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“I am young, but at times I do think back to the years I threw away,” winger Alessio Cerci told Italian daily La Stampa in the aftermath of his Azzurri debut opposite Brazil last week.
But despite the 25 year-old’s seemingly lamenting statement, he was quick to offer himself a backhanded compliment seconds later.
“Six months ago I was nothing, now I play against Brazil.”
Cerci’s muted self-deprecation is quite understandable at this point, considering the path his career has taken to arrive at the present. Aged just a tender 16 years, the shaggy-haired Roma youth product ran out onto the pitch in the 77th minute of the Giallorossi‘s final match of the 2003-04 campaign against Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. His curly locks carried with them the excitement of unlimited prospect and the joy of the outset of a journey, but hidden underneath was a wealth of anxiety forged by the weight of unimaginable expectation. Nicknamed “Henry from Valmontone” before he had even set foot on the field in a first division game, it seemed that those surrounding the Italian game had sought to pen Cerci’s future story for him without consulting the teenager himself.
The hype surrounding young Alessio, of course, was not a new phenomenon. In the age of endless speculation and intense media coverage, he was not the first, nor has been the last, to be consecrated at the next coming of greatness before being given the chance to find himself.
Fast forward to late August 2012. At the behest of Giampiero Ventura, the same man who had shown a younger Cerci much faith whilst his coach during a loan spell with Pisa in 2007, Torino had just purchased 50 per cent of Fiorentina’s rights to the troubled wide-man for €2.5 million. Cerci had become somewhat of a villain with the Stadio Artemio Franchi faithful during his Viola days, heavily criticised for his perceived lack of commitment and penchant for partying amidst persistently mediocre form.
“A lot has been said about me. I am a young lad and have made a few mistakes, but I am very relaxed and I’ll prove it,” Cerci told the media at his presentation in Turin, the skepticism in the air nearly palpable.
“I aim to show who I am and what I can do. I think I can bring a great deal to the Torino cause. I have to find the calm that allows me to express myself at my best.”
The question eating at all listening in was indubitably linked to exactly what Cerci had directly addressed – would he finally put the years of immaturity and unfulfilled potential, which in 2010 had led to his release from his beloved Lupi, behind him and begin to perform?
Skip ahead once again to to September 30. Starting on the day as Toro took on Atalanta at the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Cerci had amassed only 140 minutes on the pitch out of the 450 on offer through his new side’s first five Serie A matches. All appeared to be headed in the same direction it had numerous times before for the 25 year-old.
But with the encounter level at 1-1 midway through the second period, something changed, something at last clicked. In a span of 11 minutes, Cerci’s feet became light as feathers as he shredded the opposition defence, providing three assists as Ventura’s men went on to record a 5-1 victory. He would spend the rest of the opening half of the season solidifying his place in the first eleven, becoming one of Torino’s most important players.
The first three months of the season would only be the appetizer to the main course for Alessio, however. When the Italian top flight returned to action in early January, he came prepared to dazzle, setting out on a run of scintillating form that has endured all the way to the present and culminated in his first senior national team appearance against the famed Selecao. The confidence, focus, and execution that had eluded him for so long finally look to have fallen into place under the guidance of one Giampiero Ventura.
“It is down to hard work, of course, but also all the people who took me to this point,” Cerci said of winning his first full international cap.
“I put Ventura at the start of that list.”
And with Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli searching for a right winger to complete his 4-3-3 formation, his timing is almost impeccable. Having caught the eye in his maiden 45 minutes against Brazil, Cerci already appears set to start for La Nazionale as they take on Malta in World Cup qualifying action on Tuesday in his first bout of consequence for country.
Undoubtedly, the occasion will be a watershed moment for the Roma youth product, positive or negative. Yet at this point in time, he is as ready as he’ll ever be.
Hopefully for Cerci, his most recent experiences will not come to parallel those at the outset of his professional career. Something so intangible seems altered about the once designated “bad boy” from the suburbs of Rome, something that suggests that 9 years on from his Serie A debut against Sampdoria, he is finally primed to break out. Perhaps Cerci was only making those surrounding wait. Or maybe he was simply destined to take a different path to success than all with an eye on Italian football expected.
And so, almost a decade down the road, the time finally seems right to say what was prematurely uttered before of “Henry from Valmontone”.
Before us lies the consecration of Cerci.