Gianluca Scamacca is in demand and it is easy to see why. He is a 6’5″ Italy international striker who scored 16 times in Serie A last season, a man capable of all sorts of goals. The only surprise is the route that he has taken to the top.
At 23, Scamacca is both early phenomenon and late bloomer. Identified at 15 as one of the brightest talents in Europe, twice he travelled to the Netherlands as a teenager in search of opportunity. But he was still out on loan at Ascoli in Serie B at the age of 21.
Now, after shining for Sassuolo, he is not only seen as the striker around whom Italy should build their attack, but also a man who can command a fee in excess of £40m given that he might just be the heir to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big man with the dancing feet.
The reason for the delay in his emergence is confusing given his frame. This was what made him impossible to miss as a young teen. Defenders would bounce off him. Goalkeepers were unable to stop his shots even if they found themselves in the way of them.
The only hard part for the young Scamacca was finding a challenge.
That was at the heart of his unusual decision to walk away from Roma’s academy at 16. Leaving for PSV was a controversial move – Scamacca had already swapped Lazio for Roma as a young boy – and seen as a damning indictment of Italy’s youth development.
For PSV, and their sporting director Marcel Brands, it was a coup. “That was a job well done by Marcel,” former Jong PSV coach Pascal Jansen tells Sky Sports. “He was the one who made the contact with AS Roma. Italian kids dream of playing in Italy but Gianluca is different now and he was different then. He looks for the challenges.
“We scouted him, we went there, we looked at him and obviously he was playing with much smaller kids than he was at the time because he is a big boy now and he was a big boy then. We got him to feel confident in us and he chose our programme in Eindhoven.
“What we normally see is young guys going to play Italy. He went from Italy to Holland. That was a difficult step for him because no Italian young player goes to Holland. He chose to do so. We were very fortunate that he chose our plan.”
Scamacca knew he needed to be tested and that was not happening at Roma. PSV provided the pathway. He started with the U17s. “He scored goals.” Moved on to the U19s. “He scored more goals.” And made his professional debut soon after his 17th birthday.
Jansen was the coach who gave Scamacca his debut with Jong PSV, the U23 team that was playing in the Eerste Divisie, the second tier of football in the Netherlands. It came in an away win over VVV-Venlo in January 2016 when he replaced Steven Bergwijn.
“He was a talented kid who had the physical side of it,” Jansen explains. “When he was at AS Roma, he beat them all because he was physically much stronger than anyone else on the pitch. The challenge in Holland was to develop his understanding of the game.
The challenge in Holland was to develop his understanding of the game
“When he came to Holland, we challenged him to make sure he was also developing and progressing in terms of that understanding. The physical part was not a problem, but the mental part was the challenge – dealing with mature guys. That took a little while.”
The body was ready but the mind had to catch up.
He had support. Mark van Bommel spoke to him in Italian. Ruud van Nistelrooy knew everything there is to know about scoring goals. “They were assistant coaches working across the different age groups. Van Nistelrooy had a specific eye for the attackers.”
Scamacca has since said that the intensity of coaching was at a level that he had not experienced before. “It is the level of coaching but also the infrastructure. It is well organised. You are playing against the best talents from around the country. Good games.”
Some of Scamacca’s qualities were clear even then. “His instinct in front of goal was his strength back then and it is his strength now. He was strong with his head, obviously, because that was the skill that he had developed from a young age.
Other aspects of forward play needed more work at that stage. “The speed of the game and the technical abilities were the major challenges for him. We worked with him to make sure that his footwork was ready, his agility, his touch and his movement.”
One year on from his debut, Scamacca returned to Italy with Sassuolo. Further loan moves to Cremonese and back to the Netherlands with Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle brought experience if not goals. But it was that move to Ascoli that marked real progress.
His efforts there earned him a loan to Genoa where his eight Serie A goals persuaded Sassuolo that he was ready to succeed with his parent club. This past season has brought a senior debut for Italy and a level of performance that matches that early promise.
There have been headed goals as one might expect but also strikes from outside the box, fierce volleys and cute flicks. There is a hint of Ibrahimovic to his game, something picked up on when he tested Gianluigi Donnarumma with a scissor-kick for Genoa against Milan.
“He was always a big boy,” says Jansen.
But the big boy has now grown up.
“What I like about him is that he has kept the faith in progressing and just developed himself. Over the past few years, he has shown everybody that he is not only big but he understands the game and is capable of playing in a top league.
“He has followed his dream back in Italy with Sassuolo, scored his goals and played for the national team. He has done really well and it does not surprise me that he is about to take another big step in his career because he is a very talented striker.”