Mimmo Berardi would never have imagined what was in store for him when he covered almost the entire length of Italy to visit his brother’s university in Modena. A nine hour journey to the north of Italy – a trip which he would never forget. He played against an university side for his brother’s team and dominated the senior team. People were convinced that the 15yr old boy was a professional but the reality was he did not have a club in his hometown Cariata Marina. Without any formal coaching, Berardi had bossed the entire proceedings. But that was to change. Luciano Carlino, who was the head of youth sector of USC Sassuolo Calcio, called him for a trial after watching him play.It was a mere formality. Domenico Berardi officially began his career as a professional footballer.
He was a part of Sassuolo’s Allievi (Under 16s) but made it to the Primavera team within a year. Sassuolo knew they had uncovered a gem. Soon he would go on to make his debut at the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign in Serie B. Head coach Eusebio Di Francesco gambled on the youngster and was rewarded as Sassuolo earned promotion with Mimmo scoring 11 goals. Sassuolo were crowned winter champions and Berardi was a protagonist. Interest in him was pretty high from that point onwards. The two Manchester clubs were reportedly monitoring his progress while Milan and Napoli actively scouted him along with Roma and Juventus. Sassuolo were crowned champions of Serie B and Berardi’s stocks were just beginning to rise.
The step-up to the top flight Italian football did not faze him at all. Infact he fired himself into the record books on more than one occasion. He became the first player to score four goals past AC Milan in the history of Serie A. He was the youngest four goal hero after Silvio Piola in 1931. The only other 19yr old to achieve this was Mauro Icardi. He also became the first player in Serie A to score more than one away hattrick in a single season since Andriy Shevchenko in 1999-2000. Sassuolo’s record without him was just one win, one draw and seven defeats highlighting his importance in Di Francesco’s side. He finished the season with 16 goals from 29 starts which was a phenomenal return for a player who was not even with a professional club 4 years ago. He was one of the stories of the season last year in Italy.
Style of Play
Berardi usually starts as a right winger in the 4-3-3 system of Di Francesco. The charismatic left footed boy is an extremely elegant player and also acts as a leader on the pitch. He was also used as a second striker behind Simone Zaza or as a central attacking midfielder behind Zaza and Sansone. His lanky frame and tall limbs coupled with an electric burst of pace makes him a dangerous threat in one-on-one situations. His touch and cutting inside from the right has seen him compared to Arjen Robben by the man who gave him his first break. His left foot is capable of lethality from any position in the final third. He himself earned five penalties last season and the nature of his goals showed that along with pace and skills, he has the composure needed to convert the chances. Present head coach Eusebio Di Francesco revealed that he has an understanding with Berardi this season to work on improving his right foot which will help him grow even more. Berardi has the vision to pick out passes, drift across the frontline drawing out defenders plus he has the ability to beat defenders in a 1-1 situation.
Needless to point it out again that the left foot is Berardi’s major strength. 80 percent of his goals came from his lethal left foot. He is not a typical striker and he prefers to start out wide on the right of a front three. But still his predatory instincts inside the box are praiseworthy. His high percentage of penalty conversion also points to the fact of his composure in a pressure situation. His virtuoso display against Milan highlighted all his attributes in what was an amazing night for the youngster. His movement off the ball makes him a difficult man to mark. He is a leader on the pitch and Sassuolo suffered during his absence. He eagerly drops back to help his defence and is a willing learner. The stage of Serie A did not faze him at all and he was once again a protagonist for Sassuolo last season. He will be making his return to the Azzurrini setup and Luigi Di Biagio will be counting on him to bail the nation out of a tricky qualifying group position. His shooting abilities from set-pieces is another attribute in his repertoire.There is an aura of self-assurance about his style of play and his mental strength is something out of the ordinary.
Beradi is not free from controversies though. He refused to acknowledge a call from the u19 Italian team and was subsequently banned for eight months. He was banned for three games after a fight with Livorno goalkeeper Vincenzo Fiorillo in 2013. Last season he was barely on the pitch for a minute against Parma but he foolishly got himself sent off leading to a three game suspension. Beradi must work on his temperament and take more responsibility both on and off the pitch. While he scored 16 times last season, 10 were combined in three games. Berardi should look to get on the scoresheet a bit more consistently. He is also looking to work on his comparatively weaker right foot and has apparently set himself that goal with his coach Di Francesco. Berardi is by no means a finished product but his attitude to learn and improve himself bodes well for his future.
Juventus secured the co-ownership deal with Sassuolo for the 50% rights of Domenico Berardi while negotiating the deal for midfielder Luca Marrone. He was expected to join Juventus this summer but he opted to stay with Sassuolo for another year as his coach Di Francesco revealed a pact between them last year. However, Berardi is expected to join Juventus next year and the price for his redemption has been already set.Till now Juventus have turned a blind eye towards the youth prospects they acquired on a co-ownership deal or their own primavera products but it looks very unlikely that they will let Domenico Berardi leave. Even though he is a self-proclaimed Inter Milan fan, Berardi will most definitely don the black and white stripes next season. Fans have high hopes from him but he should not be burdened with the weight of expectations, Berardi knows to make a step up to a big club he has to grow both mentally and as a professional as well. The early signs are positive. It remains to be seen how he adjusts to the demands of a big club like Juventus.
Francesco Grandolfo scored a hattrick on his Serie A debut for Bari against Bologna in 2011. He was just 18 at that time and was touted as the next big-thing in Calcio. He is languishing in Italy’s third tier now. So there should be an added caution while heaping expectations upon young Berardi’s shoulders. Another year at Sassuolo will help his progress a lot better and he should work on improving the finer aspects of his game. There’s talent here and it should be nurtured carefully. Hopefully Berardi will maximize his talent and develop into a truly elite player.