20 Striker Sassuolo (on loan from Juventus) Italy
2014 has been...
Devastating. Domenico Berardi and football are a combination that very nearly didn’t happen. Considering that most of the players on the #IBWM100 will have been at clubs and academies since they could walk, Berardi’s tale is something of an anomaly.
Spotted by scouts from Sassuolo while filling in for his brother’s University 5 a side team in Modena, the teenage striker had never been affiliated with a club or institution of note. In less than two years, Berardi was scoring freely for Sassuolo in the Italian second tier and his eleven goal return during 2012/13 helped I Neroverdi clinch their first ever promotion to Serie A. Named as the league’s best player, Berardi agreed to sign for Juventus in the summer of 2013, but Sassuolo were smart enough to retain his services on loan for a season and also hang on to 50% of his resale value. As time passes, that set of negotiations looks increasingly prudent.
Last season really should have been a formality for Sassuolo. The smallest town to ever host a top-flight club in any of Europe’s major leagues was expected to finish in last place. That their hopes of survival were pinned on a skinny kid who, to be fair, had only played one full season in Serie B just added to a sense of inevitability. Four straight defeats in their opening matches rounded off by a seven goal hiding at home to Inter indicated this would be a very long season. Enjoy your year, close the door on your way out.
But football never fails to slap the cheeks of expectation and while pundits and commentators laughed and pointed, an inner determination instilled by coach Eusebio Di Francesco began to take hold at the Città del Tricolore. More importantly, in game five Berardi would return from suspension to kick his first ball in Serie A. The opening run of matches was tough to watch, but an impressive draw at Napoli in September changed the tone. A second point was earned just four days later, Lazio caught short on this occasion.
Although Sassuolo would lose their next game at Parma, Berardi scored and would do so again as Bologna became the first victims of an energised club. No longer the perceived whipping boys, the team began to climb the table, but it was Berardi’s superb hat trick at Sampdoria that made headlines.
Cutting in from the right and exploiting gaps between full and centre backs with his electrifying pace, Berardi was on fire and a return of five goals in three matches made Juve’s investment look a smart move. However, despite Berardi’s early intervention, a long winter lay ahead for Sassuolo and the young striker was unable to do it alone. Picking up more and more bookings, Berardi, whilst clearly sparky, looked increasingly frustrated and suspensions would arise more than once. But just as it looked as if that hat trick against Samp would be a one off, he struck again, four times to be exact, against Milan to really set tongues wagging.
A critical hat trick against Fiorentina and some superb displays at the end of the season saw Sassuolo win four of their final seven and avoid the apparently inevitable return to Serie B. Despite his outstanding form, Juve have resisted calling on Berardi just yet and have allowed the striker/winger to continue his education in Reggio Emilia for one more year.
Still regularly impressive for his spiritual home club, Berardi has found the net four times this season whilst Sassuolo have not lost since early October. Rather than battling relegation, the club are making a more than decent fist of mid-table consolidation.
A very good question. Despite never having worn the shirt for one of Italy’s big guns, Berardi is already being talked about in exceptionally glowing terms. The 20 year-old was recently described by Giovanni Rossi – a former head of Juve’s academy, now Sporting Director at Sassuolo – as a "Predestinato", that is; ‘a player destined to become a great’.
Greatness doesn’t come easily though and while Berardi is clearly a diamond, he’s not yet fully polished. His performances at Sassuolo have been extremely impressive, but he’s yet to feel the pressure associated with being further up the food chain. Get anything wrong now and he’s still learning, but fast forward twelve months and miss the chances that see Juve exit the Champions League and we’re looking at a very different set of circumstances.
Juve are cruising again this year, as they have for most of the last three to four seasons, with messrs Tevez, Llorente and Morata comfortably delivering the required goals. That kind of firepower means Berardi isn’t needed right now, but there will come a point, in the not too distant future when the Old Lady requires a comprehensive refresh. A new era may start with Paul Pogba as the focal point, but it may, depending on transfer activity in and out, just as easily see Dominico Berardi arrive at the forefront.
Teams are a lot more wary of Berardi this season, so a repeat of his double figure haul at Sassuolo last time out will be difficult to replicate, but he is majestic at pulling defenders from their starting position and clearing space for teammates to exploit. That talent could be even more important than his threat in front of goal in the coming months.
One of the most exciting players to emerge in Italy for a number of years, Berardi represents the future of both Juventus and Gli Azzuri. Enjoy the ride.
"A special talent with a temperamental streak? What’s not to love? Simply the kind of attacking player Italy does not produce, Berardi seems pre-destined for stardom, with only Italy’s notorious aversion to youth standing in his way." - Adam Digby
"No player grabbed more hat-tricks in the top five European leagues in 2013/14 than Berardi (3), as many as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez." - OptaJoe
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