Marco Verratti has been known in Italian football for a few years now, since making his debut for Pescara’s first team as a fresh-faced 16-year-old. Yet, few could have predicted a rise to the fore this soon or this prominent would have come just three-and-a-half years on. A leading role in Pescara’s promotion campaign, brought about in part by a notable positional switch on the pitch under Coach Zdenek Zeman, has seen the boy rewarded with an Italy Under-21 debut, a first senior national call-up, a hike in his market valuation and a number of transfer links to Serie A sides, all in the space of a few months.
What is notable to the boy’s recent return to the attention of some of Serie A’s biggest names, however, is that it is now in a completely different position to that which he was first attracting bids for.
Wearing the No 10 on his back gives the best clue as to the original position he was nurtured in Pescara’s youth team for. Based behind the strikers, Verratti was expected to move into the senior level as a trequartista, for his technique on the ball, close comfort in dribbling and his ability to set up teammates with ease.
Indeed, playing behind a single striker in a 4-4-1-1 at youth level earned a mid-teens Verratti a trial and transfer offer from Milan. His decision to turn that down out of a fear of homesickness didn’t dispel their interest or that rumoured to be from Juventus and Inter, nor did it quell his development. By the age of 16 he had already debuted for Pescara’s first team despite his slight frame and perhaps in part because of that 5ft5 slender appearance as much as his position, he was commonly known as ‘the Biancazzurro Giovinco’.
Yet, with experience of also having played in other positions in his youth, from regista to second striker, it was never a certainty that he would take the No 10 role to match his shirt number. Indeed, 2010-11’s Pescara Coach Eusebio Di Francesco says he always felt he most resembled a style of player similar to David Pizarro, whilst 2011-12’s Coach Zeman took a similar view so as to accommodate the player in his trademark 4-3-3. Looking to Verratti’s range of passing and his surprising comfort in providing defensive cover, Zeman worked with the youngster on developing his positional sense in a deep, central-midfield role, akin to Andrea Pirlo’s at Juventus.
It’s not a style of footballer that Zeman and his preferred tactics have always accommodated into midfield in the past, but such has been Verratti’s development, temperament and improvement in his work both on and off the ball, the relationship between Coach and midfielder is seen as a key ingredient to the club’s Serie B championship success. It has also shifted comparisons away from Giovinco and towards the likes of Gigi Di Biagio, who had a similar role in Zeman’s famous Foggia side two decades ago, Pirlo and even Gianni Rivera.
In his role in the heart of the Delfini’s midfield, the Italian has showcased his ability to spot passes blind to others, to pick out players with diagonal balls over the shoulder of opposition full-backs and to always have an extra yard of space, even in the most crowded area of the pitch.
Next season will see him step up to Serie A football for the first time. Still young and still, as he acknowledges himself, with room for improvement on certain aspects of play, 2012-13 will be a test of how fair such comparisons really are and how ready he is for the jump in quality.
However, the fact that Italy included him in their provisional Euro 2012 squad and that more than one top-flight side has been rumoured to be interested in him this summer indicates that, regardless, Serie A believes he is ready.
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