With the No. 3 on his back, Federico Gatti put forward a debut for the Italian national team that the guy who used to wear that same number and just recently retired from the Azzurri setup would be proud of and probably give him a couple of whacks on the chest in celebration.
There were no goals scored on either end of Italy’s UEFA Nations League fixture against England on Saturday night, the first time the two countries have played one another since the Euro 2020 final at Wembley that saw a certain Giorgio Chiellini captain the Azzurri to the title on penalties. Even with all of the attacking talent that England manager Gareth Southgate rolled out — Tammy Abraham, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount — a defense that featured a debutant who just a couple of years ago was playing against Juventus’ Under-23 team in Serie C was arguably the best player on the field.
That’s not just a guy like myself seeing through black and white — or maybe in this case azzurro — glasses. No matter where you looked following Saturday night’s match, Gatti’s performance was earning praise from just about anybody who had the chance to do so. Look at what others were saying about Gatti following his impressive showing against England.
Squawka gave Gatti a match rating of 8, the highest mark for any player who made an appearance Saturday night. “Probably the best player on the pitch,” stated the match rating blurb about Gatti. “Very combative and gave England very little space.”
Tuttosport gave Gatti a 7, saying that the 23-year-old Italian “plays without fear, as if emotion couldn’t scratch him.” (How Italian is that description, by the way? Hint: it’s very Italian.)
La Gazzetta dello Sport also gave Gatti a 7. noting how well he played against England striker Tammy Abraham, somebody who is coming off one hell of a first season in Serie A with Roma and was easily one of England’s most in-form players coming into the meeting with Italy.
Even the data-driven computer ratings at WhoScored gave Gatti a 6.9 (nice) match grade, trailing only Manuel Locatelli (7.4), Federico Dimarco (7.3) and Gianluigi Donnarumma (7.1). That’s mostly because Gatti’s stats looked a little like this:
- Aerial duels won: 3/3
- Ground duels won: 4/8
- Clearances: 4
- Interceptions: 2
- Fouls won: 4
- Pass completion: 86%
As you can tell, those who hand out match ratings are pretty much all in agreement — when it comes to those who were on the field Saturday night at Vicarage Road, Gatti was one of the best, if not the best player of them all. It was one game in what many people will now hope will be many, with the suddenly microscope now on the guy who Juventus acquired from Frosinone late in the January transfer window for €7.5 million.
That same kind of praise came from Italy manager Roberto Mancini, who has been giving a whole lot of young players like Gatti a chance to get some run at the international level following the Azzurri’s failure to qualifying for the World Cup later this year.
“He was a little tense, fortunately he relaxed in the game,” said Mancini of Gatti. “If I play Gatti, it’s because I think he can become an excellent defender for the future.”
Gee, seeing Gatti develop into “an excellent defender for the future” sure sounds like something we can get behind — both because of the hole that Chiellini has left both at club and country level. He’s returning to Turin this summer after spending the second half of the 2021-22 season back on loan at Frosinone, a run that obviously put him on Mancini’s radar more than he already was. And this kind of performance — as well as the fact that his rise to both making his Italy debut and being on the cusp of playing for Juventus just a few years after working in a grocery store is one hell of a story — just adds to anticipation of him trying to find his footing at Juventus.
And if Gatti’s Juventus debut a few months from now proves to be anything like the first time he played for the Italian national team, then there’s going to be plenty of good times to come for the guy who’s the latest Federico to be added to the Bianconeri’s ranks.