Domenico Berardi's 2013-14 season was enough to have Juventus fans drooling.
The three-time defending champions co-own the 19-year-old forward, and his stats were quite impressive. According to WhoScored.com, Berardi scored 16 times and added six assists in 29 games, 26 of them starts.
That line is all the more mind-boggling when you realize that last season was his first top-flight season—and only his second senior season as a professional.
With every goal Berardi scored, Juve fans desperate for wingers to plug into a potential 4-3-3 system clamored ever louder for the dynamic youngster to don the black and white stripes in 2014-15.
Tantalizing as the prospect of Berardi being a Juve player next year is, the fact of the matter is Juve's prized prospect could use another year away from the club. The team will be trying for a club-record fourth-straight title and will be looking to improve on disappointing results in European competition. The spotlight that would be on the teenager would be intense.
Better to have him grow up a bit more somewhere where he won't have to compete for playing time. If Berardi's statements at an end-of-the-season function a week and a half ago are to be believed, that place will again be Sassuolo.
Whether he does stay with the Neroverdi or go elsewhere, there are two key areas in which Berardi must improve in order to truly fulfill his substantial potential.
The first area is consistency.
While Berardi's 16 goals were tied for the fifth-highest total in the league, 10 of those goals came in a combined three games. The first was November 3 against Sampdoria when he potted three in a 4-3 win. Then came his magnum opus—a virtuoso four-goal performance on January 12 that saw the team down AC Milan by a 4-3 count and end the tenure of manager Massimiliano Allegri. The last was a late-season upset of Fiorentina that saw another hat trick and an assist to go with it in a 4-3 victory that kept Sassuolo in the top flight.
For the record, my own research determined that only four other men scored three hat tricks this season: Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi (who had four).
That's heady company. The difference between Berardi and those venerable names is that they kept on scoring outside their hat tricks.
Suarez's stats from WhoScored, for example, show he scored six braces in addition to his three hat tricks and scored in 18 of his 33 games this year—a whopping 54 percent of his matches. Ibrahimovic scored in 22 of his 41 appearances between Ligue 1 and the Champions League—an equally impressive 53.6 percent.
Berardi, on the other hand, scored in only nine of 29 games this year—31 percent.
If Berardi is going to fulfill his potential and become the kind of elite player that Suarez, Zlatan, CR7 and Messi are—and that Alessandro Del Piero was in his prime—he is going to have to learn to spread the goals around. Hat tricks are flashy, but to be an elite goalscorer it's sometimes better to score one goal in four or five straight games than four goals in one with nothing else around.
It must be pointed out in Berardi's defense that playing on one of the worst defensive teams in Serie A meant that Berardi didn't get nearly as much service as the elite players I've mentioned. Indeed, Berardi only managed 3.1 shots per game this season as opposed to Zlatan's 4.8, Messi's 5.1, Suarez's 5.5 and Ronaldo's whopping 7.1
Still, the elite scorers make their shots count—something Berardi has to do a better job of over the course of an entire season.
The second major area Berardi must improve is discipline.
This is likely a product of his youth as much as anything else, but it's held him back at times. He was booked 10 times this season—enough to garner a pair of suspensions. His foolish straight red against Parma less than a minute after coming on as a sub saw him miss another game and got him dropped from that month's qualifiers for the European Under-21 Championship.
In a November blog post on ESPNFC, Mina Rzouki recounted an incident towards the end of the 2012-13 Serie B season, when Berardi got into a fight with then-Livorno goalkeeper Vincenzo Fiorillo. The fracas got both players sent off and saw Berardi suspended for the first few games of this year's campaign.
Such intensity certainly shows a fire that a coach like Antonio Conte would value—but the youngster needs to focus that energy into productive play on the field. You can't score when you're sitting in the stands.
This problem will likely rectify itself with age and maturity, but Berardi must also take an active part in it. If he doesn't and turns into an enfant terrible in the vein of Antonio Cassano, it could hamper his career.
If Berardi can develop these key aspects of his game, he could maximize his significant abilities and turn into a truly elite player. Another season at Sassuolo should see at least some improvement—at which point he'll truly be ready to wear Juve's colors.
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