Federico Marchetti has upset Juventus fans in enough instances already this season. Over the course of three meetings with the Bianconeri, the Lazio goalkeeper pulled off a string of bewildering saves, earning his team a 0-0 draw in the league before helping them to a 3-2 aggregate victory in the Coppa Italia semi-final.
Now he has his sights set on an even loftier goal: displacing Gigi Buffon as Italy’s No1 goalkeeper. Or at least that’s what the papers claimed on Tuesday morning. It was a somewhat heavy-handed interpretation of a quote from the player himself, who had simply told them that: “Everyone knows how good Gigi is, but I hope to be there at the Confederations Cup in June.”
Marchetti would, of course, prefer to start in Brazil, yet the suspicion is that even a place on the bench would be an honour. It was, after all, only this week that the goalkeeper received his first call-up in two-and-a-half years. Not since Italy’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign had Marchetti played any part for the national team.
Thrust into a starting role back then by an injury to Buffon, Marchetti was hardly the chief culprit in Italy’s demise, though he has himself observed that, “Everybody could have done more”. Italy drew 1-1 with Paraguay and New Zealand before being eliminated by a 3-2 defeat to Slovakia. Marchetti made mistakes in that last game, beaten at the near post for the second goal, but the team as a whole had been dismal.
It was not those performances however which led Cesare Prandelli to overlook Marchetti in the years that followed. Instead what derailed the player’s international career—and indeed his club career, for a period—was nothing more than a careless comment to a newspaper.
Marchetti had been playing for Cagliari at the time of the World Cup, but shortly after Italy’s elimination he told a Gazzetta dello Sport journalist that he had sought a move to Sampdoria. “In the end I cost too much [for Samp to pay], so I stayed at Cagliari,” he said, before insisting he was content with that outcome. “I have such strong feelings for this club.”
Gazzetta did not publish his comments immediately, instead holding them for a more opportune moment later in the summer. By the time they did make the paper on the 23rd of July Cagliari had started their preseason training. The club had expressly forbidden its players from speaking to reporters during camp. Marchetti’s explanation that he conducted the interview beforehand was not enough to appease the team president Massimo Cellino.
Four days after the story was published, Cagliari posted a statement on their club website saying they would do “everything we can” to sell the player, yet a transfer never materialised. Instead Marchetti was simply frozen out; Cellino preferred to let one of his club’s most valuable assets rot in the reserves rather than attempt reconciliation. Marchetti did not play a single game in the 2010-11 season.
Under such circumstances, the Italy manager Cesare Prandelli had little choice but to look elsewhere for alternatives to Buffon. This was also an opportune moment in which to do so. Prandelli had been open about his intentions to rejuvenate the national team, and the emergence of Salvatore Sirigu and Emiliano Viviano at Palermo and Bologna seemed timely. Both players had made their international debuts before the end of 2010.
Neither has been consistent enough since then to claim the mantle as Buffon’s heir, Napoli’s Morgan De Sanctis instead stepping forward to become Prandelli’s preferred reserve. At 35, though, De Sanctis is nine months older than Buffon. Neither can go on playing forever. A longer-term solution was still required, and now it seems Marchetti will have his chance to convince Prandelli that he can be it.
After joining Lazio for a bargain €5m in the summer of 2011, the keeper has quietly set about re-establishing himself as one of the best in the division. Lazio have allowed the third-fewest goals of any team in Serie A this season—they’ve gone 516 consecutive minutes without conceding either side of Christmas—and though that is a tribute to the defence as a whole, Marchetti’s role cannot be overlooked. His average match rating in Gazzetta dello Sport is the highest of any starting goalkeeper in the league.
Marchetti has, furthermore, saved his best performances for his team’s biggest games. In all three meetings with Juventus he has made at least one show-stopping save – from a miraculous mid-air adjustment after Fabio Quagliarella re-directed an Arturo Vidal drive in the league fixture last November to the desperate clawing out of a header by the Chilean during the 1-1 draw in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg.
Those may have been especially satisfying afternoons for a player who grew up in the youth team of Juve’s city rivals, Torino, but for all his ambitions to eventually displace Buffon in the national team, he has nothing but admiration for the Juventus No1. Following their game last November, Marchetti described Buffon as, “The player I have always taken inspiration from”.
The pair were almost bonded by tragedy in 2006. Marchetti lost one of his closest friends that year, Francesco Varrenti, with whom he had played at Pro Vercelli to a car accident, and Buffon’s sister Veronica had been riding in the same vehicle. She walked away with only minor injuries after it ploughed into a truck on Italy’s A4 motorway, as did her boyfriend Stefano Turi. Varrenti and a fourth passenger, Eleonora Boschetti, were killed, while the driver Marcello Koffi Teya spent a month in a coma.
Marchetti was devastated by the news, having already seen one other team-mate from that Pro Vercelli team, Andrea Tagliaferri, killed in a road accident two years earlier. He remembers them both with a tattoo at the top of his left arm which reads: “Andrea and Francy with me forever”.
He and Buffon have built a friendship of their own since then, one that is founded on a firm mutual respect. When Marchetti was suffering through his year in the margins for Cagliari, Buffon expressed the hope that he would find his way to a big club soon—“But hopefully not Juve”. Even the Italy No1 was not sure he fancied facing that sort of competition on a weekly basis.
Thankfully for both men, he did not have to; Marchetti found a happy home in Lazio while Buffon recovered from a difficult and injury-hit 2010-11 season to re-establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. He will not surrender his place in the Italy line-up lightly. At 29, though, Marchetti knows he has time on his side. And he has shown already he is prepared to play the long game.