Place of birth: Genoa, Italy
Current club: Genoa
Serie A experience: 7 games
In March 2015, Genoa president Enrico Preziosi, made a shocking exclamation. “I have the new Messi in my house”. We’re not going to go into what in the hell he was thinking.
Why he felt to not only compare him to someone who plays a completely different position, but also compare him to someone who will probably go down as the greatest player ever, no one knows. Oh, and Pellegri was only 14 at the time. No pressure, kid. Pellegri himself was asked who his idol was, and he replied, “My idol? Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is the best striker in the world”.
Let us take a closer look at the young man. Currently, Pietro Pellegri is just 16 years of age. Check. He stands at 6’5”, which is 1.96 meters if you are keeping track. Okay, so he has great size. Check. Ball control in close quarters? Check. Pace? Check. All of that plus a nose for goal. Okay, you have my attention now. I’ll bite. He certainly is in the mould of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The young Pellegri made his Serie A debut for Genoa at the ripe old age of 15 years, 280 days, which is tied for the youngest ever to play in Italy’s top flight. Genoa’s opponent that day? AS Roma, who were trying to lock up the second place position in the Scudetto race. Hard task for your debut match.
Multiply that by the fact this was the 619th appearance and farewell game of the iconic Francesco Totti. Talk about making it hard on the kid. How did the young Pellegri respond to the challenge? In only the third minute, Darko Lazovic found a streaking Pellegri just past the mid-line. The Genoa whizz kid out-raced Roma defender Kostas Manolas (himself no slouch) and scored past Wojciech Szczęsny for a dream start. If that doesn’t say ‘nerves of steel’, then I don’t know what does. He dedicated his first goal… to the Genoani. “Because I am Genoano,” he reasoned — a Genoa supporter.
That made him the first and only player born in 2001 or later to score a goal in Serie A history. Since we are in the spirit of comparisons (thanks, Preziosi), Lionel Messi scored his first goal at age 17, and Cristiano Ronaldo at a relatively elderly 18. How you like dem apples?
Flash forward to the 2017/18 season. Genoa’s first three games come and go, yet Pellegri did not even make the bench, much less actually play. Then came a home match in match week four against a very strong Lazio side, who have a knack for scoring goals. Pellegri, this time, found himself on the bench.
Lazio got on the board quickly in the 13th minute, through a rebound goal by Bastos off a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic free kick. Genoa were looking listless, without ideas, and then something happened that forced Genoa manager Ivan Juric to change it up. Another young talent, midfielder Ricardo Centurion, picked up a slight injury in the 33rd minute and needed to be subbed off. Juric looked to the bench, decided to roll the dice, and inserted a certain 16-year-old into the game to add some offense.
It took twenty minutes, but then Adel Taarabt sent a pass that ricocheted off two Lazio players and found its way to the feet of Pellegri. In one motion, he got just enough on the shot to slip it by Thomas Strakosha in goal. Just like that, they were tied in Genoa. A little later, Lazio’s uber-striker Ciro Immobile gave the Aquile the lead once again. That lead would not last long. Just three minutes later, Ervin Zukanovic swept in a cross behind the Lazio defense, and young Pellegri threw his body through the air and scored a sensational flying volley to even up the match once again. Immobile would eventully get his brace and win the game for Lazio, but the youngster stole the headlines.
That goal by Pellegri though, etched his name into the history books becoming the youngest player in Serie A history to score two goals in a single game — two goals that exemplify all the characteristics he portrays. On the first goal, he displayed patience and good ball control in close quarters. The second goal you could see his pace and height to stretch out and reach the pass. He also gave us a glimpse of his agility. Both strikes were evidence of his nose for goal, very Zlatanesque. While Pellegri has not scored since that match against Lazio, he did play the majority of the next three games, and he will certainly be one to watch, not only for this season, but for many years to come.
Okay, Preziosi, you don’t seem as crazy as it first seemed, but you just put the weight of the footballing world on young Pietro Pellegri’s shoulders. The question now is: can this young Genoan withstand it on his 6’5” frame?