Over the course of time in Italian football history, the abundance of Roberto’s have been generous.
To begin with arguably one of the most underrated Italian footballers to have contributed to calcio’s history, Roberto Mancini, best described as a 9 and a half, capabilities of creating for others just as well as he was able to do for himself. Without forgetting Roberto Donadoni, possibly a pioneer to the concept of the so called box to box winger, versatility is a term that may serve him well but may undermine the actual individual qualities he possessed as a player. To the most nostalgic or better yet legendary Roberto Baggio who has a place in everyone’s heart whether it was in tears of joy or sadness.
Now years on since those unforgettable men graced Italian football fields, the time might be right to show the Italian and Bergamaschi people that a new Roberto is in town.
Roberto Gagliardini may only be 22 years old, but with limited Serie A appearances to his credit, what lies ahead seems to be very promising to say the least. On one hand, the player himself warrants loads of praise but Gagliardini should be very thankful for the appointment of Gianpiero Gasperini.
To go in deep, the ideas, tactics and strategies of Gasperini have shown that Gagliardini is a product of quality and just as much quantity as well.
Measuring 6 feet, 2 inches and 170 pounds, right from the get go, the frame and bodywork show that this player is far from a liability. This is where the quantity aspect of his abilities come into play. When looking at a collective of tools that a player may possess, an overseen attribute is the balance of aiding on deadball situations. Having a 6’2 central midfielder to not only be a 4th or 5th outlet in defensive set pieces after center and wing backs. But to also have that same body as a 4th or 5th outlet going forward on set pieces, considering if the squad plays with physical strikers and those same center backs joining the mix. This is an underestimated luxury that has seen Atalanta be dangerous on it’s fair share of set piece opportunities.
A football game is 90 minutes to the naked eye, but within that time there are moments that will distinguish success or failure. In regards to Gagliardini’s quality attributes, numerous come to mind: fitness, stamina, decision making, off the ball movement and positional play.
Why and where are these fundamental?
As mentioned above, compared to others, Gasperini has a different understanding of the game, for good or bad. His preferred 3-4-3 that has stuck with him since his inception as a coach. Now more than ever, this formation has bared fruits for the time being. This being said, Gagliardini is in the engine room for this well thought out idea. As it may seem like a 3-4-3 and nothing else, it actually converts into a 5-4-1 when needed. With wide midfielders dropping in as “terzinos” or better yet wing backs, and wide strikers as wide midfielders. This is where Gagliardini has a clear indication of what is needed of him. His clear focus is any central penetration, whether it were a ball carrier, which means closing down players higher up the pitch or off the ball movement of the opposing team players which means picking up men deeper in his own half.
If the discussion is going forward, Gagliardini benefits from these tactics/strategies as well. Without the responsibility or appointment of being a creative focal point, he is free to be an additional option within the box. Since creativity falls on the shoulders of Jasmin Kurtić or Alejandro Darío Gómez and any wide winger that has an opportunity to gain yards along the touchline. His understanding of timing and priorities is wonderful, especially when sometimes this is a rarity amongst youthful midfielders such as himself.
Credit should nonetheless be distributed evenly to each department as the links of these chains have no weakness. The only hiccup that may stand in their way is the reality that this idea hinges on a high backline. If vertical long passes are not contained at the source or opposing strikers are quicker than the “Orobici” center backs, doom could set in.
It needs to be said that once this formation is set within their own half, they are a difficult wall to break down.
If there were any room for improvement for Gagliardini, as there is for any player in the world, the obvious choices would be passing, determination and to a lesser degree, the actual act of striking the ball. The reason being is that prototypically Italian players are taught to have one very good dimension and be sound on a tactical awareness of that role in which the player plays. So it is a rarity to see an Italian be as fundamental on both sides of the pitch.
If Gagliardini were to hone his technical talents even more so, he could be on the verge of being a world-class player in his specific position. It may seem optimistic but realistically, looking at world-class players around the world which are scarce to say the least, most are products of a system. Case in point, Lionel Messi’s club career versus his international career. There is no doubt of him being a world-class player, but once removed from the familiarity and comfort which is a mainstay when playing for Barcelona, results vary when circumstances are different when playing for Argentina.
The title may have thrown off football enthusiasts but to quote the most recognizable poet and writer of all time William Shakespeare, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” On this note, hopes lie that Roberto Gagliardini will smell as sweet as the previous Roberto’s that took Italian football by storm, in his own distinct way.