Domenico Berardi: European football pays notice to Italy’s unflappable teenage striker

In 2010, a 15 year old Domenico Berardi travelled to Modena to visit his older brother Francesco at university, only to start a professional career out of a regular five-a-side game between the siblings and a group of friends.

One of his brother’s friends was so startled at Domenico’s talent he made a phone call to the assistant of the academy at Sassuolo, a professional club near to the university. Luciano Carlino made the journey to take a look and Berardi’s life changed.

“I didn’t even wait a day” Carlino told Italian newspaper Tuttosport, “I immediately went to my Sporting Director to ask him to give the boy a trial”. 20 minutes was enough to convince Sassuolo that he was worth a contract and Berardi became a member of the club’s academy.

At the age of 15, the 560 mile distance between his former youth team Cosenza and Modena meant little to Berardi, the fearless desire to grasp the opportunity to become a professional was clear from the start.

He began his career with Sassuolo playing against Allievi (domestic student professionals) and Primavera teams (under-19 level) while the senior side managed to make the Serie B play-offs only to lose to Sampdoria. Club owner Giorgio Squinzi appointed Eusebio Di Francesco who immediately promoted the most talent from the academy in the hope it would complete the run to Serie A.

Berardi was handed his senior début on the opening day of the the 2012/13 season, scored his first goal five days later and made 37 appearances, totalling 11 goals, as Sassuolo reached the Italian top-flight for the first time in their history- the smallest Italian town to ever inhabit a Serie A team.

Berardi is a gangly, long-limbed versatile and naturally two-footed forward who was used predominantly by Di Francesco on the left-side of a front three, utilising to best effect his electric pace and ability to dribble past defenders.

“For his light touch and ability to cut in with pace, he reminds me of [Arjen] Robben”, said Carlino, his quality in one-on-one situations earning the comparison to the Dutch winger. “He is very attack-minded and the way he dribbles reminds me of a Brazilian player,” Sassuolo youth chief Paolo Mandelli once said.

After both Manchester clubs and Liverpool courted the teenager during his time in Serie B, Juventus were quick to make a deal with Sassuolo last summer, completing a co-ownership deal to own 50% of the player’s registration rights. Juventus paid £3.7 million and also threw in striker Luca Marrone, but Berardi was allowed to remain in Emilia for the 2013/2014 campaign.

He needed just 14 matches to show how much of a shrewd deal the Bianconeri had pulled off as he joined Carlos Tevez, Juventus’s current striking incumbent, as joint-second to Giuseppe Rossi in the Serie A scoring charts back in early January.

In the second match back from the winter break, Berardi reached 11 goals in astonishing circumstances; with AC Milan 2-0 up in Reggio Emilia within the opening quarter hour, Berardi struck 4 times in 47 minutes to become the first player ever to hit four goals in a match against the Rossoneri as Sassuolo recorded a famous victory.

“Berardi makes a mockery of Milan” was the headline of Il Giornale and it was true. He sprung the offside trap to round Christian Abbiati for his first, pounced on an error from Daniele Bonera to hook a second before he met a cross on a superb half-volley to make it 3-2. Moments after half-time Berardi deflected in another shot off Bonera to make it 4, a goal that immortalised the 19 year old in Italian football history.

It was a showcase of his ability to score any type of goal, whether the snapshot-belter of his third or the instinctive poaching of his second, Berardi can do the lot. He can also provide, 30 chances have been created and 3 assists have been made, though a pass completion rate of 69.9% from an attempted 621 passes, and a total of 71 shots that has yielded a host accuracy of just 49% could be improved on, though it is hard to remember Berardi is still a teenager with imperfections still inevitably in need of ironing out.

Goals have come at Roma, where he earned the minnows a late point, at Sampdoria where he struck another hat-trick, and in wins over Bologna and Atalanta. His last strike came as a consolation in the 3-1 defeat to Livorno in late January, a game in which he also picked up his 6th yellow card of the season.

His fiery temperament was called into question as he was sent off within 48 seconds of the Emilia derby with Parma, and he was also banned for the first 3 games of this season as for fighting with the goalkeeper of Livorno last year.

Indiscipline has also dogged his progress with the national team, refusing a call-up to Italy’s under-19s last summer and picking up an 8 month ban for failing to provide an explanation. After apologising to coach Gigi Di Biagio, Berardi made his return to the national fold with the under-21s in February but senior coach Cesare Prandelli has faced calls to go one step further and take him to Brazil with the Azzurri in the summer.

However, by a coach who prides discipline and professionalism, those hopes have been quashed as the Italian boss ruled it out as too soon. “He only recently restarted his path with the under-21 side and will not be taken into consideration until he has completed that journey”, he said.

One would predict that will not be before too long, even though the goals have dried up with Berardi failing to register in his last 8 games. He is likely to rejoin Juventus in the summer where there is a chance to strike up a devastating partnership with Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez.

There may also be conjuring memories of former Turin legend Alessandro Del Piero who needed 17 games to reach the same goal tally of 7 Berardi managed in just his first ten Serie A games. He is a phenomenal talent.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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