comparisons.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 7:25pm
So many "new Pirlo"s going around over the years. I remember when the likes of Poli and Aquilani were called the next Pirlo. Lmao... Enough already.
Like the Maestro said himself, let Tonali be Tonali.

But I guess the comparisons are inevitable with a player as iconic as Pirlo, especially if he plays for Brescia.
on the 16th November, 2018 at 7:08am
Suddenly, the Italian midfield is looking alright!

on the 16th November, 2018 at 1:11am
someone please tell me , why oh why does the azzurri play friendlies outside of italy , who makes this daft decision.
against the US they will play in genk!, This is just the current state of italian football where i can only imagine that they would draw a larger audience in belgium than in their own back yard.
How bizarre from a country that has lifted the world cup no fewer than four times.
on the 15th November, 2018 at 10:41pm
We often get it wrong with youngsters. They need to be nurtured before being anything let alone pirlo. It always the case at england during their barren times of superstars. Now italy got in the same situations. At this age if he can do it in the likes of fiorentina or sampdoria; then come the next step joining a big team and performing at the same time....
on the 15th November, 2018 at 7:18pm

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