NAME: Nicola Leali
PLACE OF BIRTH: Castiglione delle Stiviere (Mantua)
HEIGHT: 190 cm
WEIGHT: 80 kg
DATE OF BIRTH: February 17, 1993
You seemingly only need travel from Carrara to Castiglione delle Stiviere (a little under three hours by car) to find the future goalkeeper of the Italy national team. The heir to Gianluigi Buffon's throne comes from the province of Mantua, is just 18 years of age, and Juventus seem to have plans for him already. In Brescia, Nicola Leali's star is shining bright.
BORN WITH GLOVES ON - Raised in Cavriana (a little town of around 4,000 inhabitants, around six miles from his native Castiglione), Leali started his football career with his local team. There he was mentored by Sergio Girardi, the ex-Mantova, Inter, Palermo, Genoa and Ravenna goalkeeper, and it was he who taught the youngster the basics of the trade, helping to demonstrate exactly what it means to play between the sticks.
After primary school, he was spotted by a Brescia scout, who took him to Voluntas, the branch of the Rondinelle which once boasted a young Andrea Pirlo. By the age of 12, his path to the club's first team was already being marked out, and at 16 he made his debut for their Primavera side. At this stage, his name became known across the country as a star of the future, but this had no effect on Leali's development, as he continued to behave off the pitch with a sense of professionalism, humility and studiousness.
In 2010 there came an approach from AC Milan, the team he had supported growing up. The Rossoneri offered Brescia Ä2 million (£1.65m) for 50 per cent of the goalkeeper's rights, but Rondinelle president Gino Corioni turned down the bid. By November of the same year, Leali sat on the bench in Serie A for the first time, and the following month, ahead of the clash with Sampdoria, he was awarded the title of Best Goalkeeper in the Primavera championship for season 2009-10.
Taking over | Leali is tipped to become one of Italy's great goalkeepers
In January 2011, Juventus showed their first serious interest, with Napoli also linked to a potential move, but Leali remained in Brescia and went on to make his Serie A bow against Cesena, aged just 18 years and three months. A near-perfect debut (featuring a superb save from a Marco Parolo free-kick) was spoiled by a single goal - through no fault of Leali's - and a defeat for the Biancoblu. It emerged afterwards that one of the watching parties in the crowd was a scout working for Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
FLIRTING WITH THE OLD LADY - In the summer, Corioni rejected all of the proposals which arrived regarding Leali. Napoli and Juventus were once more at the front of the queue for the man now able to boast occupation of the No. 1 shirt for the Italy Under-19 team. Instead, Leali was entrusted with the starting role in Brescia's Serie B campaign, and he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands, despite the club's struggles. The youngster has become one of the Rondinelle's best players so far this season, justifying further the attentions of the country's bigger clubs.
In the autumn, Sporting CP added their name to the list of admirers, requesting information on Leali and team-mate Bartosz Salamon. Also in the mix were Udinese, but Juventus remained favourites, with talk of a Ä5m (£4.12m) transfer fee and a contract until 2016 set to be offered. Recently there has also been interest from Catania, who are on the lookout for backup for first-choice shot-stopper Mariano Andujar. But, as confirmed by his agent Graziano Battistini to Goal.com, the future of Leali seems to be strictly tied to the Bianconeri.
HIGH PRAISE Ė "I have the new Buffon in my hands," gloats Corioni. No less flattering is the opinion of former Juve and Brescia coach Gigi Maifredi: ďWe're talking about goalkeeping royalty here. He has had an extraordinary education [he went to the prestigious Istituto Don Milani di Montichiari]. You will see him make history in Italian football. In fact, watching him play helps you to understand just how special the 18-year-old is. With a slender body, an assuredness between the posts, a great sense of positioning, excellent elasticity and catlike reflexes, he is very reminiscent of the young Buffon." It seems Leali is destined for big things.