In Florence, a shirt bearing the No.10 on its back leads to great expectations. “Behind me I hear the footfalls of a giant,” a young composer once said of Beethoven – and since Roberto Baggio, born and bred in the colour purple, could rightfully be called the Beethoven of Italian football, any youth product in the Fiorentina team could make that phrase his own. Federico Carraro is the first whose gait – and game – suggests that he is walking in the shadow of no-one.
The years between 1987 and 1992 have been very generous in terms of Italian forwards. Sebastian Giovinco, Mario Balotelli, Giuseppe Rossi, Robert Acquafresca, Federico Macheda, Stefano Petrucci were all born in that time span, and most of these players have already made a name for themselves. Carraro is the infant in this group of children, born in the summer of 1992 and still imberbe, or ‘beardless,’ as they would call him in Italy. Three years ago, at the age of 13, he was noticed by Fiorentina director Pantaleo Corvino for his game in the boot-camps of Padova, and the show must have been very impressive since the Viola man decided to take Carraro to Florence. Today, Corvino’s foresight has proved impeccable – young Federico was the star in last year’s Campionato Allievi Nazionali (the U-17 youth league) despite the Fiore Allievi squad offering plenty of competition, scoring a massive 29 goals in 26 games as he led la Viola to securing the title, beating Inter in the final 3-1. The figure is all the more impressive if we consider that Carraro is officially a midfielder, according to the Fiorentina site – though that label leaves room for much discussion.
Where does Carraro play? Last year he was fielded behind the forwards, as a trequartista, but his tendency to break into offensive runs, his movement on the flanks and – of course – his tremendous cool in termination suggest an intuitive talent for the position of seconda punta. In truth, attempts to categorise the kid – especially at this early stage – may prove redundant with time, as the man falls into a class of his own. Like Roberto Baggio before him, Carraro is a fantasista, that epiphanic and cornucopian role which stands essentially as a non-role. Fantasisti move everywhere and do everything on the pitch – their job is precisely to invent something which players in their role are not supposed to do, such as a striker pin-pointing a cross, a midfielder dribbling in the penalty box or a winger finding the net from distance. Carraro’s spatial range of action is already very vast, suggesting that he is particularly suitable for the role, and his technical versatility is all but amplified by the fact that he is ambidextrous. Uncharacteristically for a gifted fantasista, he is also prone to sacrifice, hard work and man-marking, making him very precious in the defensive parts of the game.
Technically speaking, the great question around Carraro is consistency. After all, if we were to go by the last season alone, we could comfortably state that this child is the brightest promise that Italian football has witnessed in years. The Fiorentina player is not only a tremendous finisher and a tactically disciplined team-player, he is also a superbly talented one-on-one dribbler. As far as first-touch ball-control (including aerial reception) and change of pace goes, no player has shown anything similar at that age since Antonio Cassano. We mentioned the number of goals he has scored as a signpost of his talent, but an even more indicative figure is offered by the fact that Carraro is the player with the greatest number of fouls against in all the junior leagues, suggesting that often the only way to stop him is represented by irregular play. The boy scores from every position – on the run, by dead balls, by penalty, from outside the box (see his recent hat-trick against the Genoa Allievi in the quarter-finals, where he gifted us with three goals of very different nature). He is even the untouchable corner-kick specialist. Moreover, he does all of this with an elegance and a grace worthy of Gianni Rivera, never failing to throw in the occasional back-heel or flicked ball to delight his audience.
So far, so good – except that one good season is not enough to draw any final conclusions. We have seen far too many young players scorch the fields on their entrance only to wane under the variables of form, injury or mind-set. Talent is an asset, but it does not beat fate, and it does not compensate for a weak heart. It will take at least another two years, starting from now, before Carraro can expect to become a starter for Fiorentina – and that is if he keeps his performances up. Otherwise you can double the waiting time to four years, and that is still impressive – Carraro would be 20 years old, which no easy age to earn a starter’s shirt in the ranks of a team as disciplined and serious as Fiorentina. This year, and on the crest of last season’s great performances, Carraro is likely to be awarded some brief apparitions with the first team. It will be something to look out for, since his final affirmation will take a little longer.
There is no doubt that Fiorentina holds great potential for Carraro. It is a club prestigious enough to offer him international experience and a meaningful arena, but not so over-blown that he will be denied the space to flourish. His ideal position is currently held by Stevan Jovetić, another young prodigy, while Alberto Gilardino – bound to be in his prime in a couple of years – makes for the perfect prima punta to flank a natural fantasista. The world is yours to conquer, Federico – try not to mess it up.
The last sentence stands as a warning to the boy as much as to those around him. In a world as raptorial and hysterical as that of modern-day football, a great deal of the best talents is often extinguished by the media rather than by their own limitations. When every word you utter, every gesture you allow yourself to make becomes a public declaration, it takes a lot of head to stay stable and engaged on the pitch. We compared Carraro to Cassano, and look where the latter’s immersion in gold-dust led him. Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi have also shown plenty of signs that no matter how good you are on the legs, you will be no-one on the pitch unless you are also strong in the heart. Carraro is at an even more delicate conjuncture than the above. Giovinco, Balotelli and other players of their kin are destined to get an Azzurri call-up – the question is only whether they will be another Roberto Baggio or another Christian Vieri. Carraro plays in a way that points to the former, but he is not even guaranteed to be the latter. Let us see if his frankly frightening light retains its luminosity over the next few years or if it dies out into the ashes of anonymity. As for you, Florence – treat him well. It is in everyone’s interest, especially your own.