Serie A

Italy's Hidden Star Ready To Step Out Of Buffon's Shadow

 • by Adam Digby
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Hugging club-mate and Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuaín as the final whistle blew at the Etihad Stadium, Gigi Buffon might well have played his last game for the Italian national side. He could yet feature one final time, a game against the Netherlands in June fittingly to be held at Juventus Stadium, but sooner or later the Azzurri will have to face a future without their iconic skipper.

In their second outing of the recent international break, Italy opted to field Gianluigi Donnarumma of AC Milan between the posts, but on the bench both in both games was Mattia Perin of Genoa.

Seemingly third-choice for his country, perhaps it is playing in relative obscurity for the Rossoblu that has seen him widely overlooked but, as those who regularly watch the 25-year-old in action can attest, that is a huge mistake.

While Buffon is a legendary figure recognised across the globe and Donnarumma is the Mino Raiola client coveted by a wide selection of Europe’s biggest clubs, Perin is unquestionably the forgotten man. Over the last few seasons, he has quietly but confidently blossomed into an excellent shot-stopper, joining the Genoa youth sector as long ago as 2008 and making his first team debut just three years later.

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Loan spells with Padova and Pescara followed, getting in plenty of practice with the latter thanks to Zdenek Zeman’s aversion to defending and the club would finish rock bottom of Serie A.

Perin returned to Genoa following that ill-fated 2012/13 campaign and has been their first-choice goalkeeper ever since, boasting 170 top flight appearances and playing almost 200 games in all competitions.

That experience at such a young age has given him an ability to shrug off mistakes and not worry too much when he concedes a goal, able to refocus and deliver a sound performance in even the most difficult of circumstances. Adding to that air of resiliency, Perin has also fought back from two long-term injuries, displaying both the courage and the requisite skill to win over some extremely high profile fans.

“I consider him to be the best Italian in his role and that’s not just at club level, but also for the national team,” legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff told Italian newspaper Il Mattino recently.

“Perin is a hot property on the market because he really represents the Italian school of goalkeeping. He is a classic No.1 who keeps out goals and has good passing technique too.”

The 1982 World Cup winner is certainly right about the Genoa Captain’s ability. His team currently sit 13th in the table, yet only two goalkeepers have made more saves than Perin’s tally of 101 according to FoxSoccer.com statistics.

His total of ten clean sheets is bettered only by Napoli’s Pepe Reina (15), Alisson Becker of Roma (13) and Inter Milan’s Samir Handanovič (12), although it must be noted that Juventus duo Buffon and Wojciech Szczesny have also shared a staggering 20 between them.

Yet as Zoff explained, there is much more to Perin than the ability to make saves, with his speedy and accurate distribution essential to Genoa’s up-tempo counter-attacking style. He has connected with an average of 31 passes per 90 minutes, which is the fourth highest figure among Serie A goalkeepers, and his mark of 10.4 accurate long balls per game is bettered by only two other players.

It appears he is being largely ignored on the transfer market, however, with Napoli and Roma the only clubs mentioned as possible destinations.

Perhaps the horror stories of Massimo Taibi’s time with Manchester United have caused Premier League clubs to ignore the qualities of Italy’s goalkeepers, but the peninsula’s rich tradition of producing high class players in that role means they should certainly reconsider.

Perin’s contract with Genoa expires in June 2019, but the club are in no rush to discuss a possible sale. “So far there are no negotiations, because until we secure our Serie A status we won’t be talking about anything with anyone,” sporting director Giorgio Perinetti said on Radio Centro Suono Sport earlier this month.

“But Perin is a goalkeeper who can play in a great team, that much is certain. After that, I don’t know which of those great teams would be interested in him.”

With a current annual salary of just €1.1million (net), and at a club who routinely sells their best players, they definitely should be interested. Mattia Perin has proven he should be on the radar of any top club looking for a new goalkeeper this summer.

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