Mercurial midfielder Andre Pirlo’s influence over Italian football has been substantial over the last ten years, with the cultured deep-lying playmaker exuding world-class and breathtaking technique.
However, with the Juventus star turning 36 later this month, the veteran’s club and country will be looking for a long-term successor.
Pirlo has this week admitted that a move abroad could be on the cards at the end of the current campaign, while the physical demands of playing international football could well become too much for the ageing star.
Italian football aficionados have been preparing for the day that Pirlo would no longer be the man to orchestrate affairs for the Azzurri, with Marco Verratti consistently touted as the superlative midfielder’s heir.
The Paris Saint-Germain star has undergone a similar positional switch as his elder statesman did, moving from a role as a creative attacking midfielder to become a deep-lying playmaker in front of his side’s defence.
The hype surrounding Verratti has been palpable for a number of years and in the last 12 months he was really started to live up to his billing.
A graduate of the modest Pescara youth academy, the star burst onto the scene at the Stadio Adriatico as a 16-year-old and quickly became one of the most promising young players in European football.
Despite never playing in Serie A, Verratti’s impressive showings in the Italian second tier and at national age-grade level ensured that a scramble ensued for his services in 2012.
The opportunity to move to some of Italy’s most prestigious clubs was surely on the table for the midfielder, with a switch to the French capital instead raising some eyebrows.
Although PSG were making headlines for their capture of international superstars such as proven winner Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Silva, Verratti’s purchase was a shrewd move by the Ligue 1 powerhouses.
In three seasons with the Parc des Princes side, the Italian has really come into his own and turned raw promise into accomplished performances.
The 22-year-old has also been consistently called up to the senior Azzurri squad and played alongside Pirlo at the World Cup in the summer.
In the longer term, it appears that Verratti has the necessary skillset to replace the respected veteran in the national side, but his style of play is slightly different.
Pirlo was never graced with many physical attributes, whereas Verratti is a tireless worker that brings real energy and urgency to his team’s midfield.
His desire to pass-and-move has become a key element to PSG’s play over recent seasons, while Verratti is also a tenacious tackler.
As yet, the young star does not quite have the poise or expansive footballing intelligence of the man that he will be charged with replacing – but very few in the game do.
Verratti’s discipline is something that needs to be improved, as he misses a lot of games through suspension due to the collection of consistent yellow cards.
He also had not scored in his first two campaigns with the French side but has started to chip in with the occasion strike from deep this term.
For the foreseeable future Verratti seems set to stay in Paris and will have the opportunity to challenge for silverware on a perennial basis.
However, the return to Italy will surely be in his mind at some point, with Juventus looking like the most likely destination.
It is a fair statement to suggest that Verratti is one of the most exciting young midfielders in the European game and he can now go on to become one of the best if he continues at his current rate of progression.
Replacing a player as emblematic, influential and gifted as Andrea Pirlo is an unenviable task, but it appears that Italian football may well have a worthy successor in the form of the PSG star.