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FEATURE: Will Pellegri be Italy’s version of Mbappé?

Earlier this week Genoa’s teen sensation Pietro Pellegri became the second most expensive 16-year-old in history as he completed a move to AS Monaco.

The initial fee has reportedly cost the French club a cool €20m and with potential performance related bonuses to add, the deal could end up costing Les Monégasques closer to €31m. Genoa president Enrico Preziosi ensured the potential profit did not end there for his club.

Prior to his move to Ligue 1, Pellegri had already been linked to some of Europe’s biggest clubs and with this in mind Il Grifone retained the right to 10% of any future fee providing the deal is worth a minimum of €40m.

Before making his first team debut the Genoa academy product had already been brought to the attention of those following Italian football, with President Preziosi in March 2015 boldly declaring, “I have the new Messi in my house”.

Record breaking

It would be some 18 months later that Serie A fans would get their first glimpse of the Italian prodigy, making his full debut in December 2016 at the tender age of 15 years and 280 days. Equaling a record set in 1937, Pellegri became the joint-youngest player to appear in Italian football alongside Amedeo Amadei. The milestones would not stop there.

On the last day of the 2016-2017 season, Pellegri would make his impact on an iconic occasion. Selected from the start he would lead Genoa’s attack at the Stadio Olimpico as they faced Champions League chasing AS Roma. In a game that Roma would eventually win 3-2 it was Pellegri that cranked up the intensity of the tie.

The game was still young when he latched onto a Darko Lazovic through ball and proceeded to race away from Kostas Manolas before calmly slotting the ball past an oncoming Wojciech Szczęsny. It was fitting for Pellegri to score his first professional goal on that day, as he was making his first full start the King of Rome was making the last of his 619 appearances. As Italian football legend Francesco Totti closed his final chapter the boy at the opposite end was scripting the start of his, with dreams of emulating a great of the modern game.

The Top 5 move of the transfer window in Serie A. 

Going into the 2017-2018 season the boy wonder took another opportunity to re-write history when Genoa welcomed Lazio to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris for a Sunday night kick-off. Despite Lazio escaping with the three points after claiming a 3-2 victory it was Pellegri who stole the headlines.

The home side found themselves a goal down early on and when coach Ivan Jurić was forced into a first half change it was the teenager he turned to. The second half turned into the Pietro Pellegri show and in front of the Ultra’s he would equalise on two separate occasions. With those goals came more records, he became the youngest player born after the year 2000 to score a brace in Europe’s top five leagues and just for good measure Pellegri also broke a long standing Serie A record too. Beating a record that had stood since 1931 which was held by Italian football royalty in the form of Silvio Piola, he became the youngest player to score twice in a single Serie A game.

“I am very happy to join Monaco. I was very quickly convinced by the project, which allows youngsters like me to progress and flourish in the future. – Pellegri”

After the game the realisation of what he had achieved hit Pellegri, clearly filled with emotion the player said, “This is a dream come true. One goal I’m dedicating to the fans, because I’m Genovese like them and one for my dad”. Marco Pellegri, the player’s father, is employed as Genoa’s team manager and had the pleasure of standing beside his son as he was introduced into this game; the images of Marco crying while he celebrated his son’s goals that night encapsulate the beauty of calcio. Pietro chose the number 64 to honour the year of his dad’s birth and the player is full of gratitude and admiration for the man that has helped guide him through his football career.

Those goals earned Pellegri a starting place in the games that immediately followed, however a change of coach in November meant the player has rarely featured since and prevented him from adding to his goal tally. Despite his lack of minutes in recent months it did not curb Monaco’s enthusiasm for the player and they snapped up the opportunity to sign him in the January window. It was a calculated move from the striker, touted by many of the world’s best clubs he chose the reigning French champions with his development in mind. Upon completing his move to the south of France, Pellegri told the club’s website,“I am very happy to join Monaco. I was very quickly convinced by the project, which allows youngsters like me to progress and flourish in the future.”

Inspired by the possibility of following in the footsteps of former Monaco talents Kylian Mbappe and Anthony Martial, this move provides Pellegri with the opportunity to taste European football and learn his trade from the likes of serial goal scorer Radamel Falcao.

The move was met with skepticism by some in the French media despite the clubs proven record of developing young talent. It was argued that Pellegri, who has only made 10 competitive appearances, arrives at a high cost without having the goal scoring pedigree at youth level of the aforementioned Mbappe and Martial. While the statistics support that suggestion, the counter argument is that he did not have the opportunity to; Pellegri has rarely featured in his own age group. Deemed highly talented and physically capable he has always been tested against older opposition and was thrust into the first team at the age of 15, stripping him of games at youth level in the process.

With Pellegri’s stature and style of play it is easy to see why the player looks up to a certain Zlatan Ibrahimović. Athletic, physically dominating and already standing at a huge 6’5” his physique that allows him not only to compete but also to bully seasoned defenders. As you might expect he is good in the air but has the technical control to match, capable of securing the ball under pressure and linking the game for his team – he already possess important traits of the complete striker. Watch all of his three senior goals for Genoa and you will see this blend of power, speed, control and his eye for goal.

We have seen many young players earmarked as footballs next superstar player and it is with this in mind that there should be an air of caution around Pellegri. It is rare you see the game produce a Lionel Messi or Neymar, we have seen more Alex Pato’s and Mario Balotelli’s struggle along the way. Pellegri has the time and now arguably the right environment to prove himself, and with Leonardo Jardim as his coach there is no doubt that Pellegri is under the guidance of the ideal man to aid his development.

It was another blow for Italian football that one of their brightest young prospects crossed the border to ply his trade elsewhere, but in Pietro Pellegri Italian football has a reason to hope. The peninsula is still capable of developing top talents and although he may have left Serie A, fans of the Azzurri will hope that one day Pellegri can fire La Nazionale back to the top of the world game.

 

 

@ItalianFD

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