COMMENT: Pietro Pellegri. Record breaker. Phenomenon. Oh, and the kid Manchester United forgot…
It’s rough on Genoa fans, but the superkid will be on the move in January. Both his club and the lad’s agent are already laying the foundations.
Those two goals in defeat to Lazio – those record breaking two goals – may’ve had Dad Marco in tears, but for Enrico Preziosi it was a jackpot. The Genoa president is under no illusions where his club sits in football’s hierarchy. If there’s a deal to be made, he won’t think twice. And barely a day after that famous brace, Pellegri’s prime agent, Giuseppe Riso, was in London drumming up interest – all with Preziosi’s approval.
Twice he thought he had agreements with Milan’s clubs over the summer to sell Pellegri.
“Is the deal done with Inter? It’s more yes than no,” the president said in June regarding a €60m deal for Pellegri and fellow teen Eddy Salcedo Mora.
“There’s a lot of talk in football, but then we need to see if the full fee with bonuses is reached. When we’re talking about a player like Pellegri who has certain characteristics, he can be of interest not just to Inter or Roma, but also to other squads at international level.
“Recently Real Madrid paid €45m just for Vinicius at age 16, so what are we complaining about?”
But Inter did in the end pull out – and this was before the whole market was turned on its head by PSG and Neymar.
“Milan were interested on the last day of the transfer window, and they haven’t given up on him. They’re still on to him,” Preziosi revealed last week, before significantly adding: “It’s not just the Rossoneri, there are also three other Serie A teams and three English teams.”
Which is where Riso comes into the equation.
For those “three English teams”, you can easily name-check them. Chelsea, Manchester City and United. But while Pellegri speaks openly of Zlatan Ibrahimovic being his “idol”, United have some real making up to do if they’re to seriously compete for the 16 year-old’s signature.
Y’see, if it was up to Marco and son, at least two years ago that is, they’d both be on United’s books. How they feel today? Well for the moment, they’re keeping their own counsel.
And with words from Pellegri like, “Genoa has turned my dream into reality, made me a football player and will always stay in the centre of my heart” and “my goals are for all Genoans because like them I am also a fan”, the loyalty claim does have merit.
But another very concrete source tells us it was United who went cold. The family was to relocate to Manchester. A 14 year-old Pietro would join the academy and a high level job arranged for Marco. It all appeared settled.
But then, at United’s end, things went silent. Communication slowed. Then halted.
“He (Pietro) was heartbroken,” our source says. “(But) now he can become Genoa‘s greatest.”
This was all pre-Jose Mourinho. And pre-Nicky Butt at United’s academy. We’ll leave you to put the personalities and dates together for this cock-up…
So yes, United have some ground to make up. Though with different personalities sitting at the other end of the negotiating table, perhaps Marco, now team manager at Genoa, and Pietro will give them a second look. And they’ll do it from a position of strength.
Since the United rejection, Pellegri has equaled Amedeo Amadei’s 80 year-old record of being the youngest player to appear in Serie A at 15 years and 280 days of age. And his Lazio brace made him the youngest to score twice in Serie A – and also the youngest this century to score two goals in any of the five major European leagues. Are you watching Louis…?
But it’s really Chelsea who are favourites in this scramble. With Antonio Conte, the Blues manager, now settled, the connection is obvious. But it does run deeper, with his assistant coach Paolo Vanoli having arrived in the summer after seven years inside Italy’s national youth system. From the U16s to the U19s, Vanoli worked with the nation’s best kids and has a relationship with Pellegri.
Indeed, Gigi di Biagio, the Italy U21 coach, says he’d already call up the centre-forward for his squad if not for crucial Euro U19 qualifiers the Azzurrini are facing.
“We’ve known him since he was 15 years old and if he continues like this he is destined to get into the U21 squad,” says Di Biagio. “But right now, in view of our upcoming games, it might be more important to play in the U19s as we are only playing a friendly.”
That’s what he and his Dad need to assess in the coming months. For Preziosi, the answer is clear. Cash in when the boy’s star is brightest. In the era of Mbappe and Dembele, this chance may not come around again.
But Pellegri needs to be sure he wants this move. The examples of Kiko Macheda and Fabio Borini need to be studied – and heeded. Both players have since admitted they were responsible for not making the most of their initial chance in England.
For Borini, it was a desperate homesickness that had him struggling at Chelsea. In Macheda’s case, he concedes ignoring Sir Alex Ferguson‘s advice about enjoying the trappings of being a young star at United cost him his chance in the Premier League.
Clarence Seedorf has seen it all and for everyone connected to this story, after less than a handful of games, his cautionary note is worth considering.
“In life,” says the Milan icon. “It always takes a bit of luck. This 16-year-old boy scored two goals and is an important hope for the future of Italy.
“For your sake I tell you not to exalt him too much now: he’s a legacy for your football and even though it’s important to score he has not done anything yet, the road is long.”
And, if he’s not 100 per cent certain, that road shouldn’t take him to England – at least not in January 2018.