Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa turned to his brightest prospect Federico Bernardeschi in a bid to fill a void on the right-hand side of midfield and he has taken to the role with relish.
Bernardeschi came through the Viola ranks as a traditional No.10 – or trequartista – whilst spending a successful season out on loan in that same position with Serie B outfit Crotone in 2013-14, as they reached the promotion play-offs.
His 12 league goals scored during that campaign showcased the vast promise possessed by the youngster, but an ankle fracture suffered in November 2014 severely restricted his involvement when back at parent club Fiorentina.
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However, he has rebounded spectacularly this term under the tutelage of new boss Sousa, but not necessarily in his preferred central attacking midfield role.
Instead, he has been asked to fulfil a variety of jobs on both flanks and through the middle, before finally finding his current niche as a right wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
His form this season has caught the attention of assorted European heavyweights Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United and Bayern Munich over the past few months.
The 21-year-old’s dribbling and passing ability makes him an effective attacking weapon, while his relentless energy allows him to track back in order to help out defensively.
Three assists from his opening 15 Serie A appearances of 2015-16 placed him within the top 30 divisional creators at that point, but it is his work-rate and willingness to embrace a versatile approach which makes him such a useful option for Portuguese tactician Paulo Sousa.
Bernardeschi also enjoys cutting inside from the right, then manoeuvring into a position where he can utilise his favoured left foot in space, thus presenting a potent threat that saw him grab two of his three Europa League goals to date at Basel.
One slight issue he has encountered this campaign is his penchant for picking up needless bookings, which led to a one-match ban after seeing five yellow cards by January 6.
But, the Tuscan native should improve his disciplinary record over time with increased maturity, so perhaps this shouldn’t prompt any long-term concern for Sousa.
It’ll be a tough task for current employers Fiorentina to retain Bernadeschi’s services until the end of his contract in 2019, with some of Europe’s biggest clubs reportedly chasing the signature of arguably the most promising footballer based in Serie A.
Mercifully, a January transfer would appear unlikely; Bayern Munich are changing coach at the end of this season, there's ongoing uncertainty over Louis van Gaal's future at Manchester United, plus Fiorentina are currently locked in a title battle with another potential suitor Juventus.
Barcelona admitted they’d been following the player last month, but say that they have no need at this juncture for a young man who performs the same duties as several of the stars already ensconced within the Blaugrana ranks.
Undoubtedly, though, Bernardeschi boasts the abundant skill and talent required to make it on to the very highest stage for both club and country, and it could be an entirely different story come this summer.
Having been capped regularly at Under-21 level by Italy, he will hope that his splendid form for Fiorentina will end in fairytale fashion with a spot in the Azzurri squad for Euro 2016, while introducing at least one more major trophy to the Viola cabinet before any possible departure.
Should Bernardeschi consider a move away from Fiorentina if a big club comes calling? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!
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