22 Midfielder Paris Saint Germain Italy
2014 has been...
He’s here, OK? We’ve included him. He’s in. We’ve watched him all year – not that we didn’t watch him a fair bit before that – and the time has come to pass on our verdict.
Marco Verratti is a most welcome addition to the club after being omitted ahead of 2013. In 2014 Verratti has lived up to his billing as one of European football’s top young midfield players, cementing his place in the starting line-up at Paris Saint-Germain and beginning to look the part at international level for Italy.
Verratti was born in the central Italian city of Pescara and played his youth football for his hometown club. He made his senior debut at the age of 16 and played over 50 league games for Pescara between 2008 and 2012 before joining PSG for a reported fee of €12m. He’d played a big role in Pescara’s Serie B title and promotion to the top flight. Since then, he’s established himself in Paris and has two Ligue 1 titles to his name.
Those championships were a fitting reward for football’s most beautifully vibrant young risk-taker. He makes mistakes because he takes chances and dwells on possession too often, but he represents marvellous entertainment. Laurent Blanc said last season that he wanted Verratti to stop taking risks in his own half, an over-the-top and over-fussy comment for most young players, perhaps, but Verratti had taken a couple of costly gambles in the weeks previous.
He sweats confidence, so much so that even his mostly excellent game can’t possibly live up to it. It leads to errors, happily starting to dwindle this season, and it’s certainly not matched in front of goal where his impact has been minimal, though the chances are beginning to come.
Though he’s often portrayed as a sidekick for compatriot Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi, Verratti is a string-puller in his own right. He’s a passing machine, unmitigated manna from heaven for football’s statistical zealots. For those of us who like to watch with our eyes, it’s clear to see that his possession game is what makes him such a tremendous prospect.
He’s a metronome and more; the vision that arms his short game also inspires a deftly selected and activated range of passing and a growing threat further up the pitch. When he gets forward he takes his wonderful passing with him. There, it stops being the heartbeat and starts being an incisive influence. He’s not quite a box-to-box man, more a deep-lying playmaker with no little creativity and improvisation at his disposal, and yet no reluctance to get involved defensively, even if that’s not the strongest part of his game. Most importantly, he loves being on the ball.
Verratti has a good knack for finding some space off the ball because he’s always on the move. He displays composure and intelligence by the truckload, seems to learn well (in most regards – more on that shortly) and is confident on the ball in a tight spot under pressure. He dribbles well, preferring quick touches and fast movement as he glides past opponents. His understanding with Motta in particular is a real bonus for PSG.
All of these are reasons to like a player, but to adore him? That takes more, and Verratti has that edge. Despite his elegance as a player he can be a chippy little swine, and if we didn’t know better we’d suspect he’s trying to wallpaper his Parisian pad with yellow cards. He likes to have a chinwag with referees and, like all players that truly wrap their grip around the heart of right-thinking football supporters, he loves to clip a heel here and there.
That’s probably not the direct reason for his being named as France’s Young Player of the Year in May but it underlines the attitude that got him there. He’s a lovely passer, totally accomplished on the ball even at 22. But he’s a risk-taker and a winner as well, a player who embraces the game in totality and aims to master its arts, legitimate or otherwise. And sometimes he just loses his temper.
In spite of, and because of, Verratti’s importance to PSG’s play, he has frequently been linked with a move away throughout 2014. Juventus have been mentioned alongside his name on an almost weekly basis and his admiration for Alessandro del Piero and latterly Andrea Pirlo have been well publicised. Comparisons to Pirlo are said to flatter but not frighten Verratti and it’s easy to see why.
It’s also easy to see why a move to the Bianconeri might tempt the youngster, who had spoken of his concern that playing in France might dent his World Cup chances. He did make it to Brazil and played well enough to enhance his own reputation without unduly affecting Italy’s predestined capitulation.
Further interest has been reported from Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United this year, but Verratti says he could live in Paris all his life. He signed a new contract extension in the summer that theoretically keeps him at the club until 2019. Nevertheless, the autumn rumours again focus on Verratti departing Ligue 1 as PSG look to “cash in”, or, as a more cynically minded observer might argue, to do a little financial balancing by flogging what will undoubtedly and deservedly be a very expensive asset indeed.
Throughout that increasingly likely upheaval at club level Verratti needs to really get his teeth into life with the Azzurri. After playing in the World Cup he was unfortunate to miss the recent internationals through injury. Further opportunities will come his way and it’s clear that he is highly rated within the Italian national team set-up.
There will be people within that system that want him to cut out the unnecessary risks and to never again be pictured with a cigarette. Spoilsports.
"Indispensable lynchpin in the PSG midfield. Still has that tenacity that gets him booked, but you don't want him to lose that. Superb passer, great vision." - Andrew Gibney
"The Italian has won more free kicks this season than anybody in Ligue 1 (46)." - OptaJoe
B A walking, talking fun overdose.
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