Following in the footsteps of Roby Baggio: Bernadeschi, Juve and the search for a No 10

After a stunning performance in Serie A’s most entertaining game between Fiorentina and Napoli last season, the next morning’s papers hailed Federico Bernardeschi as a worthy heir to Roberto Baggio. To complete the prophecy, Bernardeschi is taking the same footsteps of betrayal against i Viola, as he rejected a contract renewal and is set for a move to Turin.

Growing up in Carrara – the same Tuscan town as Gianluigi Buffon – young Bernardeschi started playing at the age of four. Instinctively in love with the game, playing for his hometown club was not enough and mashing glasses and walls at home was his parents’ indicator that the kid was destined for a footballing future.

At the age of 10, Bernardeschi signed for Fiorentina and ever since then he has been part of the Tuscan side, except for a one-year loan to Crotone. Scoring 12 goals at the age of 19 for the Serie B side proved enough to see him recalled to Tuscany.

After only one season with the senior team, the left-footed winger grew into his responsibilities wearing the no 10 shirt and extended his contract for four years, a sign that perhaps this precocious talent had ambitions to become a bandiera for the club.

During his two years under head coach Paulo Sousa, Bernardeschi demonstrated his ability to command both flanks, taking the advice of his coach to: “work, work and work some more.” Bernardeschi promptly developed into a versatile star, unlocking opposition defences as well as diligently contributing to all phases of the game. His virtuoso displays upfront and his persistent hard work to adapt at the back earned him praise from Bayern Munich head coach Carlo Ancelotti and Barcelona sporting director Ariedo Braida, as he became one of hottest prospects on the market in recent years.

Immense credit should be given to Sousa for the evolution of Bernardeschi, earning him call-ups, both for the Azzurri and Azzurrini, the latter for whom he was a protagonist at the Euros. With Domenico Berardi and Andrea Petagna in the starting line-up, Coach Luigi Di Biagio deployed Bernardeschi at the left side of the attack, as they started their 2017 UEFA Under-21 European Championship journey against Denmark.

The first-half ended with both parties failing to break the dead lock, as Italy dominated possession but failed to break down the Danes. In the second-half, a curling cross from Bernardeschi was deflected by the Danish defense and Pellegrini performed a stunning bicycle kick to score the Azzurrini’s first goal of the competition.

The boy from Carrara continued his impressive form in the competition. After a 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic and a complicated situation for the Nazionale in the group stage, Di Biagio decided to field Bernardeschi as an unorthodox striker against Germany in the final game of the group. Germany went on to win the competition, securing 14 wins from 15 games in the Championship and the qualifications, with their only loss coming as a consequence of Bernardeschi’s goal in Italy’s 1-0 win in that final group stage match.

In the semi-finals, Bernadeschi struck again against Spain, but the goal was not enough for the Azzurrini to progress. Nevertheless, the Italian starlet’s performances were enough to secure a spot in the team of the tournament and in addition, a spot at the top of Juve’s wish list this summer.

With 11 goals in Serie A last season, Bernardeschi outshined both Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado’s records combined. His 57 key passes were also higher than those made by the Bianconeri wingers and only a key pass short of Paulo Dybala.

As a result, and unfortunately for Viola fans, the same old scene is about to be rewritten, with Fiorentina’s director of football Pantaleo Corvino resigned to the fact that the club will lose the new Roberto Baggio. Indeed, only recently, Bernadeschi’s father fanned the flames of rivalry between the two clubs by evoking memories of Baggio’s infamous transfer to Juve, proclaiming: “Now, like Baggio, my son may also play at Juventus. A dream for every player who has the right ambitions.”

READ ‘The Transfer that Sparked a Riot: Roberto Baggio to Juventus (1990)

The question is, with the wealth of attacking talent in Turin, are Juventus seeking the tricks and flicks of another divine ponytail? Or is there a deeper unfulfilled hunger?

After an upsetting affair with Paul Pogba, lest we forget Carlos Tevez’s return to Boca after only two seasons in the Black and White, the Old Lady is in search of a new romance with a new No 10; one with loyalty, respect and pride. Juve’s immortal captain Alessandro Del Piero perhaps best summarised what the Bianconeri are looking for in their next No 10 with the following words upon his retirement:

I’m happy that you have smiled, cheered, cried, sung, shouted for me and with me. No colour will ever be brighter for me than black and white. You’ve made my dream come true. More than any other thing, today I just want to say thank you.
Bernardeschi seems days away from becoming the first Italian to wear the no 10 kit after Del Piero hung up his boots. The 23-year-old is of course light-years from reaching the heights scaled by Il Pinturicchio and any comparison between the two is hyperbole at this stage. But what can rekindle the flame between the Old Lady and Del Piero’s historic kit?Quoting the English philosopher G.K Chesterton: “Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.” That was the most beautiful part of Del Piero’s relationship with the Old Lady, the love they shared was worth more than any goal he scored, trophy he won or record he broke.

Memories more than records is what Juventini are expecting from Bernardeschi, and memories can only last if a No 10 is willing to stick around. Should Bernadeschi commit to Juve for the long term, perhaps club and player will live happily ever after.

Words by Ramez Nathan: @RamezYNathan

A Calcio Maniac, Ramez sees life through a black and white lens. He is part of the biggest Euorpean YouTube program in the Middle East “Saba7o Korah” and he dreams of writing the pieces you want to read.