Italy have impressed with their togetherness and fighting spirit en route to the UEFA EURO 2020 final, but what are the players like away from the pitch? Get to know them a little better ahead of Sunday’s decider.
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Gianluigi Donnarumma, goalkeeper
Few footballers ever make it to the very top. Fewer still make their debuts for AC Milan against Real Madrid at age 16. And then save a penalty from Toni Kroos. Yet that is precisely what Donnarumma did in summer 2015. Since then he has made 215 Serie A appearances and earned 32 caps for Italy. No prizes for guessing what Donnarumma’s next big objective is.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo, right-back
As a youngster Di Lorenzo played as a striker, tormenting teams around his native Tuscany and earning the nickname ‘Batigol’ after ex-Fiorentina goal-machine Gabriel Batistuta. Nevertheless, he only made his Serie A bow with Empoli in 2018 at age 24. In 2020 he named his first daughter Azzurra as a nod to the prevalent colour in his career: blue. “Empoli, Napoli and Italy; it’s a colour I’ve always had good connections with.”
Leonardo Bonucci, centre-back
Just the 11th player to have represented Italian giants Juventus, Inter and Milan, Bonucci forms part of a select group including the likes of Christian Vieri, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimović. Not only that, but his partnership with Giorgio Chiellini is one of the most feared by strikers around the world. “I think I know Bonucci better than I know my wife,” Chiellini once said.
Giorgio Chiellini, centre-back
Dubbed ‘King Kong’ for his chest-thumping goal celebrations, Chiellini has the brains to match the brawn: in 2017 he graduated cum laude from the University of Turin’s School of Management and Economics with a Master’s degree in Business Administration. When José Mourinho said that he could teach the art of defending at Harvard, the 36-year-old replied that he would be more interested in studying there for “a Master’s in Economics”. His defending at this EURO, especially against Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, has likewise been cum laude.
Emerson Palmieri, left-back
Palmieri’s first sport was swimming and he also played futsal until he was 14. Earmarked as Italy’s first-choice left-back until struggling for playing time at Chelsea, he had to look on as Leonardo Spinazzola won plaudits in his position up to the quarter-finals. Still, the 26-year-old was ready when required to step in and replace his injured team-mate. He was a lively performer in the semi-final against Spain, even hitting the bar.
Nicolò Barella, midfielder
Barella became the youngest captain in Cagliari’s history when wearing the armband on 17 December 2017, aged 20 years, ten months and nine days. A father of three daughters despite being just 24, Barella is a huge NBA fan. His first basketball jersey was an Allen Iverson one. “Watching a player with his [relatively small] stature dominating among giants was an inspiration for me,” said the diminutive midfielder. His slalom through the big Belgian defence for Italy’s first goal was certainly reminiscent of the former NBA star.
The brains of the Italy midfield, Jorginho owes much of his talent to his mother. “She used to play football, so I learned a lot from her,” he recalled of his boyhood in Brazil. “She would take me to the beach with a ball and I would spend the whole afternoon doing technical work in the sand.” When he moved to Italy as a 15-year-old to join the Verona academy, he lived in a monastery for 18 months while earning €20 a week. His displays at this tournament, where he has underlined his credentials as one of the game’s best deep-lying playmakers, have been priceless.
Marco Verratti, midfielder
The only player in the squad with no Serie A career appearances, Verratti initially feared he would miss a second consecutive EURO because of injury. However, Roberto Mancini waited patiently for the energetic Paris midfielder and brought him back into the team despite Manuel Locatelli shining in his place. Verratti’s showings against Belgium and Spain explain exactly why.
Federico Chiesa, forward
The son of ex-Italy forward Enrico Chiesa, Federico started out at Fiorentina, competing for a place in the side with Cristian Tello, a player he previously only knew from playing video games. “I always used to pick him in my team, he was so fast,” Chiesa said of the former Barcelona attacker. After Chiesa’s goals against Austria and Spain at EURO 2020, it’s safe to assume Italian gamers are now doing the same with him.
Ciro Immobile, forward
Immobile joined Juventus in 2008 but it wasn’t until he played under Zdeněk Zeman at Pescara in 2011/12 that his goalscoring talent truly flourished: he netted 28 times in Serie B in a team also containing Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne. The 2019/20 European Golden Shoe winner – a passionate fisherman – had a brilliant group stage, scoring against Turkey and Switzerland, but is still seeking his first knockout goal. Can he help the Azzurri land the big one on Sunday?
Lorenzo Insigne, forward
The Napoli forward has been teasing his team-mates, Immobile especially, with constant jokes and pranks all tournament. “I cannot walk anywhere calmy any more,” Immobile said of his attacking partner. “He’s small and can hide anywhere. We came back from lunch and when I entered the room with Verratti, he was inside the wardrobe and jumped out at me.” All was forgiven after his beautiful goal against Belgium though.
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Left-back Spinazzola was one of the tournament’s breakout players, being selected as ‘Star of the Match’ twice before suffering a serious injury against Belgium. Locatelli notched two great goals against Switzerland in the group stage, while Matteo Pessina, known as “the student who also plays football”, was only recalled to the squad due to Stefano Sensi’s injury but scored against Wales and Austria.