It’s a tough situation for any young player when they fail to live up to critics’ expectations. It’s particularly difficult when that young player is tipped to be the future of a country.
When that player’s short career cools off after some shining moments, he’s often labelled as a bust - one that failed to reach his full potential. The highlights reel eventually turns harmful as the clips on it become expected rather than remain joyous surprises. These peaks and valleys have been the topography of Domenico Berardi’s career thus far.
When looking further into the story, lighter eyes see a player who’s still growing - one who has taken the more noble course of staying at a smaller club in order to help his development. Rather than jumping ship at the first chance to play for a title-competing side and increased wages, the 24-year-old chose to stay with Sassuolo instead of forcing a move to former co-owner Juventus or previously-interested parties Milan, Roma and Napoli.
The decision seems to have paid dividends as Berardi is on track to have his best season since the 2014-15 campaign.
After winning awards such as the Serie B Player of the Season in 2013 and becoming the first player to score four against Milan in a League match, it’s easy to understand why the calcio community had tipped him as the next big thing.
Unfortunately for a player whose career was skyrocketing, he was plagued by injuries in 2016-17 and sidelined for over five months. Coupled with inconsistent form and disappearing from big games, doubts rose over his general ability. This, along with a dismal disciplinary record, was putting big clubs off from making the kind of offers that Neroverdi President Giorgio Squinzi has demanded.
It’s easy to forget just how hot-tempered Berardi is but, in 174 Serie A games, he has scored 54 goals, provided 39 assists and received 52 yellow cards. More significantly, however, his four dismissals have all been straight reds.
Having gritted his teeth to reach peak physical condition, he’s overcome these setbacks, helping Sassuolo to an unbeaten April. In the last five matches he’s scored three goals, while creating one assist - including a wonder goal against Chievo to break his team’s winless run.
Not only has his calmness in front of goal caught the eye, but also his determination to build play with the rest of his teammates. Roberto De Zerbi and ex-mentor Eusebio Di Francesco would be proud of their pupil, who has begun showing that he can make the impact of a marquee player for 90 minutes.
What is for certain is that Berardi’s next club will define his career, with the summer transfer window on the horizon. In come Fiorentina – a club planning for the future after a disappointing campaign. Having just re-hired Coach Vincenzo Montella, they will most likely be in need of a star player to replace their beloved Federico Chiesa for next season.
While the Viola have underwhelmed and sit in the bottom half of the table after that Sassuolo loss, there would be few better than Montella to help turn Berardi’s raw skill into a top – and consistent – product. During his first tenure in Florence, Montella deployed a 4-3-1-2, as well as a 3-5-2 formation. Although he may be tempted to try a 4-3-3 with his current crop of players, bringing Berardi closer to the centre of the pitch rather than the right wing would exploit his abilities to score and assist.
He would surely be a star for the Tuscans with the occasional brace but, if given the opportunity by a Champions League side, it will be a hung jury if whether or not he can prove himself as a key component. That is especially important, with Euro 2020 on the horizon.
He seems to have been around for a very long time yet will only turn 25 in August. The talent and determination are there. The only questions remaining are those which Berardi must ask himself.