Believe it or not, Domenico Berardi is still just 23-years-old. The Italian starlet has had a plethora of shining moments with his Sassuolo side in both the Italian Serie B and Serie A, leading many to once believe that he would become the future of Italian football.
Berardi was awarded the Serie B Footballer of the Year in 2013 with the Neroverdi, an honor that has seen many of its recipients become stars of the game such as Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti. Sassuolo was promoted to the top-flight that same season, and Berardi was immediately snapped up by Juventus in a deal that would see the Bianconeri have co-ownership of the player in exchange for a once promising prospect in Luca Marrone. The young Italian forward hit the back of the net on 16 different occasions in his Serie A debut season, and had many eye-opening performances such as him netting four goals in one match versus a struggling AC Milan side and scoring a first-half hat-trick away at Fiorentina.
Sassuolo managed to retain Berardi for another year, even though it seemed clear that he was ready for a greater challenge. Juventus truly believed they had the next football phenom in their possession as Berardi was receiving praise from Italian football legends such as Arrigo Sacchi, so they quickly renewed their co-ownership deal in hopes of seeing Berardi in Turin in the very near future.
“Berardi is a player of great talent, a modern footballer who plays for the team all over the field. He has liveliness, intuition, temperament and strength combined with a good technique,” said Sacchi in 2014.
Berardi followed his Serie A debut season with an equally impressive one in 2014-2015, netting 15 goals and racking up 10 assists. That season saw Berardi break major records including reaching 30 league goals in only 59 matches (11 matches quicker than Lionel Messi at Barcelona) and becoming the youngest player to score 30 Serie A goals since 1958. Many thought that Juventus was finally going to pull the trigger and bring in the promising Italian star forward, but instead the Bianconeri opted to bring in Simone Zaza while retaining an option to purchase Berardi in 2016. Berardi had to stick it out at Sassuolo for another year, but everyone thought it was only a matter of time until he took the footballing world by storm.
The 2015-2016 Serie A campaign was a disappointing one for Berardi’s expectations. Sassuolo played brilliantly and managed to finish in a Europa League qualifying spot, but Berardi struggled with injury and only picked up seven goals and six assists in 27 appearances. Italian football fans didn’t know what to take from this as the versatile Berardi was already drawing comparisons to former Italian stars Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.
Injuries have proven to plague the rising star, as his 2016-2017 season saw him sidelined for months at a time with knee issues. He still managed to score five goals and register nine assists in 20 league matches, but many were beginning to write Berardi off as a disappointment. To make matters worse, he never impressed on the international front as he’s only managed four goals as a mainstay on the Italy Under-21 team. He just recently signed a five year contract extension with the Neroverdi, so it seems as if the Juventus dream may have passed over.
Once again, however, Berardi is only 23 years of age. He’s already Sassuolo’s all-time top-scorer and his overall statistics are still remarkable considering his recent drop of numbers. When he’s on his game, defenders know they must be wary of his deadly left-foot as he’s shown time and time again in the past his ability to cut in and curl the ball into the back of the net. Berardi can also be deployed as a lone striker, second-striker, or as a winger, showing his impressive offensive versatility. The tools are all there for him to salvage his career and once again make a name for himself in Italy and the European game, but to do this he must remain healthy and silence out the criticism he’s sure to continue to receive.
Perhaps comparisons to Baggio and Del Piero were premature, but Berardi has plenty of time to jumpstart his career again and become one of the premiere forwards in Italy.