Young Italian forwards are something of a rare breed as mainstays of Serie A strike-forces. Save for the explosive Mario Balotelli’s continual outings for Inter, Fiorentina cast-off Pablo Osvaldo making headway at Bologna and 19-year-old Ettore Mendicino at Lazio, there is little exposure for young Italian attacking talent. On the final weekend of the season, in which 39 recognised front men took part, the average age of Serie A’s goal-getters was 27.23, hardly a job that reflects kindly on Italy’s young talent.
One man bucking this trend, and playing his part in bringing down this age gap, is new Atlanta hitman Robert Acquafresca. The 22-year-old has managed to accumulate a huge number of first-team appearances with some of the league’s smaller clubs and enhanced his reputation as one of the potential bright lights of Italian football. A regular fixture of Pierluigi Casiraghi’s Azzurrini, Acquafresca has also shown that he has a great part to play in the long term formation of la Nazionale’s frontline.
Turin-born to an Italian father and Polish mother, the dead-eyed finisher began his career at his hometown club Torino before off-the-field financial difficulties meant that all of the Toro squad was released in the summer of 2005 leaving Acquafresca out in the wilderness. Aware of the considerable talent without a home, Inter Milan picked up the 17-year-old, but immediately farmed him out as part of a co-ownership deal to newly promoted Treviso, where he would make a mark on the Veneto-based club in Serie B netting 11 times in 35 appearances during 2006/07 season. Pundits remarked that Acquafresca was showing considerable talent away from the watching eyes of Serie A and had even attracted interest from abroad, with rumours circulating that Manchester United were tracking the Biancocelesti top scorer. Having suffered the heart ache of his beloved Granata being unable to keep him and seemingly away from the affections of Inter, Acquafresca did everything in his power to ensure that his name was not forgotten during his stint at Treviso.
Parent club Inter bought him outright, but only to use as a make-weight in the transfer of David Suazo from Cagliari to the San Siro in another co-ownership deal. In the first of two spells with the Sardinian club, Acquafresca bagged 10 goals from 32 games and would again be the subject of sole ownership from the champions, when Inter bought Cagliari’s 50% stake in the young Italian at the close 2007/08 season. The course of a professional footballer does not run smooth, and just as soon as Acquafresca had packed his bags to return to Milan to stake a claim for a starting shirt at the Nerazzurri he was back in Cagliari on loan. Making the most of the situation, the forward netted 14 times in 36 games over the course of last season and was adored by the Cagliari tifosi despite the continual feeling that he would rather be contesting for a place alongside Zlatan Ibrahimović than partnering Brazilian Jeda at the Stadio Sant’Elia.
True to form, Acquafresca’s return to Inter was an exceptionally brief stay and marked the fourth time that he had set foot on the Pinetina training ground only to leave again without pulling on the Nerazzurri jersey. Again, Acquafresca was part of a bigger plan and was sent to Genoa in exchange for the capture of Thiago Motta and Capocannoniere Diego Milito. It looked like il Grifone had managed to make the most of losing two of the fixtures of their over-achieving side by landing Acquafresca but their eyes were also elsewhere. Before even being properly welcomed by the Genovese, Acquafresca was on the move again and off to Bergamo as part of a deal to land Atlanta target man Sergio Floccari. This continual movement across the peninsula has done little to quell Acquafresca’s burgeoning talent and even with the prospect of his fourth employer in such a short space of time the half-Polish striker has vowed to impose himself on the Serie A scoring charts.
Said to idolise the work of Alberto Gilardino – ironic as both men received little love in Milan – Acqufresca has, without adopting a cliché, an all-round game. Good with his head, Acquafresca is able to pull away from defenders and put power onto the ball even with looping crosses. However, despite being over six foot in height, he is no bean-pole target man and has proved just as adept with his feet and quick when in behind defenders. Known for clinical finishing from close in and from penalties, Acquafresca has even expanded his game in recent years to attempt some longer-range efforts.
For evidence of his prowess, pundits and critics have little to look further than his form of the Azzurrini. After making his debut in June 2007, Acquafresca has an impressive 11 goals in 21 outings and was one of the key performers in the unsuccessful U-21 European Championships this summer, forming a good working partnership with Juventus’ Sebastian Giovinco and the irascible Balotelli, and coming second behind the prolific Swede Marcus Berg in the hunt for the tournament’s top scorer. After fully committing his future to the Azzurri, despite overtures from the Polish Football Federation, the 21-year-old certainly has a bright future on the peninsula and could even promote his chances as a very outside bet for South Africa 2010 if he continues his form in the black-and-blue of Atlanta this season. Keen to prove Inter wrong for letting him go, Acquafresca will look to form a bond with elder statesmen Simone Tiribocchi, signed from relegated Lecce, and impress under new Coach Angelo Gregucci.
However, it goes without saying that Acquafresca is still young and the Cagliari tifosi, although grateful of his two spells at the club, grew tired of both his and his agent’s outbursts about the future destination of the much sought after striker. Maybe it is unfair to level claims of immaturity at a 21-year-old but his mind certainly switched as pre-season approached and he became somewhat invisible towards the end of the last campaign, which could mean that Acquafresca will need to increase his mental fortitude if he ever intends to pull on the Azzurri jersey in the future.
Azzurrini Future Stars