From Sydney to Rome: the long journey of the young Volpato
He arrived in Trigoria aged 16. He trained in a soccer school, without playing matches. His discoverer was Tony Basha: "Only performances and tours, in Australia many do not understand soccer"
It is not a story like any other, that of Cristian Volpato, the boy not yet 19 years old who decided the Verona game. And this was not only because of an average that has nothing normal about it, two goals and an assist (all three of fine workmanship, nothing accidental) in Serie A, playing just 69'. It isn't, because until three years ago Roma's number 62 practically didn't even play soccer. He was born in Camperdown, a suburb of Sydney and for the soccer that counts, he had been snubbed by Australia's top clubs and was training basic technique at a soccer school, the Australasian Soccer Academy, whose director, Tony Basha, was a friend of Roma's then U17 coach, Fabrizio Piccareta. Only there were no matches at that soccer school. When the Giallorossi coach, upon receiving the report, asked for videos to evaluate this boy, he could only see training and drills. But he was good at sensing his talent, managing to bring him to the Giallorossi. He was 16 years old when he started training in Trigoria, in a more competitive environment than he was used to. Zalewski was 9, Pellegrini was 10. What happened before that is told to us by Tony Basha himself, his first discoverer.
Did you see the match with Verona?
"Of course. I am very proud of Cristian, he was fantastic."
How long did Volpato stay with your Academy before moving to Roma?
"He stayed with us a few years. And he impressed me from the first moment I saw him play."
But why, when he was in Australia, didn't he play in the youth ranks of a big club instead of an Academy?
"Because in Australia many people don't understand that much about soccer. But with all that, we are starting to have several good players."
But is it true that in his Academy there was just training, without playing official matches? Certainly technical improvement had been there, but it is a completely different system than in Europe...
"In Australia we have a funny system. We just play exhibition matches. Or we fly overseas to play against professional clubs. Cristian had toured Asia with us."
What was the first thing that had struck him about Volpato?
"His desire to win. And of course his dribbling ability."
And his worst flaw? According to some observers, he sometimes tends to hold onto the ball too much...
"It's true, he likes to hold onto the ball. But that's his strength in this game: he loves it, the ball."
Have you seen him again recently?
"He hasn't been back to Sydney yet, but I think he will go back soon. But I was in Rome a few months ago, and we met. And I will be in Rome again on Friday, with my Academy's Under-17 team: we have a tour scheduled between Italy and Spain."
He has improved so much with Mourinho in these months. If he had not chosen to play for Italy, taking advantage of his dual passport, could he have made the World Cup, with Australia?
"He, in Rome, is lucky enough to work with the best coach in the world. He could not be in better hands. And he is surrounded by fantastic players who will make him even better. He would have been more than ready to play with the Australian national team, and he could have even made the World Cup, but he chose to play for Italy. And now he has to focus on his club. He is still very young, and he has a lot to learn."
The base is more than good: his Academy, with him, must have done a very good job...
"And to think that when we started, in 2006, we had only two footballers. We raised six professional soccer players and one national team player. And now we have the biggest connection around the world. We work with clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, among others. We did a lot of hard work, but it paid off."
Do you already have him, the new Volpato?
"Mansour El Masri for me is a little Messi, but unfortunately he does not have a European passport. And then there is Rocko Fragale, who is auditioning right now in Italy. We have more than 200 players, very good ones. But Roma probably already got the best piece."
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