Marco Verratti has marvelled in France and earned plaudits across Europe, but the Italian’s constant failure to make the leap into the upper echelon of his kind is alarming to say the least.
Last night at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Paris Saint-Germain were sent packing from the UEFA Champions League earlier than they had planned, and for the second time in consecutive years, it was Spanish superiority that quelled their quest for European glory.
Entering the second leg with a 3-1 deficit to overcome, the Ligue 1 giants faced an uphill battle against a potent Real Madrid side lead by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Factor in the absence of world football’s most expensive player Neymar, the odds of advancing past the reigning champions were stacked against the Parisians.
PSG were outplayed all over the park last night by a Real Madrid side who, although have endured their share of struggles this season, are an outfit you’d be foolish to sleep on in this tournament given their pedigree. Sergio Ramos submitted a professional performance in the back, proving unbeatable like we have grown accustomed to seeing over the years on Europe’s grandest stage, and Ronaldo silenced his critics once again with a show of class. But perhaps what stood out the most in Unai Emery and Paris Saint-Germain’s capitulation was a Marco Verratti performance which unequivocally summarised his career to date.
Since arriving to the French capital in July 2012 from Pescara, Verratti has been praised as one of Italy’s future pillars for the next decade. Eventually, Azzurri legend Andrea Pirlo would need to step aside and hand over his ‘regista‘ role to an heir worthy of its weight, and without a doubt Verratti was pegged as the guy for the job.
Back home on the Peninsula, everyone kept tabs on the Pescara-born midfield metronome, for his importance and progression was paramount to the future of the Italian National Team.
Verratti showed immense quality from the very beginning with manager Carlo Ancelotti, then Laurent Blanc and now Unai Emery. But in between his stellar demonstrations at the club level and PSG’s domination of the French first division under president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, questions were raised about Verratti and whether he was in fact as good as advertised through the lens of football critics.
Since Al-Khelaifi’s takeover in 2011, mounds of money have been poured into this project so that not only could PSG be the new gold standard of football in the country, but also take a place at the table of Europe’s high society.
Les Parisiens domestic dominance over the last half-dozen years, while on the surface showed tremendous strength in the form of silverware, wasn’t held in the same regard as other dynasties around Europe. The quality in Ligue 1, outside of Marseille, Lyon and more recently Monaco, seemed below par and because of this, has somewhat masked Verratti’s level of quality to date.
As the Italian continued to shine domestically, win trophies, sign one contract extension after another but fail to mirror that level of play internationally for his country, Azzurri supporters firmly believed Verratti had outlived his stay in Paris and for the sake of his career, needed to consider new challenges if he wished to be considered world class.
Obviously, this isn’t to say the fault for Italian National Team’s shortcomings rests solely on Verratti’s shoulders as there is so much wrong with how the FIGC operates. But it certainly makes his stagnation as a player alarming when you consider Italian football is no longer producing world class talent like it used to. The assembly line of quality players that came through to bring the Azzurri to the summit in 2006 in Germany has stopped. The Verratti’s of the world are placed under a microscope and become that much more important to the cause. When they plateau like he has, you get a sense Italy are further from a revival than many are led to believe.
Verratti has been hovering around this current class he is in for the better part of two, maybe three, years; the class where he shows visible talent and the wherewithal to be the best midfielder on the pitch, but often falls victim of reaching that next level due to his questionable discplinary record and inability to rise up in big matches when the spotlight is beaming down on him.
The diminutive defensive midfielder was pushing all the right buttons and pulling the strings in PSG’s first leg 4-0 rout of Barcelona in last year’s Round of 16, proving that he is well-equipped to be among the best football has to offer in the ‘centrocampo.’ Look no further than Barcelona legend Xavi’s appraisal of the 25-year old back in 2015 to support this claim. “He is one of the best midfielders in the world,” explained the Spanish international.
“He [Verratti] plays a little bit in the same way as I tried to do with Barcelona and the National Team. He likes having the ball. He also has perfect mastery over long and short passing, he can play the final ball, and he doesn’t lose the ball that easily. He’s really a very high-class player.”
Verratti has often been linked with a move to Catalonia, and many believe it would be the appropriate stage for him to take that next leap in his career, but the playmaker is content with his current situation in Paris – and perhaps that is part of the problem.
The want for a bigger, brighter, and more grandiose platform is not strong with Verratti, and until that changes, there is reason to believe he will continue to fall short of the mark as being very good, but not great.
As Verratti walked off the pitch after a second yellow, and the curtains closed on Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League dreams last night at the hands of Real Madrid, it felt as though the same old story had been written. A player blessed with every ounce of talent to be an Azzurri great, Verratti is on the brink of superstardom. However, his temperament often gets in the way of letting it shine through and the failure put it all together and channel it consistently leaves much to be desired.
Time is on Marco Verratti’s side. He is on the cusp of world-class status at 25, but since Paris Saint-Germain tend to hold onto their stars, Verratti and super agent Mino Raiola would have to force a move that could push him to the limit. However, until he musters up the strength to explore a new challenge, the risk of never fulfilling his potential looms large.