Sunday Dec 08, 2019  
  21/11/2011: The Bite - Waiting on Prandelli to Call
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In the summer mercato, Lazio had a unique bargaining chip. Their status as being one of the best teams in Serie A was alluring enough but the promise of first-team football was too lucrative for many players to refuse. Miroslav Klose, cast aside at Bayern Munich, saw Lazio as his gateway to Euro 2012 and snatched at the opportunity of regular playing time. Djibril Cissé, prolific in debt-ridden Greece was added to the transfer list by the Panathanaikos hierarchy as they desperately sought cash in their hands. Despite receiving offers from a host of clubs, Cissé chose Lazio, believing the club to hold the cards that could play him into Euro 2012. Federico Marchetti, summoned to the Sardinian stands by the utterly nutty Massimo Cellino held the same ambition to make the Azzurri squad for Euro 2012. He was given a lifeline by Lazio who needed to plug the gap left by Uruguay's Fernando Muslera who chose Galatasaray as the next stepping stone on his path to arguable success. However, Marchetti's ambition evaded the press, the same reporters who made him a scapegoat for Italy's disastrous World Cup campaign last year when he deputised for the renowned Gianluigi Buffon and made only one save as he watched the ball fly past him on four occasions. Covering himself in glory he did not, but it is hard to hold him accountable for the failings of that particular squad.

Fast forward to November 2011 and Marchetti has once again outlined his desire to return to the Azzurri fold. This time, the media are less inclined to criticise the ex-Cagliari goalkeeper. Marchetti has been instrumental to Lazio's success this season, producing a series of man of the match displays, not least with his string of saves in the Stadio San Paolo on Saturday evening. Napoli peppered the goal only to find themselves come unstuck as Marchetti answered each and every question posed and this comes only days after Gianlugi Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu and Morgan De Sanctis have returned from international duty with Italy.

Cesare Prandelli continues to overlook the Lazio goalkeeper. Last season, he had an excuse as Marchetti failed to get any game time as Cagliari president Cellino punished the former AlbinoLeffe man for submitting a transfer request but excuses are fast running out for Prandelli. As yet there is no sign of a call-up and neither should one be expected. The ex-Fiorentina coach trusts the often injured Gianluigi Buffon and who wouldn't given his pedigree. However, his alternatives are questionable. Salvatore Sirigu is young and certainly promising, but he has found himself in France with PSG after Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini sold him for peanuts having openly criticised him last season and often blaming him solely for poor results. Morgan De Sanctis is undeniably an excellent goalkeeper, but he was an excellent goalkeeper last century when he lined out for Udinese and twelve years down the line, he is hardly one for the future. At 28, Marchetti is still some way off being finished. In fact, he is probably a year or two off his peak and you cannot help but feel that Prandelli is potentially missing the boat. On the other hand, Lazio look set to profit.

Question marks do remain over his actual ability. He failed to establish himself earlier in his career as he was constantly loaned out to clubs in the lower leagues by his owners, Torino. He spent his early years in Turin, growing up within their youth system but financial woes forced them to let go of one of their best prospects and AlbinoLeffe subsequently pounced on Marchetti. He carved out his reputation in Serie B having spent a season in 'D' with Biellese. He was named the best goalkeeper of the 2007-08 Serie B season beating a certain Gianluigi Buffon. Ironically, it was Buffon he made his Serie B debut against as AlbinoLeffe held the archrivals of Marchetti's old club to a 1-1 draw. The performance did not go unnoticed and Marchetti eventually landed in Sardinia in 2009. It was a gamble on Cellino's part but it paid off as he was arguably the best goalkeeper in the 2009-10 Serie A season and ultimately fetched Cagliari five million euro.

Marchetti's emergence as a top level goalkeeper coincides with a near-fatal experience in 2005, when he and two of his colleagues at Pro Vercelli were involved in a car crash. Marchetti was almost killed and claims to have seen the Virgin Mary in the aftermath. This accident hit Marchetti hard as two of his close friends, Andrea and Francy tragically died in a similar accident. Their names are tattooed on his left arm and the prayer 'Ave Maria' is tattooed on his right. Marchetti believes these events gave him the mental strength to accompany his incredible physical strength and mould him into the footballer he is today.

Gianluigi Buffon has named Marchetti as the 'natural successor' to his Azzurri throne but Marchetti has never welcomed such comparisons. The similarities between the two are striking though. There are many types of goalkeepers out there and Lazio have had their fair share of them. You have eccentrics, the Juan Pablo Carrizo's of this world who force their way into the international setup with eccentric displays full of the sublime, the brilliant and the simply ridiculous. You also have shotstoppers, such as Fernando Muslera, players who win points with super saves but players who, like the eccentrics, are far from reliable. Nevertheless, they force their way into the international setup with magnificent saves alone. Finally, you have commanders like Albano Bizzarri, wily old heads who boss the box with their experience but never get the recognition they deserve. Angelo Peruzzi was a commander.

Like Buffon, Marchetti is the perfect mix of the eccentric, the shotstopper and the commander. The eccentric came out in this season's derby win when the goalkeeper ran the length of the pitch to celebrate Lazio's last-gasp winner with his teammates, only to run all the way back to his box as the final whistle was not blown. Thirty seconds later, he was en route to the Curva Nord, tearing the Lazio jersey from his body as he screamed at the Lazio faithful. The shotstopper appeared when Lazio travelled to Florence and let Fiorentina dictate the play. Marchetti kept the biancocelesti in the game before Lazio grabbed the winner at the death. On Saturday evening, the commander turned up as Marchetti turned in a scintillating display and almost single-handedly won Lazio the point as he stamped his authority on the game and kept the clean sheet.

Many are skeptical, after all, he did spend last season in the stands and has submitted transfer requests at both Torino and Cagliari. However, Marchetti is ambitious and driven and this Lazio has to show that she is equally ambitious and driven and can give this unearthed gem exactly what he wants. If he continues like this, he will be in the Azzurri squad for Euro 2012 and who knows, maybe Buffon's gloves will prove to be the perfect fit for Marchetti when the Juventus stopper decides to hang them up. Lazio fans have been craving to see an Azzurri number one between their sticks once again. It could happen. It should happen.

(Cathal Mullan)

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