By Mark Doyle
Over 70 Japanese journalists travelled to Emilia-Romagna on Sunday night to watch Keisuke Honda make his AC Milan debut. However, by the full-time whistle, there was only one name on everybody’s lips, that of Domenico Berardi.
Honda made his eagerly-awaited Serie A bow midway through the second half but by that stage the attacking midfielder had already been eclipsed by the 19-year-old Berardi, who wrote himself into the record books by becoming the second youngest player ever to score four goals in an Italian top-flight game - and the first teenager since Silvio Piola in 1931. He is also the first player to score four against Milan in Serie A.
It is a remarkable rise to prominence for a player who was only discovered by Sassuolo by chance. The Calabrian was spotted by club scout Luciano Carlino while playing football with some friends during a visit to Modena, where his brother was studying.
Within two years of leaving Cosenza for Sassuolo, he was making his debut for the Neroverdi and by the end of his second season with the club, his performances had already attracted attention from overseas, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all expressing an interest.
However, it was Juventus who managed to land one of the most promising young forwards in Italy as he joined the Bianconeri on a co-ownership deal that saw Luca Marrone move in the opposite direction for €4.5 million.
The Italian champions immediately loaned Berardi back to Sassuolo to afford him more game time. It was an inspired move, with Sunday’s sensational showing against Milan making it 11 goals in 14 appearances this term, the best minutes per goal ratio in the division.
It is worth noting that Sassuolo defender Francesco Magnanelli recently stated that Berardi was “not yet ready” for Juventus. After watching his young team-mate leave the field to a standing ovation 13 minutes from the end of one of the most sensational breakout performances Italy has seen in recent years, one wonders if he has changed his mind.
Magnanelli had doubted whether Berardi was "mature" enough to play for the Scudetto holders but if his reaction to his historic heroics are anything to go by, this is a young man with a level head on his shoulders and a real sense of perspective.
"I will never forget this game ever but I want to dedicate these four goals to [Francesco] Acerbi," he stated, referring to his team-mate's ongoing battle with testicular cancer.
It merely underlined that Berardi is a class act both on and off the field.