Dear Lorenzo Insigne, do you remember what the customary expression is for a young, promising player who loses his way? They say that he is 'burned'. Suppose that an 18-year-old scores a couple of wonder goals: suddenly everyone – the fans, the Press, the directors – starts piling praise and pressure on him, calls him 'the new Zinedine Zidane' or 'the new Marco Van Basten', and as often as not the kid collapses. Either he never reaches his full potential, or he returns to his true level, which turns out to be mediocre. Sometimes 'the next Zidane' doesn't even make it to being the next Alberto Gilardino.
This is not your case, of course. You're almost 25, and all these years people kept overlooking you. The big upcoming striker was called Giuseppe Rossi, or Sebastian Giovinco, or Mario Balotelli. They were always the Mr Next, while you stood there, at the end of the line, at the bottom of the food chain, grateful when you were given 15 minutes at the end of a friendly against Luxembourg. You, the unburned.
Or maybe not the unburned. For a kid who clearly carries football in his DNA, it sure took a long time for you to get noticed. Two years in Lega Pro, one in Serie B, always on loan, teeth clenched and no headlines, taking lessons from the marginalised visionary of Italian football, Zdenek Zeman. Then the return to Serie A, and the rupture of the cruciate ligament: more youth gone to waste. Yours was no fairy tale, Lorenzo. You got burned all right.
Speaking frankly, we'd expect someone with your profile to have a lot more anger inside them. People who come from the bottom seldom have the patience for niceties. Zidane's head-butts, Luis 'the shark' Suarez and his biting – do you think any of that is 'madness', or 'impulse', as they call it? No, Lorenzo. You come from the same place as they did and you know what that is.
And yet you don't fit that mould at all. You're a soft-spoken, camera-shy young man, a poor public speaker, the kind that pulls the rim of his cap down in front of the fans. You look vaguely like Peter Parker before he got bitten by the spider, nerdy glasses and unimposing stature and all. If there's any hell inside you, it's buried somewhere very deep.
Perhaps all of the anger goes into the game, which would explain how you managed to score 12 goals and make 10 assists in Serie A this season. Alongside Roma's Miralem Pjanic, you're the only player in the championship to make it into double digits in both categories, and one of a very select handful in Europe. Combine that with your extraordinarily low centre of gravity (seven cm shorter than Leo Messi), which makes your switches in direction near impossible to follow, and we have something very special indeed. We have a fantasista, a number 10.
Italy have been struggling to find a player like that since their World Cup victory in 2006. The last great interpreter of the role was Francesco Totti. After that, we had only rust and broken promises. Balotelli could have been a star (still can, really), but he's not that type of footballer anyway. A fantasista is more than just a player of great skill, he's the director of an orchestra. He's the one who can score, dribble, pass, create, inspire. This year, that role and that responsibility are yours.
It has to be you, Lorenzo. We don't like to shine the spotlight your way, because we know you hate it. But if not you, who else? Federico Bernardeschi? He's a great kid, but still a kid, and everyone knows it. He hasn't been burned, not by football and not by life. Stephan El Shaarawy? He's a very interesting winger-attacker with a good nose for the goal. He could be of great use to Antonio Conte. But, like Balotelli, he's not the all-rounder type, and therefore not a fantasista.
We may be wrong about all of this, and we'd only be too happy. Imagine if, come July 10, El Sharaawy's true talent emerges and he pulls off the Goal of the Century. Imagine if Bernardeschi's game suddenly explodes. Stranger things have happened in football. We promise you, we won't be protesting.
In the meantime, like it or not, Lorenzo, you are Italy's fantasista. You alone have the numbers, and you alone have been consistently excellent at the highest levels. Also, you alone have such grace in motion, and the eagle eye to read the game from almost anywhere, threading passes and assists that nobody else imagined. This doesn't make you Italy's best player – that would have been Marco Verratti, if he'd been able to come along. But you're the one we'll turn to for the spark of inspiration, or madness, or genius. You're the fire in the ocean-blue shirt.
This is a formal welcome to you as Italy's new fantasista, Lorenzo. We hope you'll make that title yours. If you don't, we really can't see the Azzurri going anywhere in Euro 2016. The attack is their weakest department, even accounting for the defections in the midfield. The poachers are run-of-the-mill, and the creative players all have giant question marks hanging over their heads. Without a fantasista to crack open defences and get balls into the box, the Italians are going to be what they absolutely cannot afford to be: predictable.
Italy are lost, Lorenzo. It's not a nice thing to say, but that's the truth, no matter what Antonio Conte's bluster may lead you to believe. They've been groping in the dark not in the last two years but ever since 2006, when the last great fantasista returned his number 10 shirt. For too many years the sight of these ghostly Azzurri has been pitiful. They are like a chess grand master with dementia, like heavy metal with no drums, like an angel without a halo. Take them by hand to a place where they can see the light. Remind them that their colours were once worn by Valentino Mazzola, Gianni Rivera and Roberto Baggio. Remind us too, we are beginning to forget.