Slashed from Italy’s initial squad, a twist of fate saw Matteo Pessina step up to help his country win Euro 2020.
From humble beginnings at Monza to the present day, this is the inside story of Matteo Pessina.
As little as three years ago, Matteo Pessina was playing in Serie B. This summer, the Lombardy-born midfielder scored at Euro 2020 and, inevitably, helped his nation lift the trophy for the first time in 52 years.
Matteo Pessina’s senior career began at hometown club Monza in 2014. The club, now cash-rich and under the generalship of ex-President Silvio Berlusconi, were then languishing in Italy’s third tier having endured countless financial crises.
Via AC Milan and a host of loan spells, Matteo Pessina ended up at Atalanta in 2018. But before we dissect his journey to date, let’s rewind to the beginning.
First Time Finish spoke to Fulvio Pea, Pessina’s first-team coach at Monza. He revealed whether he expected the midfielder to reach the heights he has. Pea’s quotes are translated from Italian.
‘I arrived at Monza in the summer of 2014 as head coach of the first-team. I brought in some young players including, at the suggestion of his agent, Pessina.’
Pea reflects on the now-Atalanta star’s talents but concedes he did need some time to improve physically.
‘The boy was talented but, physically, he needed to work intensely. Together with Professor Gerosa (an athletic coach, now with Milan’s youth set-up), we planned a five-month course.’
‘He made his debut and became the absolute star of that season!’Fulvio Pea on Pessina’s breakthrough at Monza in early 2015
This course appeared to have done the job. Matteo Pessina came on leaps and bounds, excelling during the back end of the then-Lega Pro campaign.
‘In January, he made his debut and became the absolute star of that season,’ Fulvio added.
Mature beyond his years
Fulvio went on to explain how impressed he was with the midfielder’s attitude from day dot.
‘He was a boy who has grown over time but he already had the qualities. He just had to complete his course and believe in his skills. Basically, he has always been a very mature guy and, therefore, responsible.’
As a teenager, Matteo Pessina made 20 appearances for Monza, scoring three goals, under Pea. He then made a move to nearby AC Milan – a 25-minute drive away under new coach Siniša Mihajlović.
Learning on loan
Pessina didn’t play a senior game for Milan, instead embarking on a series of loan spells with Lega Pro and Serie B clubs. Moves to Lecce and Catania saw Matteo Pessina find little game time.
However, it was back in Lombardy with Como where Pessina came to fruition again.
He scored nine goals and assisted three in 35 games.
FTF asked football writer Enrico Passarella about Pessina’s loan moves.
‘His growth in recent years has been astonishing as he was not really regarded as a hot prospect when he was younger. As a matter of fact, Milan threw him into a deal without thinking much about it. He had a good season at Como, but in Serie C, and then at Spezia, but there was minimal buzz around him.’
Victory in Verona
Matteo Pessina’s first Serie A success came with Hellas Verona in 2019/20. He scored seven in 35 games and was a vital cog in Ivan Jurić’s machine, excelling under the coach’s stewardship and fuelling his reputation as a superb youth developer.
Enrico Passarella describes Pessina’s role at Verona.
‘At Verona, he played very offensively, sometimes even as false-nine, but primarily as an attacking midfielder. In that position, which is the same he has at Atalanta, he provides a lot of balance because he tracks back a lot, pressures, recovers the ball. He is more of a tactical weapon than a true no.10.’
Blooming in Bergamo
Matteo Pessina’s performances for Juric’s Verona caught the eye of fellow Serie A side Atalanta. La Dea, as they are affectionately known, have come to be among the world’s best at spotting rising talents in recent years.
Regarded as one of the most exciting teams in European football, Atalanta have sold the likes of Dejan Kulusevski and Alessandro Bastoni for around €60m combined, having paid next to nothing for their services.
Enrico Passarella explains how Atalanta’s compelling project matches well with Pessina’s qualities.
‘He was one of the best players at Verona that year, while at Atalanta, he had to fight for minutes at first. His tactical savviness helped him slowly erode at the playing time of the attackers.’
‘Their coach likes to be a little more conservative in big matches, and that was when Pessina showed he could be very useful. He was also helped by the fact that Mario Pasalic, who is pretty similar, was injured in the first part of last season.’
Enrico went on to explain how manager Gian Piero Gasperini’s rows with Papu Gomez gave Pessina more game time.
‘Then things opened up for him once Alejandro Gomez and Gasperini had a falling out, and Gomez left in January. At that point, Pessina had less competition, although later on, Pasalic returned and Ruslan Malinovskyi fully emerged.’
So, despite impressive competition, Matteo Pessina has continued to play substantial minutes under Gasperini and hasn’t ceased to impress.
Comparisons and style
Regardless of Pessina’s successes, Enrico Passarella claims the Euro winner isn’t necessarily being used in the right way by Gasperini.
He argues that Atalanta’s 3-4-2-1 formation limits him as he is best suited to a box-to-box role.
‘One could argue that the scheme he has played in limits him a little because he is pretty much the perfect modern box-to-box.’
Ex-coach Fulvio Pea had some interesting comparisons to make regarding Pessina’s abilities and his style of play.
When asked about which iconic players he could go on to replicate, he said: ‘He’s a modern, complete player. Based on his characteristics, Perrotta, Lampard and Gerrard!’
Due to Atalanta’s aggressive offensive style and the fact Pessina isn’t the first name on team sheet, the midfielder’s statistics don’t kick up anything impressive.
It could certainly be argued that Matteo Pessina’s roles at Atalanta prevent him from making late runs into the box as often as he would like. This is something he has proven to be superb at doing.
However, he does offer positional versatility. Pessina has been deployed in a deep midfield role, box-to-box and as an attacking midfield, making late runs and distracting opposition defenders to open up space for teammates.
He also ranks highly for deep completions with 2.04 per 90 minutes – not far behind Rodrigo de Paul and Italy teammate Nicolò Barella.
Rumour has it Pessina’s former club’s arch rivals Internazionale are eyeing a move for him. Meanwhile, it has been quietly reported that Chelsea are interested in him but Tuchel’s men are well-stocked across their midfield.
The international stage
Matteo Pessina made his Italy debut in November 2020. He had featured heavily from under-19 to under-21 level for his country and caught the eye of Mancini.
Pessina was included in Roberto Mancini’s preliminary squad ahead of Euro 2020 but missed the final cut. However, an injury to Stefano Sensi meant Matteo Pessina was given a second chance to prove his worth.
The midfielder came on as a late sub against Switzerland and started against Wales on 20 June, netting the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.
The star also scored the winner in extra-time against Austria in the Round of 16, his inclusion proving a huge plus for Mancini.
Italy, of course, went on to defeat England on penalties and win Euro 2020 at Wembley. Wherever your allegiances lie, it is difficult to begrudge Pessina this triumph. A classic versatile midfielder, a hard worker, and a scorer of crucial goals.
It looks probable he will remain in Bergamo this summer but a move to one of the classic Italian giants, or abroad, surely beckons.
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