The Expert: Caldara the rightful heir to Chiellini's Juventus throne
by James Horncastle at Tuesday, Feb 28 2017 13:30
As Mattia Caldara spoke to journalists in the mixed zone at the San Paolo on Saturday night, his teammate Andrea Petagna walked past and shouted: “What a player!” Leonardo Spinazzola also stopped by and asked one of the reporters: “You do know you are interviewing a fenomeno?”
Caldara was the hero of Atalanta’s 2-0 win against Napoli. La Gazzetta dello Sport rated his performance nine out of 10. He earned a perfect 10 with WhoScored.com. It was an unforgettable night. But then again, games against Napoli usually are for Caldara.
The 22-year-old made his debut for Gian Piero Gasperiniagainst the Partenopeiback in October. On that occasion, Atalanta also won and Caldara put Napoli's €32m summer signing Arkadiusz Milik in his pocket. This time around, things went even better. Not only did he help his team keep another clean sheet away to a team that had scored 36 goals in its last 11 games, Caldara got a brace.
His first was typical of Atalanta. Predictably it arrived from a corner. I say predictably because it was the 10th goal they have scored from corners this season. Caldara's second, though, was entirely unexpected. At this stage in the game Atalanta found themselves down to 10 men. Franck Kessie had been shown a second yellow card for a tactical foul and it looked like Napoli were about to lay siege on the Atalanta goal.
Maurizio Sarri threw on Milik and Leonardo Pavoletti, an €18m signing from Genoa in January, to really pile the pressure on Atalanta’s defence. Not only did it hold firm, it struck back. With20 minutes to go, Caldara recovered the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and passed it out to Atalanta’s marauding left-back Spinazzola. The way ahead for Spina was practically clear.
“When I gave him the ball I was sure he was going to go all the way,” Caldara told the pink, “No one was going to stop him. So I followed.” As Spinazzola approached Napoli’s box, he spotted Caldara jogging into the middle and lifted a delightful little cross over to him. Caldara then hit a volley that was more in the style of a centre-forward than a centre-back. “I don’t know how I did it, but I scored,” he said.
La Gazzetta were quick to draw comparisons with Gaetano Scirea, specifically his foray forward in the 1982 World Cup final at the Bernabeu. Only Scirea didn’t actually score. He famously exchanged passes with fellow defender Beppe Bergomi in West Germany’s penalty area before setting up Marco Tardelli to begin one of the most famous celebrations in World Cup history.
Of course, the parallels don’t stop there. Scirea moved from Atalanta to Juventus in 1974 just as Caldara will in 2018. The deal was done last month for €16m plus another €4m in add-ons. Juventus have beaten the competition to one of Italy’s brightest talents once again. Caldara has understandably downplayed the Scirea comparisons. “Obviously it pushes me on and it’s a source of great motivation, but it’s also excessive.” While they play the same position and share the same quiet and reserved character - Caldara prefers Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the PlayStation - this is only his first season in Serie A and we shouldn’t be so quick to measure him against Scirea.
Daniele Rugani also put up with similar comparisons when he made the switch from Empoli to Juventus 18 months ago. At the time he had one peculiar thing in common with Scirea. He never got booked.In fact Rugani went 53 games in Serie A without picking up a single yellow card.
Scirea, it'sclear, continues to be the gold standard by which all defenders are judged at Juventus not only for how he played but, perhaps most crucially of all, for how he represented Juventus as well, and two years ago, Giorgio Chiellini even penned a book about him entitled ‘The Black and White Angel’. Perhaps he’ll give Caldara a copy.
Caldara used to have a poster of Chiellini on his bedroom wall. Incidentally, they are the only defenders to score a brace in Serie A this season. Caldara is also the league’s top scoring defender (5) and is second to Gareth McAuley and Sergio Ramos (both 6) of all centre-backs in Europe’s top five leagues this season. But for all his admiration for Chiellini, and Caldara’s status as his anointed successor, the player he looked up to most as a boy was Alessandro Nesta. “That’s why I wear the No.13.” Caldara explained. “I used to love his elegance and his ability to see things before others could.”
Caldara can see the future as well. He believes the arrangement Atalanta and Juventus have struck is ideal for his development; this way he gets another 18 months to soak up everything il Maestro Gasperini can teach him, while playing for his local club, the team he supports. By the time the big step-up comes it perhaps won't feel so big anymore. “For a kid like me I think the sooner you know your destiny the better. Knowing what the future holds gives you peace of mind and allows you to live your life without any distractions.”
Integrating gradually at Juventus, just as Rugani is now, is no problem for Caldara although it's unlikely he will have to be as patient as his future centre-back partner in Turin. Come 2018, Andrea Barzagli will be 37 and out of contract and Chiellini will be 34.
Asked how he felt, while waiting to be interviewed himself, as Juventus general manager Beppe Marotta told Mediaset Premium: “Caldara will be our future starter,” Caldara said: “I got goosebumps. How could I not when imagining myself playing in the best defence [in Italy].” By knocking Napoli definitively out of the title race on Saturday, the joke was Juventus aren't having to wait until 2018 for Caldara to make an impact. On the contrary, it already feels like he is playing for them