Given the fact Australia has been starved of a generational footballing talent since the days of Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka, it should be easy to spot a diamond in the rough, right?
Think again. No fewer than two A-League clubs have had Cristian Volpato under their roof at one point in time. Both clubs let the Australian prodigy slip through their grasp.
Now, the Socceroos face a fierce battle to secure the services of the young gun, now of AS Roma, with European champions Italy looming large.
Cristian Volpato is making a name for himself in Italy after being snubbed back in Australia
The 18-year-old scored the decisive goal for Roma to beat Serie A rivals Verona last month
As a burgeoning talent, the 18-year-old was released by Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers, having grown up in the neighbouring suburb of Camperdown.
But Italian scouts didn’t overlook Volpato’s undeniable quality, with renowned coach Fabrizio Piccareta inviting the Australian to the nation’s capital, where he earned a trial with AS Roma’s academy.
Unsurprisingly, Volpato impressed. The Serie A giants tied him down to a three-year professional contract, in a clear sign of backing for the young gun. Senior figures at Sydney and WSW could only watch from afar, flabbergasted.
So too, surely, were the Socceroos. The Azzurri identified that here was a youngster from Sydney, snubbed by the nation of his birth, looking for a place to call home. And the Italians were willing to throw an arm around Volpato, who gratefully accepted a call up to represent the Europeans at junior level.
There is still hope, though, as the 18-year-old is yet to declare for either nation. But he’ll likely be expected to make a decision soon, now that he’s making a name for himself at the top of Italy’s domestic game.
Jose Mourinho, of course, is a tough man to impress. Over the course of his illustrious career, the Portuguese has earned a reputation for being sceptical of young players, choosing to place his trust in more established, experienced players.
Volpato was previously under the roof of two A-League academies but was released
Just ask Kevin de Bruyne, Mo Salah and Marcus Rashford. All three massively struggled to win the favour of the perennial trophy winner, with the Belgian and Egyptian forced to reboot their careers elsewhere.
But the Portuguese sees something in the kid from Camperdown. The 18-year-old was thrown on against Verona on Monday, with Roma searching for a late winner.
And Volpato duly delivered, stroking the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the box, before putting it on a plate for teammate Stephan El Shaarawy to seal a 3-1 win.
‘This season, after having a taste of the first team, he signed a contract extension, and now he is a player with first-team quality. He’s young, he has a lot still to learn every day, but he’s already at the level required,’ Mourinho said glowingly after the match.
He has found himself a home in Italy and has won the trust of head coach Jose Mourinho
The 18-year-old has repesented Italy at junior level but is yet to declare for a country
‘When I put him in it wasn’t me being crazy or taking an absurd risk. I didn’t know for sure that he was going to score the winning goal, but I knew he had the capability of doing so.’
As for Australia, well, Graham Arnold is understood to be in regular contact with Volpato, although it may take some heavy lifting to convince the young gun to pledge for the Socceroos.
Volpato did annoy Socceroos fans earlier this year when he sent out an laughing emoji on Snapchat, soon after Australia were beaten by Japan during World Cup qualifying.
Socceroos boss Graham Arnold said the decision rests with Volpato and his family. and has kept his cards close to his chest on the matter
Yet plenty of water has flowed under that bridge, with Australia now solely focused on the World Cup and an incredibly difficult group containing France, Denmark and Tunisia.
For what it’s worth, Arnold insists he is not going to throw himself at Volpato in order to persuade him to play for Australia, and he is considered a long shot to feature in the 26-man squad for Qatar, set to be announced on November 8.
‘I’m not into just capping people and tying them down for life – it’s Cristian’s decision and his family’s decision,’ Arnold told News Corp.
Volpato could be an exciting part of Australia’s future, and he has a massive decision to make
‘We are watching him, we are monitoring him, we are talking to him.
‘The most important thing is Cristian makes the decision on what feels right for him.
‘I’d love Cristian to play for Australia but the conversation is around what he wants to do and what his family wants.’
But surely the cogs will be turning in the coach’s head. Australia have long struggled to nurture the calibre of player that won the hearts and minds of the nation back in 2006, but with Garang Kuol sealing a move to Newcastle and Volpato flourishing in the Italian capital, there are certainly building blocks for a promising future.
For that dream to stand a chance of becoming a reality, Arnold needs a simple three-lettered response: ‘Yes’.
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