The 60-second story
Date of birth: February 11, 1987
Place of birth: Monza, Italy
Current club: Genoa (108 apps, 8 goals)
Former clubs: Milan, Bari (loan), Parma
International: Italy (7 caps, 0 goal)
The Italian city of Monza is better known for its Grand Prix racing circuit than football, but in 1987 it was the birthplace of one of Serie A’s understated stars of the season. Luca Antonelli, son of former Milan and Genoa striker Roberto, would spend a year in Monza’s youth academy in 2003, before following in his father’s footsteps and joining Milan at the age of 17.
But opportunities at San Siro were difficult to find for Antonelli, who made just one first-team appearance for the Rossoneri. A moderately successful loan spell at Bari followed in 2007/08, before the left-back sealed a permanent switch to Parma at the end of that campaign.
When he was on the move again three years later in 2011, Antonelli’s signature was highly sought after. Genoa fought off competition from a host of other clubs to bring him to the north-west for €7 million, where he soon usurped the talented former Juventus full-back Domenico Criscito, who left the club and the country to join Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.
Ever since then, Antonelli has gone from strength to strength.
Now 27, he is playing the best football of his career in an excellent Genoa side and will be hoping to become a mainstay in Antonio Conte’s new-look national team setup in the run-up to Euro 2016.
Why you need to know him
Up until recently, Genoa, alongside city rivals Sampdoria, had been the surprise package in Serie A. After 15 matches they were as high as third before a five-game winless run forced a slide down the table.
Antonelli, the Grifone’s skipper, is perfectly representative of what Gian Piero Gasperini’s team stands for: hard-working, dynamic, committed, adaptable.
His excellent season has not gone unnoticed overseas, either: Liverpool are rumoured to be extremely interested in landing the Italian this month, perhaps in recognition of his desirable blend of attacking threat and defensive solidity that Brendan Rodgers’ other full-back options, Alberto Moreno, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson, are lacking.
Versatility can often be viewed as a bad thing in football; the ‘utility man’ label suggesting a jack-of-all-trades without the sufficient quality to nail down a fixed position.
In Antonelli’s case, though, such a description would be mightily unfair. Capable of playing consistently well as a full-back in a four-man defence, a wing-back in a back three, at the heart of the backline or even as a central midfielder, the 27-year-old’s interchangeability is a manager’s dream.
Antonelli also possesses fantastic stamina and work-rate, and is able to get up and down the flank for 90 minutes, sending in crosses and then tracking back to cut out dangerous opposition attacks.
His tackling, intercepting and reading of the game are big plus points, and his recent winning goal in a crunch Serie A clash with Milan was testament to his adeptness in the air. Indeed, it was the defender's third in as many games in a mini pre-Christmas spree.
It would perhaps be a tad harsh to describe Antonelli’s distribution and crossing as weaknesses, but they are certainly areas of his game that could be improved upon.
A player’s pass-completion rate is not always an accurate indicator of passing ability – raw figures like this do not take into account the type of pass attempted, which is a particular disadvantage for a direct, risk-taking side like Genoa – but Antonelli’s low average of 76%, coupled with more qualitative judgments based on watching him in action, hints at a certain wastefulness when in possession.
Similarly, the Italy international's crossing can sometimes let him down. Gasperini, who favours a 3-4-3 formation, emphasises width and a fair few of Genoa’s goals come from deliveries into the box. Antonelli is undoubtedly capable of sending in decent balls, but the consistency of his end product can certainly be worked on.
Having played almost 200 games for Genoa in a seven-year spell in the 1980s, Claudio Testoni is well placed to judge the club’s current employees.
Antonelli, alongside Giovanni Marchese, was singled out for particular praise: “With humility and commitment they [Antonelli and Marchese] have found a place in the sun.
"They have made themselves available to help the team’s cause and now Genoa are among the best teams in the league.”
Did you know?
When devastating floods hit the port city of Genoa in autumn, Antonelli and his team-mates lent a hand in getting the area back on its feet. A 57-year-old man was tragically killed during the harsh storms in October, while numerous homes, shops, schools and businesses were damaged by the torrent of water.
The players of Genoa and Sampdoria announced joint-fundraising initiatives and Italy’s November friendly with Albania was moved to the city as a message of solidarity. Antonelli affirmed that he and his Azzurri team-mates would “try to grab the attention of the Genoese people... they have a big heart and strong will, and have demonstrated that in these tough times”.
What happens next?
Antonelli has hardly played down the stories linking him with a move to Anfield, admitting to the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that “my dream is to one day play for Liverpool”. It's still unclear whether the Reds’ infamous transfer committee will submit an official bid – and there are certainly other areas of the squad that appear to be in need of refreshing – but the speculation does appear to have roots and Antonelli would be well-suited to Rodgers’ new 3-4-3 formation.
Genoa, however, will at the very least hold out for a hefty fee, if they are prepared to entertain the idea of losing their talismanic captain at all. Gasperini’s men have surpassed all expectations so far this term, and with traditional giants Inter and Milan struggling and the likes of Fiorentina and Napoli unreliable and inconsistent, there is no reason why the Grifone cannot continue their fight for a Champions League place right up until the season’s denouement in May. If they are to reach such heights, the all-action Antonelli will be integral.
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