In the space of two months, Patrik Schick has had to deal with two pretty lofty comparisons.
On April 23, Sampdoria’s official Twitter account made a bold declaration: “Dennis Bergkamp who? Meet Patrik Schick.”
The reason was a stunning goal the 21-year-old had scored against Crotone; receiving a pass with his back to goal, he quickly flicked it over centre-back Gianmarco Ferrari, darted into the penalty area and finished without any hesitation. It was eerily reminiscent of Bergkamp’s famous flick around Nikos Dabizas to score for Arsenal against Newcastle in 2002.
On June 1, it was the turn of fellow Czech Pavel Nedved who, in trying to court his countryman to Turin, said: “Schick reminds me of Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] from the time when he came [to Juventus] in 2004. He was 23 back then, and he had slim arms and quite few muscles.”
It was perhaps no great surprise that three weeks later, Juventus with Nedved appointed vice chairman at the club where he made his name in 2015, were paying €30 million (Dh123.34m) to bring the forward to the Bianconeri, earmarked as a long-term successor to Gonzalo Higuain.
Schick left the Czech Republic Under-21 camp on Wednesday, a few hours after helping the national side beat Italy in the European Championships 3-1 to undergo his medical and seal a move to the 33-time Scudetto winners.
Internazionale, Napoli, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund all wanted him and had scouted him extensively, but Juve spent €5m (Dh20.55m) above his release clause to get him.
Nedved added: “He has a big future ahead of him. I think that he has the right mindset and if he will want it bad enough, he can make a big career. He has to work a lot to improve and in order to become the greatest, but he has enough talent to do it.”
Meterioric rise is a term liberally used in football but in Schick’s case, from not being able to get into Sparta Prague’s first team to signing for the world’s second-best side in less than two years, it is accurate.
Schick’s signing has certainly been one of Sampdoria’s best deals in recent history and is testament to their own scouting network.
In his home country, Schick couldn’t get in Sparta Prague’s line-up and he spent 2015/2016 season on a loan at mid-table Bohemians, the club most well-known for being the home of legend Antonin Pane-nka, who now serves as chairman.
He scored just seven goals in 27 league games for Bohemians, who finished 13th of 16 teams in the Czech First League, and despite playing only 35 league minutes in total for Sparta, Samp gambled €4m (Dh16.4m) on developing him.
However, at the beginning of his time in Italy, Schick struggled to breakthrough, due to not speaking the language and feeling homesick as he struggled to settle in Genoa.
“He got into the starting line-up only after three months. I was very sad in the start, but it was vital that I refused to give up,” he revealed earlier this year.
Call it luck or fate, but the fact he marked his full Serie A debut on October 26 with a goal 12 minutes into the second-half against Juventus proved somewhat prophetic.
“It was the first time I saw him. For me, it was immediately a shock to see such a young player to shoot with his elegance and quickness. He showed great skills,” Gaetano Mocciaro of tuttomercatoweb.com recalls.
It still took him time to earn a regular spot in Marco Giampaolo’s attack, though, with veteran Fabio Quagliarella and Colombian Luis Muriel first choices, limited Schick to sporadic substitute appearances until he nailed down a place at the turn of the year.
From January 7 to the end of the season, he averaged a Serie A goal or assist every 118 minutes. And while his production doesn’t necessarily leap out it was the nature of how he was scoring.
“The value of this boy rises by €10 million each time he nutmegs an opponent. And that happens every two seconds,” Italian Football Daily’s journalist Fede Manasse joked.
To view Schick’s highlights offers a snapshot of the Ibrahimovic and Bergkamp similarities: at 6ft 1ins he’s not outrageously tall but has a thin frame which exaggerates his height.But he’s in that exclusive and unique group of lean strikers who have an elegance and gracefulness on the ball: Berbatov, Ibrahimovic, Bergkamp – you get the picture.
“I have seen many players who arrived as already famous and failed in the first season. For example, Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp in the past, or not so long time ago Edin Dzeko,” Mocciaro adds.
“Tactically, Serie A is still the hardest championship in the world. A player from abroad needs time to adapt to different defenders and especially different way of defending. Very seldom a foreign player has such as big impact in Italy and you would never imagine a player from a mediocre Czech team make it.”
Given he’s barely a ‘half-season wonder’, there has to be a degree of trepidation in terms of managing expectations around Schick and weather he can make the next step up.
From unknown prospect to Serie A sensation; he’s barely established himself as a household name in his home country, yet is now the third-most expensive under-21 player in Serie A history.
As he remarked earlier this month, he never picks himself when playing on FIFA 17. Not because of modesty but because the game’s creators were taken by surprise just as much as anyone else and he’s just really mediocre in the game.
There was always concern that despite his technical brilliance, Schick’s inability to work for the team would hold him back but it seems a combination of Serie A’s discipline and the grounding he gets from his family have helped him blossom.
Ivo Taborsky, chief scout at International Sports Management who have Schick as a client, says: ‘Patrik has great parents and that is very important. They brought him as young to Sparta not with a conviction that their son would make amazing money. They just wanted him to enjoy his game.
“From the start, it was clear that he can become an exceptional player.
“Over the 17 years I have spent in this business, I have met only two families like this. The another were Tomas Rosicky’s. There is a belief that Schick could make it even further than Rosicky.”
Sampdoria were desperate to hold onto Schick, for obvious selfish reasons; and there were many quick to tell him his development would be better served playing regularly for the Blucerchiati, rather than sat on the bench for Juve as, most likely, fourth-choice striker.
But there is another school of thought that expectations will now be lower in Turin, due to his pecking order in the squad, and he will be afforded the time and patience to grow.
Plus there is the crucial presence of seasoned campaigners and role models of the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, while working daily with Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic can only beneficial.
“Allegri wants to play 4-2-3-1 and, of course, Higuain will be in the line-up. Then, there are players like Dybala and Mandzukic, so Schick is realistically behind them in the order,” Mocciaro says.
“However, I think it is still a good move from him because he has the chance to learn a lot from the best players in Serie A: skills of Dybala, the eye for goal of Higuain, or mentality from stars like Gianluigi Buffon. And all that will make his growth faster.
“He has killer instinct of striker, is elegant and intelligent. He has many skills all in one and that’s hardly usual for a player in such as age.
“It’s up to him, but choosing Juventus, the club with best professional players and ideal environment, will help him to become better and better. He has to work a lot to improve and in order to become the greatest, but he has enough talent to do it.”
Shkodran Mustafi wants Alexis Sanchez to remain at Arsenal but admits he is just as much in the dark as everyone else over the Chilean’s future.
Sanchez has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester City this summer as he enters the final year of his contract at the Emirates Stadium with Bayern Munich also said to be in the hunt.
A new contract has been offered to the 28-year-old but it was not discussed as Mustafi faced off against his club teammate in the 1-1 draw between Germany and Chile in the Confederations Cup on Thursday.
“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision,” the centre-back told Omnisport after Germany booked a semi-final tie against Mexico with a 3-1 win over 10-man Cameroon in Sochi.
“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”
Meanwhile, Kerem Demirbay and Timo Werner both scored their first senior international goals as Germany beat 10-man Cameroon 3-1 to book their place in last four.
Hoffenheim midfielder Demirbay marked his full debut by breaking the deadlock early in the second half at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi and RB Leipzig striker Werner’s brace sandwiched Vincent Aboubakar’s header for Cameroon.
Germany, who beat Austrailia 3-2 in their opening match before drawing with Chile, squandered a host of second-half chances, but saw the game out comfortably to finish top of Group B and set up a last-four clash with Mexico on Thursday.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli signed a new deal with French Ligue 1 outfit Nice on Sunday after spearheading their qualification for the Champions League in his first season.
“OGC Nice are delighted to confirm that Mario Balotelli has signed a new contract with the club,” Nice wrote on their Twitter account, without revealing the length of the deal.
A source close to the negotiations on Thursday had suggested Balotelli could extend his stay in Nice by two years with a monthly salary of €450,000.
Balotelli, who played in Italy for AC Milan and Inter Milan and England with Liverpool and Manchester City, joined Nice last August and scored 17 goals in 28 appearances as the club came third – their best finish in 41 years.
Balotelli’s move to Nice was seen by many as a last roll of the dice for a player who endured two miserable seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16 before landing at the Allianz Riviera on a free transfer.
The Italian helped fire Nice into the qualifying rounds for next season’s Champions League – after Lucien Favre’s side finished behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain – but Balotelli was also sent off three times.
Mario Balotelli in Ligue 1 for Nice in 2016/17:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 25, 2017
20 starts 🏃
15 goals ⚽
5 yellow cards ⚠️
3 red cards 🔴
Another year of entertainment. 🍿 pic.twitter.com/8M8Mw9RZAK
He was also the target of racist abuse from Bastia fans and found himself dropped over his attitude – an issue Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said Balotelli must address if he is to fight his way back into contention for the 2018 World Cup.
Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere had said earlier in the week that Balotelli was very keen to remain with the club after resurrecting his faltering career last season.
“I can tell you three things – one, he’s a player who wants to continue with us; two, he’s ready to make a financial effort; three, discussions are continuing,” said Rivere on Thursday.
Provided by AFP Sport