We always talk about players primarily in terms of how they determine victory and defeat on the field. Success is the fuel that the media thrive on, the nourishment by which they grow. Today we are going to talk about a player who has embraced values which transcend the polished sheen of trophies, and who has consequently been denied the saurian attention of the media. Most of the public will be less familiar with this player than with other prominent Azzurrini such as Sebastian Giovinco or Mario Balotelli. Today we are going to talk about Andrea Russotto.
Russotto was born in Rome, on 25 May 1988. His evolution in the youth camps of Lazio quickly earned him distinction as a peculiar offensive player, one of a kind which does not emerge very often – Russotto is a trequartista, a typology of footballer which is not a midfielder, not a forward, and something more than a mere compromise between the two. The role implies starting in the trequarti, a term which refers to the space three-quarters of the way from one end of the pitch to the adversary goal. It requires great technical versatility, a strong shot from distance and, above all, tremendous passing skills and vision. The most famous trequartista in modern Italian football is of course Francesco Totti, despite his recent metamorphosis into a forward, and Russotto is the young player amid the Azzurrini who most resembles the Roman icon. This is ironic, because the junior footballer supports Lazio with a passion which seldom belongs to the contemporary age. “If I were to receive an offer from Roma,” he once declared in an interview, “I wouldn’t even consider it.” The statement was made at a time when Russotto was playing for Bellinzona, a team in the lowly Swiss league, and Roma were second-best in Serie A and climbing the Champions League steps, so it denotes an integrity of notable proportions.
Said integrity is precisely the reason why Russotto has encountered difficulties in affirming himself so far. The young man did not move to Bellinzona because he could not cut it in the Lazio ranks – he moved there as an act of defiance. “When I was at Lazio, I was approached by a representative of the Gea,” he declared in 2005. The Gea was an organisation of football agents in Italy, found less than a year after Russotto’s public declarations to be heavily involved in the Calciopoli scandal. “He told me,” the young player continued, “that if I didn’t tie myself to them I could not have a career. So I took my stuff and left.” Time proved the boy to be right and Gea to be an organisation bordering on football mafia, though Russotto gained no benefit from his act of honesty other than his own moral satisfaction. His jumbled career led Napoli to pick him up as a young promise last year, but none of the Coaches gave him trust and he saw very little playing time. Recently he has been returned from the loan to Bellinzona, and his future is now something of a mystery. Udinese apparently expressed some interest, but nothing is certain as of now.
The story of the move to Switzerland paints the image of a footballer who possesses perhaps the rarest quality in his trade – the courage to face obscurity. It takes a real man to act on that, and it takes more than a champion to prove oneself a man when one is the age of a boy. Maturation implies sacrifice, and Russotto is paying for his resistance to the seduction of glory with an extensive waiting time for his international pronouncement. Though he has already played his part with the Azzurrini (it was there that his skills first came to public attention), the limited playing time and stiff competition he encountered at Napoli mean that he will have to wait until after the World Cup to have his say with the senior team. Unlike Sebastian Giovinco or Davide Santon, Russotto has no chance of making it to South Africa. Unlike Mario Balotelli or Luca Cigarini, he is unlikely to be there for Euro 2012 either. Russotto will be a late bloomer. But when he blooms, expect pyrotechnics.
Russotto is a talent, there can be no doubt about that. His performances with the U-21 national team showed flashes of skill that do not belong to common players, as well as an advanced sense of positioning and vision. As importantly, Russotto is as selfless on the pitch as he is off it. His solutions are always oriented towards team-play and collective success, never towards personal glory. Even among senior players this is an uncommon and precious quality, and it is this defining characteristic that truly makes Russotto a valuable asset amid the wealth of promising juvenile forwards in the Italian ranks. There are more young strikers and supporting strikers in the peninsula than the Coaches know what to do with, but an authentic, traditional trequartista with all the technical attributes and the altruism to put them to their best use – now that is a rarity. The closest thing to an alternative is of course represented by Giovinco, but the Juventus phenomenon is more conventionally a half-winger or seconda punta, given his individual one-on-one skills and his ephemeral physicality.
The difficulty about trequartisti is that they are very tactically unwieldy. If you field a trequartista, then you must build the team around him. This means that if Russotto is to affirm himself in that position – in whichever club team he turns out to play next, and subsequently with the Azzurri – then he will have to be truly exceptional. Otherwise he may be employed in other positions, where in all likelihood he will have to act as no more than a versatile substitute for a range of other role-players.
It is too early to say whether Russotto really will be a future star or whether he shall remain an unfulfilled promise. The kid has not been given enough opportunities to prove himself, and we have not been given enough chances to examine him (though what we have seen so far is certainly very suggestive). What is certain is that his career, like his personality, will say no to compromise – a player so idiosyncratic in his attributes (and character) as Russotto can only end up as either the heart of the team he plays in and the focal point of all their game, or as an evanescent figure subsisting in the grey twilight of the reserve team. This year and the next will tell us which destiny awaits this mysterious young talent.
Azzurrini Future Stars