Alessandro Diamanti already has one appointment this summer which must be kept. “At the end of this season, together with a few of my team-mates, I have to go and make a little homage that we promised if we avoided relegation,” he told reporters after providing two assists in Bologna’s 3-2 win over Genoa. “Every day for one week, we will set off on foot from Meloncello and climb up to the Sanctuary of San Luca.”
What comes after that may depend on Cesare Prandelli. Sat in the stands at the Stadio Renata Dall’Ara on Sunday, the Italy manager cannot have missed the crowd’s incessant cries for Diamanti to be included in his squad for Euro 2012. In such a setting it would certainly have been easy to get carried away. The touch, incisiveness and quickness of thought that he has long possessed were all on display as he repeated sliced apart Genoa’s defence.
And yet, at 29, this is a man who so far has just a single cap to his name, earned under Prandelli in a friendly against Romania 18 months ago. Even then, many were deeply sceptical. Diamanti’s top-flight experience at that point was limited to one season with Livorno when they were relegated and one with West Ham in England when they finished 17th. He scored a combined 11 goals in 53 games across those two campaigns (albeit in-between he did score 16 in 36 for Livorno in Serie B).
He had been popular at West Ham – named as the club’s Best Signing of 2009-10 by readers of the Knees Up Mother Brown fan-site and subsequently their Most Missed Player a year later – but even there few considered him international material. Diamanti was a technically gifted player capable of moments of brilliance, as demonstrated by his perfectly struck free-kick against Birmingham. But he was just as capable of anonymity.
In Italy, too, there were plenty of sceptics. The player’s application was questioned, with some observers rather cynically suggesting that this was the inevitable consequence of being raised in a wealthy family, where there was no urgency for Diamanti to be a success. He was accused of being too interested in life away from football, with journalists observing his penchant for flashy cars (he drives both a Porsche and a bright pink Smart car), tattoos, and updating his hairstyle more often in some years than others manage in a lifetime.
They are charges that Diamanti for the most part denies, noting that players with no work rate don’t survive as long as he did in Italy’s lower leagues (he was already 24 when he got his break in Serie A with Livorno) and pointing out that the much lampooned Smart car was given to him by a sponsor. The suggestion he has not worked hard on his career infuriates him, though he acknowledges that he has never paid much heed to others’ opinions as to how he should conduct his life away from football.
“On the pitch I have kept quiet. Away from it, I’ve done whatever the fuck I want,” he told Sportweek magazine last month. In truth the suggestion that he has always behaved on the field is somewhat fanciful too. Last year at Brescia he earned an additional suspension for abusing a referee after being shown a second yellow card, whilst his move to Bologna last summer might have arrived the best part of a decade sooner had he known how to watch his tongue.
At the time still just a precocious young talent at Serie C side Prato, Diamanti had been identified by Bologna as a potential signing and was invited to play in a friendly game so that his potential employers could get one last look. So gentle was the match expected to be that Bologna had a club director stand in as the referee. Diamanti duly took umbrage at a decision, responded with a few choice words and wound up talking his way out of a deal.
Not that he is inclined to have any regrets. “Everybody, when they are young, will have three or four years of their life in which they will want to overdo things a little bit,” he told Sportweek. “I just did a good job of overdoing it. Others half-arse it.”
Indeed, Diamanti has his own perspective on why he is not playing for a bigger club than Bologna at this stage of his career suggesting at a number of different points recently that he would have been viewed very differently were his name Diamantinho or Diamantinovic. Since returning to Italy he has been critical on more than one occasion of what he feels is a lack of respect shown by clubs towards domestic talent.
Whilst there may be a grain of truth in such words, they still cannot explain his lack of international appearances, and the player has made no secret since winning that first cap against Romania of his desire to earn more. He has backed that up by playing some of the best football of his career to date this season at Bologna and with Antonio Cassano only just returned after his mini-stroke, many feel he is the most viable creative alternative up front.
The issue, as ever, is consistency, a conundrum summed up neatly by La Repubblica’s Gabriele Romagnoli as he reflected on a brilliant Diamanti goal against Lazio last month. “Confronted with the unremitting brilliance of Leo Messi, [José] Altafini said: ‘I am tired of this brilliance’,” he wrote. “But when Diamanti stuck it in on the volley, from 35 yards out, off a goalkeeper’s headed clearance, both the stands and the sofas erupted with a cry of ‘Holy shit!’”
Nobody, clearly, is putting Diamanti in the same category as Messi, but in his best moments he can look like a player who belongs on a greater stage than he presently occupies. The only problem being that nobody knows when such moments will arrive. That may serve to make them more electrifying, but it also makes them impossible to rely upon.
Romagnoli reflected with regret that they often seem to be when the spotlight is not focussed upon him. It was perhaps noteworthy that Diamanti confessed to not having realised Prandelli was present at the game against Genoa.
Diamanti is not concerned how others ultimately view his career, telling Sportweek “I don’t want to be remembered” before adding that when he finishes playing he would much sooner run a restaurant or wine bar than be fawned over for past achievements. But he has a few more years left to enjoy playing before turning his thoughts seriously to what happens next. Both he and Bologna’s supporters hope Prandelli will give him the chance, at least, to make them special.