When he scored his first goal for Milan, in 2016 and against Sassuolo, Manuel Locatelli (Lecco, Italy, 23 years old) burst into tears in front of the cameras. “I am dreaming. I didn’t think all of this was true. We have made a great comeback ”, he managed to say. It was a declaration of love for Milan – he reached the age of 11 – also a way of shaking off his nerves because they always pointed him out as the future and already demanded that he be the present. “We are facing the new Andrea Pirlo,” predicted Silvio Berlusconi, then president of the Lombard club. It did not happen that way. “I needed time and they didn’t give it to me,” lamented the midfielder, transferred to Sassuolo in 2018 for 12 million. Today is the catapult of Italy, in the second round after beating Turkey and Switzerland, rival this Sunday from Wales (18.00. Four).
Locatelli shone in Milan’s youth teams, also in the national team since the U-15. “He has always seen passing lanes that others did not see. He stood out ”, recalls Filippo Galli, then director of grassroots football at Milan and now director of methodology at Parma; “But sometimes it was disconnected. That’s what we worked with the most with him, that he had continuity during the 90 minutes ”. That and his cockiness. “I forbade him to travel with the team to the final of a European U-17 championship. We should teach him modesty. He told me that he cried for a week. I replied that it was better to cry for a week to change than not to change ”, reveals Arrigo Sacchi, former coach of Milan and the Italian lower teams; “and it worked”.
So much so that he ended up making his debut with Milan in 2016 at the hands of Cristian Brocchi. Perhaps it was not before time, but it was charged with excessive responsibility in a team that does not raise the scudetto since 2011. “It’s the history of football… Sometimes you don’t have patience with young people in big clubs. That’s the way it is, “laments Franco Baresi, 82nd World Cup champion and Milan center-back from 1977 to 1997.” He had a good first year, but in the second he dropped, “says Galli.
And he went to Roberto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo. “It made him grow and taught him beautiful football,” says Sacchi. “He was shaping him and relieved him of the weight he was carrying in Milan,” says Matteo Brighi, who passed through Juve, Parma, Roma and Sassuolo among others, in his day also international.
Capital in Sassuolo, he has come to the national team to anchor himself, because perhaps he is in the European Championship due to the pandemic because it was just a year since Mancini recruited him. “To reach my current level, I had to take a step back. I was also afraid to face my weaknesses and I blamed others, but I was also to blame ”, admitted Locatelli. “Now I want to play in a great team because I would like to listen to the music of the Champions League,” added the player, who already believes it in this European Championship, MVP against Switzerland with two goals, also starring in the press room by emulating Ronaldo and his gesture of putting away the Coca-Coca. “He has grown a lot and has become as important at Sassuolo as with the national team. This game is going very well for him and it makes him stand out because he is technical, quick in delivery and thinking… ”, Baresi resolves. “Now he runs like never before,” stresses Sacchi.
Locatelli shines in an Italy without big stars. “There are no champions like Mbappé or Cristian, but they are a group of excellent players. Locatelli started behind Verratti, but he seems ready for the next step, ”says Brighi. “This tournament confirms its quality. It will be difficult for them to remove the site now, right? ”Adds Baresi. So with Verratti and Jorginho supposedly fixed, Barella, his teammate in the U-17 team, is in danger.
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