All you need to know about Manuel Locatelli, linked with City, Juve, Madrid

Quick Reads

As the summer approaches, Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli is starting to dominate the gossip columns, with Manchester City and Real Madrid reportedly emerging as competitors to Juventus for his signature.

Perennial Italian champions Juventus has long been reported as Locatelli’s natural destination, especially with Andrea Pirlo in the dugout. There’s also logic in a move to City as Pep Guardiola looks to a future without Fernandinho, while Real Madrid need to think beyond their long-standing axis of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Here’s everything you need to know about the player you should expect to hear a lot more about over the coming months.

The story so far

Having played in Atalanta’s youth ranks as a child, Locatelli continued his development with AC Milan after moving to the city as an 11-year-old, eventually making his debut aged 18 under Sinisa Mihajlovic as a substitute in the closing stages of a 0-0 draw with Carpi in April 2016.

He began to play more of a role in subsequent seasons during the Rossoneri’s wilderness years as they consistently finished outside Serie A’s top four. But he did start in the 2016 Supercoppa, which Milan won on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Juventus.

After making 25 appearances in 2016-17, Locatelli was starting to establish a reputation, named alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Kai Havertz in FourFourTwo’s 11 best teenagers in the world in 2017.

But he struggled to kick on from there, usurped by Chelsea loanee Tiemoue Bakayoko and loaned out to Sassuolo for the 2018-19 season before joining the club permanently. It’s at the Citta del Tricolore that he’s established himself as one of the standout players in his position in Italy.

Having captained Italy’s Under-21s, the midfielder was rewarded with his first senior international caps by Roberto Mancini last autumn and instantly looked a key player for the Azzurri in their successful UEFA Nations League campaign.

Playing style

Given that he came through at Milan as a deep-lying playmaker, originally deputising for Serie A stalwart Riccardo Montolivo, it was inevitable that Locatelli would find himself compared to Pirlo.

He’s continued in that role ever since, excelling as the standout man in a Sassuolo side that punched above their weight to finish eighth last year, with a credible challenge to finish there once again in 2020-21.

Thanks to his composure on the ball and ability to play incisive, switching passes that open up the pitch, it’s easy to see why he’s spoken of in the same breath as Pirlo. But he’s a more mobile and athletic presence, covering more ground than the famously relaxed Italian legend used to.

The hub in which all Sassuolo’s play goes through, he’s completed 1,740 passes in Serie A this season – 141 more than any other player in the division, and 106 completed long passes, ranking fifth for outfielders.

What’s been said

– “There was something about the way Manuel Locatelli carried himself in Amsterdam on Monday night,” wrote The Athletic‘s James Horncastle after the 23-year-old’s international debut, a 1-0 win against the Netherlands last September.

“You would never have thought it was his first cap for Italy. The 25th debutant of Roberto Mancini’s two-year spell in charge of the national team played with the poise and authority of a veteran.”

– “We called Locatelli because we think he’s a great player who can still improve. He has physicality, quality, vision, he has everything,” Italy boss Mancini after Locatelli’s debut display.

– “It was Locatelli who made the change from one day to the next, not me. He changed the way he trained, he behaved within the squad and he deserves all the credit for that,” said Sassuolo manager Roberto De Zerbi in October.

– “He’s a great talent, one who sees the play before anyone else. I don’t think people have yet realised just how good Locatelli is and I feel a midfielder like that comes along very rarely in Italy.”

What he’s said

“Here I feel like a leading light, even if I struggled at the beginning,” Locatelli told Gazzetta dello Sport during his first season at Sassuolo.

“Coming here was the right choice. De Zerbi has shown me new concepts and at first, I didn’t understand. I didn’t accept being a substitute.

“Now I want to repay them for the faith they have in me. Juventus? For now I’m only thinking about Sassuolo, although it would be fantastic if there was interest one day.”

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