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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Turin's New Hero, Il Principino Marchisio

“It’s difficult to compare players from the past and the present,” declares Marco Tardelli, his black and white heart beating faster as he excitingly passes judgement on Juventus’ energetic Torino-born number eight. Tardelli stands as undoubtedly one of The Bianconeri’s most iconic warriors. Tenaciously hounding down helpless opponents when his side lacked possession, as well as bearing a knack for integral goals, the five-time Serie A winner was a selfless soldier who relentlessly charged around Stadio Olimpico di Torino to the delight of the passionate tifosi under Giovanni Trappatoni. He also speaks as one of the most decorated footballers in the history of the sport with a clean sweep of European club honours, only lacking a European Championship medal at international level. All this just gives more credibility to the praise he directs towards the twenty-six year old who is expected to line up at Stamford Bridge this Wednesday night. “I see myself in Marchisio”, Tardelli cries. “In my view he is stronger than I was”.

Claudio Marchisio was a Juventino from his first breath. Born the youngest child to Stefano and Anna, the Marchisio family were passionate, season ticket holding supporters at the Stadio Delle Alpi. Their talented son was present at the stadium as a ballboy on the crisp winter’s day of December 4th 1994 when a sublime Alessandro DelPiero finish completed a glorious comeback victory against Juventus’ Tuscan enemies Fiorentina. It was never any surprise that Claudio’s calling in life was to represent the family’s beloved Old Lady. Prior to his first audition for a place in the Turin side’s academy a young Claudio, even at the tender age of seven, was aware that he was in partaking in “a very special examination”. The youngster was aided by the fact that his father, as important a figure in his career as anyone else, taught him to play two-footed at the age of four. Mini-Marchisio’s ambition to join his beloved club was the catalyst to developing a ruthless determination within him, concentrating on the final match of the trial where, after placing himself up front, he tried to score as many goals as possible.

While progressing through the youth ranks Marchisio adapted his style of play, regressing from an advanced trequartista to become a capable, all-round central midfielder. At the age of sixteen World Cup winning manager Marcello Lippi, who would later hand Claudio his international debut, began recruiting the boy who was allegedly playing second fiddle to Sebastian Giovinco in the Juventus youth system to train with the first team. Once Lippi had left Fabio Capello backed his predecessor’s judgement and followed suit, giving the youngster a chance to train with his idol Del Piero, Pavel Nedved and his current manager Antonio Conte amongst others. Working alongside, as well as learning from players of that calibre only reinforced Claudio’s ambition to become a professional footballer for the club he loved, and with him on the cusp of achieving that he (with the support of Stefano) dropped off the education ladder, willing to throw the abundance of commitment in his passionate soul towards becoming an icon for his fellow Juventino.

Juventus’ demotion to Serie B as a result of the Calciopoli scandal was a blessing in disguise for their blossoming midfielder, with Didier Deschamps handing him the games he required to gain accustomed to representing a club of the stature of the Turin giants. After gaining 26 appearances Marchisio had proven he could slot into a side bubbling over with seasoned internationals who decided to stay at the club despite an enforced relegation. However despite impressing both he and best-friend Giovinco were loaned out to Empoli the following season in order to improve the likelihood of acquiring ninety minutes week in week out. On their return to the full Juventus side the elder outshone the miniature Giovinco, earning his place in Claudio Ranieri’s first eleven. Starring in the side around the turn of the new year Marchiso consistently produced impressive displays alongside a number of different midfield companions (even Christian Poulson), winning the club’s Player of the Month competition for December, while also receiving the first comparisons between his style of play and Tardelli’s.

The road to the top however wasn’t always smooth. Politicians as well as fans of some sets of supporters demanded Marchisio be dropped from the Italian National team prior to the World Cup in 2010 after being filmed allegedly manipulating the lyrics to the national anthem. By claiming the words Ché schiava di Roma were injected into the pulsating song, people were accusing the midfielder of slurring Rome or indeed Italian politics (perhaps justifiably). Marchisio claimed he had tripped up over his words as the backing track being played was slower than what the Italians were usually used to hearing while his more experienced team-mates such as Gianluigi Buffon, captain Fabio Cannavaro and his manager Lippi all publicly defended the then 24 year old. Clearly unperturbed, on the field the following season Marchisio was one of the few bright lights in a miserable campaign in Turin, signing his second five year deal in just over two years at the end of the season. Claudio charged his father with the responsibility of negotiating that contract, relieving his agent of his duties in the process, stating “I have the certainty that people from my own family will really serve my interests.” While entrusting a family member to act as an agent is not unusual in the world of football, one gets the feeling that with Stefano not only does he have his son’s best interest at heart, but also what is best for his beloved Juventus. The Marchisio family would rather be rich in happiness than rich in the bank.

Buoyed by his new long-term commitment to the club and transformed under former Juventus legend and former teammate, Antonio Conte, Marchiso enjoyed his most successful season at the European giants last year, thriving under Conte’s dynamic system which paired himself and Arturo Vidal as midfield shuttlers and charged them with the responsibility of allowing Andrea Pirlo the luxury of a pocket of space to dictate play from deep in the middle of the park. The influence of Stefano remained, with the father constantly offering his son advice, praise and criticism despite his elevation on the global stage. “After each game I call my father on the phone, his judgement is fundamental to me”, claims a clearly humble Claudio. Prior to the campaign Marchisio senior set his son the target of ten goals spread out over the entire season. After twelve games the in-form talisman had racked up six goals from play before reaching the set target, finishing the season as the squad’s second highest scorer as they remained unbeaten during a successful Serie A season. The diamond of the Juventus midfield Pirlo knows “if I give Claudio the ball, he knows what to do”, but he’s also aware that he can’t shine without the Italian father-of-two willingly emptying his lungs on a weekly basis for him.

One factor which has contributed to Juventus’s promising beginning to the current season is the fact that Conte has enhanced Il Principino’s role as a leader, exemplified when the player maturely attempted to defuse the potentially damaging situation during Euro 2012 where Antonio Cassano made a homophobic slur in response to a misplaced question considering the team were taking part in the second most important international football tournament in the world. “One almost has the impression that he does not really want to become an adult”, Marchisio bemoaned, highlighting the superior maturity the Juventus man has in comparison to his teammate four years his senior. However along with this added maturity has come an innate desire to create history, and make the name Marchisio resonate around Europe. That means no more Tardelli comparisons. “I’ve always been honoured by the comparison with one of the greats of the world game, but I think the time has arrived that we only talk about Marchisio," the tifosi member announced during the summer. “I am old enough and mature enough to perhaps be seen as a reference point for younger players”. However one feels that the only way to banish the two constantly being mentioned alongside each other is to begin to emulate the unprecedented level of success Marco Tardelli enjoyed during his own career thirty years ago. With Champions League football on his plate this season he now has the chance to appease his appetite, beginning with the clash with the defending Champions of Europe this week. However even should that happen it is unlikely the post-game phone-calls with Stefano will cease.

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