Udinese goalkeeper Simone Scuffet, 18, has gone from being compared to living legend Gianluigi Buffon to warming the benches.
Scuffet's inconspicuous inactivity is the first impediment he needs to overcome if he wants to emulate Buffon.
Scuffet was inspired to play the game by his father, a football tragic.
"When I first started getting into football, my dad was a goalkeeper, so I followed suit," Scuffet said, per FIFA. "He only played in the amateur leagues, never professionally."
Making a modest wager, Scuffet promised he would surpass his father, Fabrizio.
"When I was a kid I made a bet with my father that I would be a better goalkeeper that him and go further in the game," Scuffet said, per FIFA. "I think I've done that."
When then-Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin called up Scuffet as an emergency starter against Bologna last February, he was not a complete unknown.
During the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Scuffet earned critical acclaim from FIFA's technical study group: "Italian keeper Scuffet pulled off an outstanding save. ... [He] displayed a high level of maturity and great anticipation...[and was] composed and reliable."
Scuffet was one of five goalkeeping prospects at the tournament highlighted as a key player by the technical study group (listed in alphabetical order):
- Anton Mitryushkin (Russia).
- Dele Alampasu (Nigeria); Golden Glove recipient.
- Raul Gudino (Mexico).
- Simone Scuffet (Italy).
- Thiago Cardozo (Uruguay).
With Zeljko Brkic in despair, Scuffet needed to call on his U-17 World Cup experience, as he was hurled into the big leagues at the last minute.
"I never expected to play [against Bologna], but in the warm-up Brkic had a problem," Scuffet said, per Sky (h/t Football Italia). "[Guidolin] decided to send me out. It was an incredible feeling."
Unlike Wojciech Pawlowski, who was never given an extended run, you can imagine Guidolin closing his eyes, sighing and pencilling in Scuffet's name as Udinese's starter for the rest of the season.
Scuffet vindicated Guidolin's gamble with extraordinary saves.
It was a moment of remarkable athleticism from Scuffet, as he compensated for being out of position.
In the footballing world, there is an obsession with wunderkinds, so Scuffet's progress was being eagerly documented on Twitter.
|Serie A 2013-14||Ivan Kelava||Simone Scuffet||Zeljko Brkic|
|Saves Per Game||2.20||2.56||2.83|
|Saves Per Goals Conceded||1.69||1.86||1.55|
|Clean Sheets %||20||37.50||8.33|
It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Brkic, a backup who wanted to be the No. 1, and Ivan Kelava, who was initially Udinese's starter, as they watched Scuffet, a schoolboy, turn into a star.
Statistically, Scuffet accumulated more saves and clean sheets while having a more efficient saves-per-goal-conceded record and clean-sheet percentage than Brkic and Kelava.
FIFA World Cup winner Dino Zoff believed Scuffet possessed world-class potential.
"[Scuffet's] calmness and coolness are striking. If you show these characteristics on the field [at 17 years of age], you are destined to become a great player," Zoff said, per Il Mattino (h/t Mark Doyle at Goal). "Credit to Guidolin for putting [Scuffet] out there."
Talk about a resounding endorsement.
However, Zoff, who was 32 years old when he played his first FIFA World Cup game in 1974, did not approve of Scuffet being prematurely elevated into the Italy national team.
Zoff was against Scuffet going to the 2014 FIFA World Cup because he had "zero experience."
Buffon, a FIFA World Cup winner like Zoff, disagreed.
"Should Scuffet go to Brazil?," Buffon said, per FourFourTwo. "Considering what he is doing [at the moment for Udinese] I'd say he deserves it."
Then-Italy national team manager Cesare Prandelli sided with Zoff, electing to take Buffon, Salvatore Sirigu and Mattia Perin to the FIFA World Cup.
It reminds you how much hype surrounded Scuffet for a period of time last year.
Udinese rewarded Scuffet's breakout half-season with a contract extension until 2019.
During the 2014 summer transfer window, Scuffet considered playing in Spain after being approached by La Liga champions Atletico Madrid.
Udinese were in line to receive a €5/£3.62 million transfer fee, potentially rising to €10/£7.24 million, and Scuffet would be loaned to "another Spanish club," per Gianluca Di Marzio.
Scuffet's agent, Claudio Vagheggi, pulled the plug on the proposed deal.
"Atletico Madrid's offer was interesting and advantageous," Vagheggi said, per Tuttomercatoweb (h/t Sky Sports). "But we agreed with [Udinese] and with [Scuffet's] family that the best thing for him is to have a progressive and gradual growth."
Five months later, Scuffet was mulling over a January transfer window loan to Crotone in Serie B, per Tuttomercatoweb (h/t Bleacher Report's Adam Digby).
Wait. The same Scuffet who was in contention to make Italy's FIFA World Cup squad? Yes.
What happened? Nothing. Literally. Nothing.
He was collateral damage during Scuffet's rise, thus was loaned out to Serie B club Carpi.
This meant Orestis Karnezis moved from Granada to Udinese to fill Kelava's vacancy.
Since succeeding Guidolin as Udinese manager, Andrea Stramaccioni has opted for experience, going for Karnezis over Scuffet.
Suffering an ankle sprain in September hindered Scuffet from challenging Karnezis, who then established himself as Stramaccioni's undisputed No. 1.
|Serie A||Orestis Karnezis 2014-15||Simone Scuffet 2013-14|
|Saves Per Game||3.23||2.56|
|Saves Per Goals Conceded||2.47||1.86|
|Clean Sheets %||23.08||37.50|
Statistically, Karnezis is an upgrade over Scuffet, whose only advantage is clean-sheet percentage.
You surmise Scuffet is clapping with a chagrin nod every time Karnezis pulls off another top save, knowing Stramaccioni is right—for now.
"We studied a programme of gradual growth [for prospects] and [Scuffet understands]," Stramaccioni said, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia). "Even Buffon, after his great debut for Parma, went back to being behind Luca Bucci the next season."
Let's be realistic.
Even if he is not Buffon 2.0, you can envision Scuffet having a Morgan De Sanctis-like career.
It has been underwhelming for Scuffet, who was expected to kick on after the high standards he set last season, so who should he turn to for advice?
Himself, circa 2014.
Yes, it is a different context now from then, but the message is still applicable.
"Serenity, tranquillity and courage...I have to remain calm. I haven't achieved anything yet," Scuffet said, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t James Horncastle at Eurosport). "The road is long."
When not specified, statistics via WhoScored.com.