From captain of AC Milan's youth team to free agent in two years, this is Valerio Brandi's story.
In the last couple of years a number of Italian footballing personalities have moved to Russia to ply their trade. Luciano Spalletti, the current Zenit St Petersburg manager, and Salvatore Bocchetti of Rubin Kazan are enjoying successful stints, while Domenico Criscito looks set to emulate them under the tutelage of Spalletti at Zenit. But the story of one Italian player, whose promising talent disappeared off the radar during a horrific spell in Russia, is in stark contrast to the positive experiences of his compatriots.
Valerio Brandi spent nine years in the AC Milan academy. The central midfielder, who can also operate as a centre-back, advanced through the ranks and eventually became the captain of Milan’s youth team. In the summer of 2009, a Rubin Kazan scout saw him in action and arranged a trial; Brandi travelled to Austria for three days to train with the rest of the team. The manager, Kurban Berdyev, was impressed and Brandi signed a three-year contract.
Brandi was initially very enthusiastic about life with the then-Russian champions. “The lads have treated me like a little brother, with a lot of respect, and have tried to make me feel as much at home as possible,” he said in an interview with ilsussidiario.net. Talking about the upcoming clash with Inter in the Champions League, he spoke of Rubin’s effective use of the wings as a possible way of stretching their Italian opponents. Brandi was interested in his team’s tactics and was eagerly awaiting every game. He had been given the No. 12 shirt. Everything looked in place for the Italian to establish a place in the team.
Two years later, Brandi’s contract with Rubin was terminated with one year left. He had not played a single game for either the first team or the reserves. In an interview with Sovietsky Sport, Brandi stated that Berdyev, a man whose piety is evident by the wooden prayer beads he is never seen without, isolated him from the rest of the squad. “He just said that I’d have to train individually, separately from the team,” said the Italian. “And that’s all. He didn’t give any more explanations.”
In his first season in the capital of Tatarstan, Brandi played 14 games for the youth team. Rubin fans were surprised that they had not seen more of the youngster, and when fellow Italian Salvatore Bocchetti arrived at the Tsentralnyi Stadion, he was asked if he found his compatriot’s lack of playing time embarrassing. “No, after all he’s three years younger than me... any Italian footballer will face a difficult moment in his career when he moves from youth to adult level.”
But in his second season, Brandi’s appearances stopped completely, even in the youth team. He was not included in the league squad, and it was increasingly clear that the Tatar outfit had no place for him in their plans. In April this year, Berdyev stated that Brandi’s small stature was a major factor behind his reluctance to play him. “His physical condition leaves something to be desired – he’s a very thin player, he’s short. But he controlled the ball very well, very well!” the tactician told business-gazeta.ru. “Unfortunately, over the last two years he didn’t grow physically – he remained just as fragile. Besides, Russian football is tough... As soon as there’s a tackle, he starts to avoid it.”
Berdyev mentioned a possible deal for Brandi to move away. “We’re now having talks about loaning him to a club that later on will be in a position to buy the player.” However, a couple of weeks after that statement, Brandi said that such a deal had never been mentioned to him. “At least, as far as I’m aware, no-one did anything. And no-one’s saying anything to me about my role here in the future.”
On the 7thof April Brandi, tired of not playing and being expected to train on his own with no transfer in sight, appealed to the Russian Professional Footballers’ Union (OPFC) to resolve the situation. On the 22ndof June, the contract was torn up on account of ‘numerous violations’. With no desire to continue his career in Russia, Brandi returned to Italy.
One violation mentioned in the OPFC statement was that Brandi had not been paid recently. An earlier statement also noted that Brandi received a tourist visa when he signed for Rubin in 2009 – which does not grant the right to work. The statement did not say how long it was before Brandi received a workers’ visa.
Once a potential Azzurri star and Paolo Maldini heir, Valerio Brandi is now without a club. Potential suitors may well be put off by what has essentially been a wasted two years. A transfer that seemed an ideal move has turned out to be a nightmare.
You can read more from Rory at forzaitalianfootball.com