They say that staying at the top is just as hard as the journey to get there. At any moment, a fall from the peak of the mountain can occur and the climb back can be an arduous one. Simone Scuffet knows all too well how quickly you can be forgotten after fading out of the spotlight.
Only three seasons ago, the fresh-faced Udinese shot-stopper was the most talked about player on the Peninsula. From the front page of local newspapers to the topic of coffee shop conversations, Scuffet had succeeded at catching the attention of calcio supporters across the country. The spotlight was his to flourish in, but in the blink of eye, his moments of glory and nationwide praise suddenly became a thing of the past.
In the second half of the 2012/2013 season, a then 17-year old Scuffet was called up to the first team by Francesco Guidolin as third-choice option behind Zeljko Brkic and Daniele Padelli. Having 17 games under his belt with the Primavera that same season, his surprising arrival on the bench was a way for the teenage goalkeeper to train with and learn from the veterans ahead of him. Although it only lasted seven games, it would be an invaluable experience for his development. That summer, Scuffet made his bow with the Under-18 Azzurrini in August – another accomplishment checked off his list. As the start of the 2013/2014 season approached, it seemed he would return to the Primavera, appreciative of the opportunity to rub elbows with the first-teamers. However, with Brkic missing time due to a torn muscle, Scuffet was once again needed on the bench should either Ivan Kelava or back-up Francesco Benussi go down injured. He would end up dividing his time between the Senior side and the youth squad, a reoccurring scenario throughout the first half of the season.
After the Christmas break, Scuffet was recalled by Guidolin and watched on as Udinese would only collect one win in seven games, losing four straight in the process. Looking to find a solution to halt the downward spiral, the Italian tactician now had to deal with Brkic reacquainting himself with the injured list. At that moment, Guidolin rolled the dice on a decision that would catapult Simone Scuffet into the limelight and give the young shot-stopper a dose of unexpected popularity.
February 1st 2014, away to Bologna, Scuffet walked onto the pitch of the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara as first-choice goalkeeper in Udinese’s Starting XI. The type of moment every player coming up from the ranks of a youth system dreams about. Despite the nerves and pressure, he repaid the manager’s faith in him by guiding the Zebrette to a 1-0 victory and earning first career clean sheet in the top flight. Overnight, Scuffet captivated a region who might have just discovered a shining jewel in their own backyard. Each match-day that followed would continue to cement his status as one of the most exciting young goalkeepers domestically. In turn, it made it very difficult for Guidolin to have anyone else but Scuffet between the posts.
Being the center of attention can deliver a constant pressure to perform. Thankfully for Scuffet, he had be given a very valuable piece of advice from an ex-Udinese star. “At Udinese, I had the opportunity to train with Handanovic. He taught me not to wait, to not have fear and attack the ball every time I have the chance to”, Scuffet told La Repubblica back in 2014. By the final matchday of the season, he had collected 16 straight appearances and 6 clean sheets, along with a number of clutch performances to help Udinese finish 13th.
As his popularity grew, so did the voices of fans calling for him to claim a spot on Cesare Prandelli’s final squad for the 2014 World Cup. Although he was invited to two pre-tournament training camps, Prandelli decided against selecting Scuffet and instead opted to bring Mattia Perin to Brazil as the third-choice goalkeeper. To add to his national attention, other clubs in Europe began to take notice, one of which was Atletico Madrid. The Spanish side were coming off a spectacular, La Liga-winning season under Diego Simeone and were looking to soften the blow of losing Thibault Courtois back to Chelsea. They finalized a deal to sign Jan Oblak from Benfica but they still had their eyes set on Scuffet. Half a season of performances was enough for Atletico to pursue a transfer with Udinese. Talks between both parties were ongoing and a five-year contract was on the table for Scuffet but Atletico would hit a roadblock. There were conflicting reports on the reason behind the breakdown in negotiations. Whether it was his parents who blocked the move or because he wanted to complete his studies, either way, Scuffet was staying put in Italy.
If there was any feeling of disappointment or regret, it would be brushed aside quickly with the excitement of heading into a new season as potentially the club’s long-term number one. What Scuffet did not know was that one managerial decision would put the brakes on his continuous rise and begin his fade out of the spotlight.
After a successful period which included back-to-back Champions League appearances, Francesco Guidolin stepped down as manager and was appointed technical supervisor. To Scuffet, Guidolin was the man responsible for gambling on him, for being the catalyst of his breakthrough. Former Inter tactician Andrea Stramaccioni was hired in his place and though it seemed obvious for the Italian manager to keep the 18-year old in the Starting XI, it was back to the bench for Scuffet. Stramaccioni preferred Orestis Karnezis, who returned to the club during the summer from a loan stint at Granada. Even if Scuffet aimed to try and impress his new manager, an ankle distortion would leave him sidelined for a month early in the season. Upon his return, he was relegated to spectator on the bench, watching on as Karnezis continued to lock down the number one spot. Scuffet would go on to only make two appearances, albeit in the final two games, conceding five goals and losing both games. There was to be silver lining despite a roller-coaster twelve months. Scuffet would receive his maiden call-up to the U-21 Azzurrini under Luigi Di Biagio and make his debut in a 0-0 draw versus Hungary on August 15th in an International friendly. Domestically, if the previous season was to be a forgotten one, the following season would have been worth writing off completely.
Not content with playing second-fiddle, Scuffet searched to get his career back on track and accepted a loan deal to join newly-promoted Como for the 2015-2016 Serie B season. For some, dropping down a division would not be considered an option . For Simone Scuffet, it meant an opportunity to breathe life back into his career by securing himself a starting role, even if it was away from the top flight. However, the former Lega Pro club struggled immensely and it would be harsh to place all the blame on Scuffet’s shoulder. Still, the on-loan goalkeeper found holding leads and winning games a very tough thing to come by. After collecting his first win in his fourth start, he would go 14 straight games without a victory, conceding 26 goals along the way. Como rarely kept their heads above water throughout the season, dealing with their own fair share of off-field issues in the process. With the Lariani lingering in the cellar of the Serie B table and condemned to a trip back down to Lega Pro, Scuffet’s year away from Udinese resulted in one of the hardest seasons of his young career. He would return to his parent club having conceded 52 goals in 34 appearances in his lone Serie B tenure.
In just two seasons, Simone Scuffet went from the being darling of Italian football to living through a nightmare relegation to Lega Pro. Safe to say, he was quickly becoming an afterthought to Serie A followers. During that time, a new goalkeeping prodigy arrived on the scene in the name of Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma and took on the reigns of being labeled the ‘next Buffon’, a title Simone Scuffet knows the pressure of holding.
Pushing him back even more into the shadows was the promotion of then-18 year old Alex Meret, another precious talent in the making, to second-choice behind Orestis Karnezis. Regardless of the short-term memory of pundits and fans, Scuffet had ignored the belief that he was simply a flash in the pan and opened up about it during an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport last year: ”This thought, that I am already finished at 19 years old because I played a year in Serie B, does not concern me. I played 34 games and it served me well. I am like a goalkeeper who goes from the Primavera to Serie B. It is the path of a normal lad”. In the same the interview, the now-20 year old also revealed the truth behind turning down a move to Atletico. “It is not true, that after those early months in Serie A, I said no to going to Spain to finish high school. I chose to stay at Udinese for the environment and for the goalkeeper coaches. I wanted to continue developing there.
Fast forward to this season and Scuffet has returned to familiar territory. With Meret being sent out on loan to SPAL, Scuffet is once again second choice behind the Greek International goalkeeper. As match-day came and went, he continued to bide his time, patiently waiting for that call from newly-hired manager Luigi Delneri to step back into the 18-yard box. It was expected Scuffet would start for Udinese in their Coppa Italia clash against Spezia but instead, Karnezis was given the nod in their loss to the Serie B side. Suddenly, Scuffet would receive the call he desperately wanted to hear again, although far from the ideal way he would have liked to have it happen. 10 minutes before the end of Udinese’s match against Pescara on Matchday 28, Karnezis needed to be subbed off due to injury. At that moment, he was back in the spotlight and tasked with securing his side’s 3-1 lead. Despite conceding within minutes of coming on, Scuffet shook off the nerves and succeeded at guaranteeing a victory for Udinese.
Simone Scuffet. First-choice goalkeeper. It felt like 2014 all over again. An opportunity to wash away the memories of last season and remind the public of the talent within him. Against Palermo last weekend, those 90 minutes were the beginning of his second chance to prove his worth. A 4-1 win for Udinese and a solid outing can be seen as a confidence booster for a young man who was no longer the talk of the town. With nine games remaining in the season, it can be said that Scuffet is also playing for his future. As Alex Meret earns weekly plaudits for his performances at promotion-chasing SPAL, Scuffet could be the odd man out next season if Meret is not sent out on a second loan stint. Every game in the Starting XI going forward will be just as important than the next. There is no room to slip up.
This has now become his redemption story. A road back into the hearts of calcio enthusiasts across the Peninsula. Only he can decide his own future between the posts. For now, Scuffet must take it game by game and focus on the abilities which had catapulted him into the spotlight three years ago. It is no longer about living up to being the ‘new Buffon’ or the heir to the Azzurri throne. It is only about one thing: being Simone Scuffet.