Last season, the name on most Serie A follower’s lips was Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy. The Rossoneri had been decimated with the sale and departure of several key players, including Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gatusso, and Thiago Silva. Despite the money gained by selling Ibrahimović and Silva to cash-rich side PSG, the replacements brought in were nothing really to write home about, let alone of the calibre needed to make the squad competitive in the league and across Europe.
Hence, no one would have expected that the then 19-year-old El Shaarawy, who had only been plying his trade with the Milan giants for just one season, would be the one to step up and fill the very large shoes left behind by the big Swede. Yet, when the team was floundering and experiencing their worst start in over eight decades, longer than most fans and even their parents had even been on this planet, the youngster nicknamed il Faraone due to his partial Egyptian heritage suddenly emerged as his team’s saviour, with his goals often making the difference to earn his side a point, or in some cases, three during a time that every positive result gained was seen as a huge milestone.
In fact, so prolific was the Genoa-bred youth during the first half of the 2012-2013 season that he was actually leading the league’s scoring charts, ahead of more experienced strikers more than a decade his senior. But following the Christmas break, which coincided with the arrival of Azzurri teammate Mario Balotelli, El Shaarway’s goals quickly dried up, leading some to speculate that he had become overshadowed by his older compatriot or was, more credibly, suffering from burnout, having carried the team on his young shoulders for the earlier part of their league campaign. It is important to recognize though, that despite his dip in form, were it not for his impressive goal haul, Balotelli would have had a more difficult time in helping the Rossoneri clinch a third place finish and a Champions League berth–something that, given their dismal start, would have been unthinkable at the start of the season.
This season though, has been nothing short of a nightmare for the young attacker, with injuries keeping him on the sidelines for much of his team’s campaign. And overall, despite some good performances, Balotelli has largely been unable to inspire his side in the way that they completed their miraculous turnaround last season, with Milan looking like they might clinch a spot in the Europa League, but even that is not a guarantee. However, a new teenage star has emerged this season, and his goals just might make the difference between making a return to Serie B or staying in the upper echelons for another season. Indeed, Domenico Berardi’s performances with Serie A debutants Sassuolo, where he’s on loan from Juventus have impressed many of the league’s followers.
With 16 goals, the 19-year-old is on course to win the U-21 Golden Boot but what is even more impressive is the records that he’s set so far in his first season in Italian football’s top flight. His poker against Milan that effectively sealed Massimiliano Allegri’s departure is something that still probably makes Diavolo fans shudder at how their side threw away a two goal lead to be defeated 4-3. More significant is that he became the second youngest player ever in the league’s history to score four goals–after Silvio Piola–but also no player, not the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or any of the world’s top strikers both present and past have ever scored four in one game against the club that has won seven Champions League titles.
Berardi also finds himself in some highly esteemed company, as the only other player to grab a duo of hat-tricks and a quartet in any of Europe’s biggest leagues is Liverpool’s Luis Suárez, who could clinch the Golden Boot should he find the back of the net against Newcastle United on Sunday. And not surprisingly, for a team that has just scored 38 goals, his 16 goals and four assists mean that he’s been involved in over 50% of the Neroverdi’s output this season, with two of his multi-goal hauls coming against some of Italy’s biggest teams–the aforementioned Milan and against Fiorentina on May 6th.
But despite his hot streak in front of goal, he is prone to showing his young age and immaturity, having already racked up nine yellow cards and one red so far, something that is perhaps a bit uncomfortably reminiscent of Balotelli’s tendency to occasionally let his emotions get the better of him and react in a petulant manner. Still, given that Berardi is not yet even in his 20’s, it would be short-sighted for anyone to assume that his disciplinary issues are something that will continue to follow him as he matures over the course of his career.
What though yet remains to be seen is how he performs next season, and whether he’ll be able to replicate the same blistering form that has everyone talking about the young lad from Carati and even some quarters calling for him to get a call-up to the senior Azzurri squad. Or conversely, if he’ll just be a one-season wonder and next time around, fans will be talking about the next young striking sensation coming up through the ranks.
Until then, only time will tell.