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Federico Bernardeschi: The other ‘real’ Italian talent

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After dealing with inconsistent playing time and injuries last season, Bernardeschi is starting to reach his full potential for both Juventus and Italy.

Italy v Ukraine - International Friendly Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It is easy to get lost in how much talent Juventus has at their disposal.

Federico Bernardeschi, who arrived at Juventus from Fiorentina last summer, has begun to ascend the ranks in world football talent, starting to truly blossom into a world class talent. Scoring for both club and his country, Bernardeschi, at the tender age of 24, is proving to be indispensable on every stage he steps foot on.

For Juventus, Bernardeschi has played a large role in the undefeated and untied start that we are all experiencing. In fact, he has been on the field for 13 of Juventus’ 23 goals — scoring two of them — so far while only playing in 7 of 10 games. While tallying no assists, which if you have watched him play is a bit shocking, it is still evident that him being on the pitch has opened up the offense for the Black and White.

Unfortunately for Italy, Bernardeschi’s tantalizing play has not resulted in results that a country with such a rich international footballing history should be proud of. In the midst of a rebuild, Bernardeshi is just one of piece that has fallen into place for Italy, with many more yet to even be discovered.

No one was surprised when legendary goalkeeper and former (still feels weird to say) Juventus player Gianluigi Buffon recently owned up to the shortcomings of his national team to the Italian media. There was, however, one major flaw with what Gigi said.

Buffon claimed that Marco Verratti, with whom he now plays with at PSG, is the “only real talent of Italian football.” Verratti, to his credit, has been a wonderful player for years at PSG. He has, however, been wholly underwhelming on the national stage. Buffon had an explanation for that as well, claiming that “when he plays with normal players he can struggle because they don’t understand him, sometimes those who are too good struggle to be understood by others.” In other words, Italy is so bad that they stifle Verratti’s potential.

So, what you’re telling me, my dear Gigi, is that the only talented Italian player in this world is currently suiting up for a team in Paris? I beg to differ.

There is a saying among fans of Italian soccer: Italy goes as Juventus goes. That is, generally, because Juventus has historically fielded more Italian talent than the other two giants of Italian soccer, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

In fact, Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning squad featured six Juventus players in the starting lineup. Their most recent World Cup title in 2006 featured five Juventus players in the squad, with 9 total having played for Juve at some point during their career. That team was managed by Marcelo Lippi, who managed the Bianconeri for 10 years, including a three-year stretch from 2001-2004.

Juventus is, arguably, the main contributor to Italy’s success, and their pipeline has bared more fruit for the national team than any other team in Serie A. With that being said, it is well documented that the Azzurri have struggled to produce world class talent since their last World Cup triumph.

In these past seven years, Juventus have swept Serie A unabated. Good sign for Italy, right? You would think. But, actually, it’s been quite the opposite. Juventus have produced plenty of national team contributors the past seven years, but no one that has allowed Italy to reclaim their place among Europe’s elite national squads.

Sure, players like Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and, most notably, Buffon have been stalwarts of the Italian defense for the past decade (or longer). In truth, defending has not been Italy’s issue, and probably never will be. It has been the midfield and forward line that has been so lacking for the Italians. Let’s take a look at how many Italians Juventus has fielded in those two positions through the past 7 years.

Since the first Scudetto in Juventus’ string of success in 2011-2012, 10 unique Italians in the midfield and front line have played for both Juventus and Italy. 7 years, 10 players. Half of them are marginal — such as Alessandro Matri, Stefano Sturaro and Simone Pepe just to name a few.

Buffon was right to criticize his own national team for which he gave almost 20 years of passion and incredible goalkeeping to. But to exclude Federico Bernardeschi and not group him as a ‘real’ Italian player was unjust. Bernardeschi burst onto the scene for Juve last year and had an incredible impact on the closest title race Juventus has experienced in this 7 year window of championships.

Since you were a part of that campaign, my dear Gianluigi, hearken back with me for a moment to last year. It is the beginning of January and Juventus is trailing Napoli by 1 point in the Serie A standings. Remember how awful that was? Do you remember a particular youngster coming on and scoring decisive goals against Cagliari and Fiorentina, both in the second half, to keep the pressure on Napoli? Do you remember how lost we looked in front of goal before he came on? That players name was Federico Bernardeschi. And don’t forget, he wasn’t even fully healthy.

Flash forward to this year, where Bernardeschi has at times kicked Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado to the bench whenever Allegri has wanted to put his best XI on the pitch. He has been Man of the Match in at least 3 of Juventus’ 10 games so far in this budding season. Whether starting or coming off the bench, Federico has changed every game he has been a part of with his electric pace, fearless play, and desire to take on defenders at will. Bernadeschi is quickly becoming a household name, dazzling both domestic and abroad for the Bianconeri.

Juventini are not the only people that have taken notice of him. Italian national team coach, Roberto Mancini, sees Bernardeschi as a player that “has enormous quality... It’s obvious that Juventus play to win every game and he is growing with that mentality.”

While he may not be as proven on the club stage as Verratti (though it isn’t like PSG has made any Champions League Finals with him), Bernardeschi is, whether Buffon realizes it or not, an up and coming superstar for his beloved Italy. And, most importantly, he is an up and coming superstar for Juventus.

Still years away from his prime, Bernardeschi has become a terror for opposing defenses by constantly attacking them at pace with the ball. Putting so much pressure on the back line frees up players like Ronaldo and Mandzukic to run in behind the cracks that Bernardeschi is becoming so adept at creating. Generally, players with his offensive talents are rarely seen on their own team’s side of midfield, but Bernardeschi works as hard to get back as anyone else on the pitch. He plays with an incredible motor and seems to buzz all over the field with the same fervor in the first minute as he does in the ninetieth.

His impact can be seen in every match he plays and has been recognized by all the Juve faithful. Federico Bernardeschi has been integral to Juventus’ undefeated start to the 2018/19 campaign. While he is still young and has a lot to prove, one thing can be sure: Verratti is not the only “real” Italian footballer anymore.