Seasoned coach Zdeněk Zeman has forged a glowing reputation for bringing the best out of mercurial talent, but all too often players have left his side only to fade into obscurity. Italy prodigy Marco Verratti is something of an anomaly, however.
After leaving Pescara – who returned to Serie A under the stewardship of Zeman last term – the 19-year-old has made a seamless transition to life at Paris-Saint Germain FC, establishing himself as a fans' favourite. Verratti, who was handed his senior Italy debut by coach Cesare Prandelli against England in August, oozes patriotism and is eager to make his mark on the international stage. "At the moment I am focusing on the present. I am desperate to represent the national team even if that means I end up playing in goal," he said.
Verratti's €12m arrival in the French capital was overshadowed by a slew of marquee signings, including AC Milan duo Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović. L'Equipe queried: "Who is Marco Verratti?" He soon answered their curiosity with a string of fine performances which drew praise from fellow recruit Ibrahimović. "He won't become a great player, he already is," stated the Sweden forward.
The diminutive midfielder, who began as a traditional No10, redefined his role during Pescara's promotion-winning campaign, evolving into a deep-lying playmaker in the mould of Andrea Pirlo. Touted as long-term replacement for the revered Juventus player, Verratti remains grounded and very much his own man. "I don't feel important," he said. "I am lucky enough to be in the national team at 19 and this is something that doesn't happen to most players. I can only be myself and try to improve, that's the only goal a player of my age should strive for. I don't know if I am a player for the future, I have to think about the present."
After collecting four points from their opening two FIFA World Cup Group B qualifiers against Bulgaria and Malta, Italy travel to Armenia on Friday and Prandelli is keen to find a place for Verratti in his team. "I think he can play alongside Pirlo, maybe slightly in front of him. They could even switch positions during the game," said the tactician." Verratti added: "I played a few games behind the striker at Pescara last season so I see myself as a versatile player. But, of course, I will play anywhere for Italy."