The new Pirlo? Serie B sensation Sandro Tonali on Chelsea & Juventus' radar
Posted On March 22, 2019
The teenager has been linked to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, but there are some key differences between him and the Italy legend
It is easy to see why Sandro Tonali has been so readily compared to Andrea Pirlo.
As well as occupying the same area of the field as the Italy legend – sitting just in front of the defence to act as a metronome for his side – he possesses a similar air of grace on the ball, even at the tender age of 18.
Indeed, it seems that Tonali is almost purposefully cultivating the aura of Pirlo, who retired from the game in 2017. His long dark hair mimics the 116-time capped World Cup winner, who also started his career at Brescia as a teenager.
It is not, however, a comparison that has been universally welcomed.
“Sandro Tonali is Sandro Tonali, he’s not the new Pirlo, it’s the opposite,” agent Roberto La Florio said. “While he’s close to him in terms of position on the pitch and character, labelling him ‘the new Pirlo’ can only hurt him.
“At his age Pirlo wasn’t even a regista, so if we want to exaggerate, Tonali at the same age is even stronger.”
Indeed, the ex-Juventus and AC Milan hero started his career as a No.10, though his heir apparent also occupied that position in his younger days before being moved back on the field when he switched to Brescia after his former club, Piacenza, went bankrupt.
And just as Pirlo moved on as a teenager to Inter, it seems inevitable that Tonali will depart the Serie B outfit for one of Europe’s leading clubs.
Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea is keen on the teenager, Goal understands, while a glut of Serie A sides are eager to prevent him from escaping the country, just as Marco Verratti did when he left Italy’s second tier with Pescara to join up at Paris Saint-Germain.
Juventus, Roma, Inter and Napoli all carry an interest in the youngster, too.
So impressive is his form, he has already been called up to the Italy national squad by Roberto Mancini, having bypassed the Under-21s.
“I want to stress again that he’s incredibly gifted and has clear margins for growth,” he said having called him to the squad for a Nations League clash with Portugal and then a friendly with the USA.
The former Manchester City coach believes that Tonali is more than just a playmaker, though.
“In Brescia, he makes the play, but he has the physical qualities to play off the left or right,” he argued.
The teenager has already proven his ability to perform in Italy’s second tier. Having debuted in August 2017, he has established himself as a first-team regular, playing 12 times in Serie B so far this season while contributing a goal and four assists.
It was, however, on the international scene where his talent truly caught the eye. Playing for Italy Under-19s in last summer’s European Championship, he was one of the outstanding players in the age bracket, with his passing abilities, in particular, making him a standout.
Given that the player himself sees his reference point as Gennaro Gattuso, it should come as little surprise that he has a hard-nosed edge to his game. He is more physical than Pirlo, more aggressive and energetic, with a love of a hard tackle.
Clubs hoping to lure him away in January, though, are liable to be disappointed, for the down-to-earth youngster has promised to stay put until the summer at least.
“I’m not thinking about moving to another club and I won’t think about it until the end of this season,” he has said.
And of the comparisons with Pirlo?
“I don’t feel the pressure. I’m happy with it, appreciate it, but nothing more,” he stated.
Only time will tell if he can go on to enjoy a career similar in stature to a player, who won six Scudetti, two Champions League and a World Cup, as well as captivating audiences all over the globe with his stylish brand of football.
He is, indeed, a huge name to live up to.