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Celebrity seems to follow Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi wherever he goes. As a youth, the striker was once a prospect on the Italian reality TV show “Calciatori-Giovani Speranze” (“Young Soccer Hopefuls”). On August 2, the 21-year-old stole the spotlight again when his two goals in the opening ten minutes led the host Viola to a 2-1 defeat of mighty Barcelona in a friendly match, staged as part of the North American edition of the 2015 International Champions Cup.  And now that he has switched his jersey number from 29 to 10, his celebrity status will be heightened even more as the inevitable comparisons to Viola legend Roberto Baggio begin.

Bernardeschi first joined the Fiorentina youth system at age 9. By 15, he was being touted as one of the club’s most promising young players and an approach from Manchester United was resisted.  In 2012, at age 18, he captained the Viola Primavera and averaged a goal per game as he led the squad, the youngest of the final eight sides, to the quarterfinals of the championship playoffs. Ahead of the 2013/14 season, Bernardeschi was loaned to Serie “B” side Crotone, a club that has launched the careers of some of Italy’s top young stars including Pelle’, Sansone and Florenzi. At Crotone he played predominantly as a right wing in a 4-3-3 and scored 12 goals in 39 games.

Bernardeschi would return to Fiorentina at the start of the 2014/15 season and, after scoring two goals in three Europa League games, he seemed to have earned a regular spot on the roster. But a fractured ankle suffered in training early in the season stalled his progress and the young striker devoted himself to recuperating in time to finish the season with Fiorentina and join Italy’s representative at the European U21 Championships. Bernardeschi did indeed return to Vincenzo Montella’s lineup to play seven league games and scored his first Serie “A” goal on the season’s final weekend in a 3-0 shutout of Chievo. He would go on to join the U21’s during the latter part of June but appeared in just one game as the Azzurrini were eliminated after round robin play.

A rumoured off-season move to Juventus was silenced when Bernardeschi agreed to a four-year contract extension with Fiorentina on July 23, which prompted him to tweet: “An important renewal that I really desired. We’ll be together until 2019…Thanks @acffiorentina.” Just ten days later, that new-found stability surely played a part in his extraordinary performance against the European Champions.

A powerful shot, skillful dribbling ability and exceptional vision are some of his best assets but perhaps Bernardeschi’s greatest quality is his versatility, a talent that allows him to excel in virtually every forward position.  With Mario Gomez dealt to Besiktas in Turkey this summer and incumbent striker Giuseppe Rossi working his way back from his latest knee injury, Bernardeschi will have every opportunity to stake a claim to a starting spot in the new-look Viola side under first-year Portuguese manager Paulo Sousa.

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