On Wednesday evening, in what initially posed as a near impossible feat, Barcelona pulled off a stunning six-goal comeback to sink Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 at Camp Nou.
Carrying a comfortable 4-0 aggregate lead to Spain, it seemed as though the Parisians were ready to hammer the final nail in the proverbial coffin to Luis Enrique’s Catalan dynasty. But, as we’ve seen many times, when it comes to the Blaugrana, no lead is safe. Sergi Roberto’s last-gasp goal propelled the club to victory, ending hopes of European glory for Unai Emery’s men. In the aftermath of an historical collapse, questions soon surfaced over the future of several members of the Ligue 1 club, the one with the most steam being their little midfield maestro, Marco Verratti.
Ever since leaving Abruzzo for Paris in July 2012 from Pescara, Verratti quickly grew into one of European football’s most dynamic and technically-gifted playmakers – all in from 5 foot 5 inch physique. Look no further than the stark comparisons to fellow Italian regista Andrea Pirlo and Barcelona’s Xavi as indicators of his exceptionalism. Elite ball control in close quarters, the ability to dictate tempo in the midfield, exceptional vision and range with precise long-balls. His deep arsenal holds many tricks – offensive and defensive – and while we could go on all day about how special of a footballer he is, this is no player profile. The Italian’s body of work over four years in Paris speaks for itself, and its no surprise the 24-year old tops every wishlist across continental Europe.
This past summer, football’s usual suspects were linked with a move for the former Pescara star: Real Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Verratti, however, showed his deep commitment to the reigning Ligue 1 champions when he put pen to paper on a new five-year contract last summer, keeping him in the French capital until 2021. Afterwards, the diminutive midfielder told the club website (via ESPNFC):
“I accepted the offer immediately because it’s also what I wanted…I want to keep on winning and now we also hope to win in Europe because that’s our aim. It’s a very, very ambitious aim, but I’m a player that likes this type of objective because it means you play for a big team and I’m very happy.”
Verratti and PSG have dominated Ligue 1 ever since he arrived, winning four league titles and countless domestic cup trophies. But the fact is, the small statured playmaker yearns for so much more than just domestic silverware; it’s embedded in his DNA. Last night’s demoralizing collapse under the bright lights of Europe’s biggest stage tore at the heartstrings of Verratti, leading many to believe that the time has come for him to leave Paris. That being said, and absorbing what we all know, what does the future hold for Paris Saint-Germain’s figurehead?
First, let’s establish that regardless of where Verratti plies his trade, he remains the undisputed midfield controller of the Italian National Team. Given the extensive list of centrocampisti -past and present – to have worn azzurro, Verratti’s exploits make him more than worthy of the reigns, but back to his club future.
As a born Juventino, naturally the Turin giants become the consensus favorites to secure his signature – if and when he decides to up and leave the Paris club. While leading the Delfini to Serie A promotion back in 2011-12 alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, the Bianconeri became one of a handful of Italian clubs after his services. Verratti and bianconero was written in the stars, yet he explained last summer to Gazzetta dello Sport that Serie A did not show much faith in him as a 19-year old.
At the time, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo showed seriousness in building a winning project in France, and pinned Verratti as one of its key components. But even then, it was understood that one day, Verratti would return to Italy with Juventus. Although, currently, they aren’t the only club with the pockets to pull of such a heist.
This past June, Suning Sports purchased Internazionale from Erick Thohir and long-serving president Massimo Moratti, ready to lift the club back to the top of Italy. The first order of business was removing Roberto Mancini from the post and appointing Dutchman Frank de Boer, only to pull the plug some 90 days after a woeful start. Since replacing de Boer with ex-Lazio boss Stefano Pioli, the Nerazzurri have rebounded, climbing all the way up the league table and into discussion for Europe. The Milanese outfit’s reclamation project still demands further investment, but the recent addition of young Azzurrini star Roberto Gagliardini was a nice start. In what promises to be a very busy summer for the board, Inter could make great strides with a few key additions, one of which could be Verratti who has already been linked to the club by several Italian media outlets.
Outside of domestic rivals Juventus lies intense foreign interest, primarily coming from England and Germany.
Chelsea and Bayern Munich offer Verratti projects with the muscle and strength to compete for a UEFA Champions League trophy. Former Juventus and Italy mastermind Antonio Conte set foot into London last summer with the goal of bringing the Blues back to the pinnacle of English football. His inner-workings with the Azzurri during last summer’s European Championships earned critical acclaim, and has since instilled motivational spirt back into Londoners this season. Chelsea currently hold a comfy 10 point lead atop the Premier League table, are destined for Europe, and employ a manager who fully embraces the pint-sized string puller’s abilities. Not to mention, Russian owner Roman Abramovich can flex with the best of them when it comes to the transfer market, so coming up with the cash poses no problem, much is the case for Bayern Munich.
The German outfit maintain a stranglehold on the Bundesliga table with a 7 point cushion, possessing the legitimacy to pull off a treble winning season – all of which has come under the guidance of the ever-successful Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti in his first season. The globetrotting Italian manager has succeeded everywhere he’s been, from Milan to Real Madrid, and recruited Verratti at Paris Saint-Germain. Their relationship is quite strong and Ancelotti’s never been shy in expressing his admiration of the star, making a reunion a possibility.
Earlier this week, his brother Stefano told L’Equipe (via Gianluca Di Marzio):
“I think that if it were up to him, he’d stay at PSG for life. His son was born in Paris, he has great affection for the city. For me, Marco will return to Italy only if Paris Saint-Germain decides to send him away.”
Marco Verratti trotted off the Camp Nou pitch Wednesday night – broken and distraught – as his European dream came up short once again. As Parisians work to find solace in their shocking dismissal, there is no doubting that rumors will continue to materialize over the Italian virtuoso’s career. Verratti can have his pick of the litter and come June, he will be presented a monumental offer from one of the aforementioned clubs. Given the current market and the standard Paul Pogba set once he returned to Manchester United on a world-record fee, the price will be astronomical.
Verratti’s current contract and his brother’s words imply that his future lies in Paris, but his shortcomings on the European front suggest otherwise.
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