Giacomo Raspadori: Has Roberto Mancini found Italy’s next star striker?
When Roberto Mancini announced his 26-man squad for Euro 2020 on a bizarre live TV broadcast in early June, it was the surprise inclusion of Giacomo Raspadori that sparked the most debate.
Why was this uncapped baby-faced striker – apparently with a salary of around Â£ 2,000 a week that would be eclipsed by those of his new teammates – included in a squad with plans to win the trophy?
It turned out that he barely appeared in their victorious Euro campaign, making just one replacement appearance, against Wales.
But Mancini’s vision is now clearing up. Raspadori is the next up-and-coming Italian center-forward, a man trusted by the former Manchester City manager to take on a role that has been a problematic position for the Azzurri.
In the short term, Mancini has this week’s Nations League semi-final against Spain in mind, but in the longer term he sees Raspadori as a key figure in next year’s World Cup.
While Raspadori was a surprise over the summer, his rise to the senior squad didn’t come completely out of the blue.
He scored six goals in 27 games for Sassuolo last season, and his brace against AC Milan at San Siro in April threatened to derail the Rossoneri’s return to the Champions League.
The 21-year-old received the captain’s armband earlier this month for a game against Roma. It was a period that cemented the status of a player who joined the club at the age of eight and allowed Sassuolo to do everything in his power to keep him.
Over the summer, they put up for sale almost all of their most valuable assets. Manuel Locatelli and Francesco Caputo joined Juventus and Sampdoria respectively, while Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga were available but ultimately stayed.
A single player was categorically going nowhere. “Giacomo will not leave Sassuolo under any circumstances,” club general manager Giovanni Carnevali said before and during the final transfer window.
Raspadori, an Inter Milan fan, is a calm young man who combines scaring away Serie A defenders with studying sports science in college. He can shoot well with both feet, can tie the game with his teammates and knows where the goal is.
âI’m a mix of Gianluca Vialli and Mancini,â he said recently of himself and his style of play. âI look like Sergio Aguero, but the striker I liked the most is Samuel Eto’o. “
In June, many compared his call-up to Paolo Rossi’s for the 1982 World Cup. Rossi’s was certainly unexpected too, but for a very different reason – he had just returned from a three-year suspension for his involvement in the tournament. the Totonero scandal.
What happened next in Spain is a celebrated story, with Rossi ending this tournament as the top scorer.
Raspadori’s impact this summer is nothing like it – but the hope is that the Qatar World Cup could be his stop.
His emergence puts Ciro Immobile’s position under the greatest threat. The Lazio forward will miss the Nations League finals with an injury he sustained in his club’s last Europa League game, which will start on October 6 for the San Siro semi-final against the Spain.
The Azzurri were the most prolific team in Euro 2020, alongside their opponents this week, with 13 goals – but Immobile scored two and compatriot Andrea Belotti none.
The manager has always backed his joint top scorers – who each have eight goals since taking over – but Mancini has also said there is no defined hierarchy.
Mancini took Raspadori to the Euro to integrate him and prepare him for the tasks ahead and to start the succession process from the start.
The 15 minutes he played in Rome against Wales was his first real experience of elite international football, having only experienced one friendly before that.
It was remarkable how confident he looked and it continued in the chances he has been given since the Euro.
At last month’s internationals he came off the bench twice and started the most recent game – his full debut – against Lithuania, scoring a goal and forcing a goal against his own side in an impressive display.
âI want to keep dreaming while doing what I love the most,â Raspadori said recently.
Mancini is a pragmatist and, based on what Italian football has to offer, the former Inter boss has decided to bet on Raspadori.
Can Immobile and Belotti represent the future, or could Sassuolo’s teammate Gianluca Scamacca or Juventus’ Moise Kean – despite a modest stint at Everton – quickly become a good number nine? Is there a “false nine” to build the Italian attacking game?
Since ‘no’ is the most likely answer to all of these questions, Mancini is betting on a player who he believes has all the qualities he is looking for.
âI have the skills and the body of a false new, but also the characteristics of a real new,â Raspadori said of himself recently.
“Giacomo is a bit of a number nine and a bit of a number 10 because he ties in very well with the game,” said Roberto de Zerbi, his former Sassuolo coach.
This week he will probably have the chance to show that he can become the main man of Italy.