With Roberto Mancini selecting a young 27-man squad for the Azzurri’s upcoming fixtures against Portugal and the USA, three new faces at Coverciano have attracted extensive interest from the Italian media and fans. The new inclusions of Sandro Tonali – dubbed the new Andrea Pirlo – and the versatile Sassuolo midfielder Stefano Sensi suggests that Mancini is prepared to inject fresh life and youth into a rebuilding Italian side. But most Calcio fans have barely heard of the other new selection: just who is Vincenzo Grifo?
Honestly, hardly any Azzurri supporter knew who Grifo was before being called up to the senior Italian national team for the first time. But if every Italian searches the name Vincenzo Grifo on the internet, they would soon discover with frustration that he has been an undiscovered talent for quite some time. Oozing class in every technical department, it’s ludicrous to think how Mancini’s recent predecessors had overlooked this talented midfielder. It’s a brave move from the former Manchester City boss, who is opting for players from outside the Italian peninsula and Serie A.
Representing Italy’s Under-20s in 2013 and now unexpectedly arriving back in Italy for the senior national team, Grifo was humbled to be presented with this rare opportunity. “I feel 100 per cent Italian. I am happy and ready to work,” Grifo stated at a Coverciano training session. If the 25-year-old makes his Azzurri debut this international break, there will be a sense of pride and excitement for the Italian diaspora.
Born in Germany to Italian immigrant parents, Grifo currently plies his trade in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim. From playing most his youth career with hometown side Pforzheim (a division five outfit) and bouncing from the third and second tiers of German football as a loanee in the years between 2012 and 2015 – Grifo’s journey has been a testament to his strong work ethic and humble nature.
Arriving at Freiburg ahead of the 2015-16 season in Germany’s second division, Grifo quickly showcased his midfield technicality and attacking qualities. Scoring 14 goals and mustering 11 assists in 31 appearances, the German-born Italian’s exceptional form helped the Black Forrest side win the Bundesliga 2 title and gain promotion to Germany’s top-flight. Grifo’s sublime performances continued in the following campaign as he played a substantial role in the newly-promoted side’s seven-place finish in the Bundesliga – securing a Europa League spot.
It was last year that Grifo’s heroics at Freiburg earned him a dream move to Borussia Monchengladbach. However, tainted by injuries saw the midfielder’s stint with the Borussians end short – presenting him the opportunity with a return to Hoffenheim. So far in this current season, the versatile playmaker has shown glimpses of the vintage Grifo – the impressive Freiburg version. Despite having less game time this season, every time the 25-year-old steps onto the pitch his skills never cease to amaze the Bundesliga viewers. His two assists and a single goal in the 4-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen earlier this month captured the attention of Mancini – rightfully earning him a place in the Azzurri squad.
Just six years ago Grifo was playing his football in Germany’s fourth division, but now here he is, preparing to play alongside veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
If Grifo is part of Mancini’s plans to feature as an impact sub against Portugal in the UEFA Nations League or in the friendly with the USA, what can the Italian tifosi expect to see from the Hoffenheim midfielder? From crisp passing, producing trickery in the box, supplying numerous assists, a clinical penalty taker and a set-piece and free-kick specialist – everything from his passing to finishing is majestic.
The Pforzheim native can be deployed as a winger and also play as an attacking midfielder – sitting behind the forward line. Grifo’s classy and clean style of football will provide healthy competition for the likes of other playmakers such as Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne.
What makes Grifo’s Azzurri call-up even more compelling is his Sicilian background – his father deriving from Naro, a comune (town) in the province of Agrigento. Whenever a Sicilian represents the Azzurri, it evokes the memories of when Toto Schillaci exploded at the 1990 World Cup with those famously intense goal celebrations. Can Grifo burst onto the international scene and emulate his Sicilian predecessor Schillaci? Maybe it’s time that La Nazionale can use some of that fiery Sicilian spirit to stimulate the attack once again.