Nick Sabetti: Canadian goalkeeper Robert Stillo waiting for his chance to shine

Acquired by Parma in the summer, the Mississauga, Ont., native finds himself on a third loan spell in Italy's third division and is seeking to prove his worth to club and country.
A few days before the game, Robert Stillo called Sébastien Frey to ask him for a favour.

On the third match-day of the 2012-13 season, Genoa was hosting Juventus and Stillo wanted to know if he could somehow meet his childhood idol, legendary Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Stillo was in luck as Frey and Buffon knew each other very well from having worked on Reusch goalkeeper glove commercials together and from the many times they faced off in Serie A.

“It won’t be a problem,” Frey assured his young Canadian teammate. “I know Gigi; he’s a great guy.”

In the main field tunnel of the Luigi Ferraris stadium, Frey introduced Stillo to Buffon before kickoff and after the game, one which Juventus won 3-1, Buffon gave his jersey to Stillo, who vividly remembers being starstruck by the whole encounter.

“When I met him, I barely had words to say; my jaw dropped,” Stillo told Goal. “To think that after everything he’s won and all the games he’s played, he could have cared less, but he was very jovial, and wished me best of luck with my career.”

Stillo, a native of Mississauga, Ont., moved to Italy when he was 15 to pursue a professional career as a goalkeeper. After trials with Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus, he finally landed at Genoa, where he would spend the next four years with the Genoa youth academy, playing alongside Italian starlet Stephen El Shaarawy, who later joined AC Milan. 

In his last three years with the academy, Stillo began to train with the first team on a regular basis, where he worked with highly regarded goalkeeper coach Gianluca Spinelli.

“The training was phenomenal; I had an unbelievable goalie coach in Gianluca Spinelli from Genoa,” Stillo said. “I was truly blessed to have him in my corner and be able to train with him.”

Stillo was loaned out to third division sides Valenzana and Paganese in 2011 and 2012 respectively before Parma acquired him last summer. Loaned down once more to the third division in August, the now 22-year-old currently plays for Perugia.

The transition from the glittering environment of a Serie A club to the more grim surroundings of third division sides hasn’t always been easy.

“Paganese and Valenzana aren’t the best and most beautiful cities, the facilities weren’t that great and a lot changed for me going from a Serie A team to the middle of nowhere,” Stillo said. “Perugia, though, was, for a long time, a Serie A club and unfortunately they had financial problems and now play in Serie C, but every Sunday there’s 10 to 15 thousand people at the stadium.

“The training facilities aren’t that great either, but the fans are unbelievable and it’s a great place to be.”

Stillo’s main concern is that he receives regular playing time, which hasn’t always been the case during his loan spells. At Valenzana he was rarely given an opportunity and at Paganese it wasn’t a whole lot better. At Perugia, however, he's played all of the team’s cup games, but he’s still not playing as regularly as he would like to be.

“When I came here my agent told me I would be getting playing time or fighting for a spot – unfortunately, that’s not how it’s played out so far,” Stillo explained. “Goalies do come into their prime a bit later [compared to outfield players] and really only usually start playing regularly around 25 or 26, but hopefully that won’t happen with me. I’d like to be playing as early as possible.

“It’s that little bit of experience that can bring me to the next level.”

Stillo hopes to start getting some action with the Canadian national team as well, which would provide an opportunity to showcase his ability on the international stage. He represented Canada at the under-20 level and received his first call up for the senior team in friendlies against Denmark and the United States last January, but didn’t feature in any of the two games and hasn’t heard back from the national team since.

“I’ve met coach Benito Floro and hopefully I’ll be getting a call up soon,” Stillo said. “[The CSA] asked for my information so that they could get in touch with me, but no one’s been in touch with me. I’m just waiting for a call up, which I think should come soon - I’m hoping at least, I’m hoping.”

I’m just waiting for a call up, which I think should come soon - I’m hoping at least..."

- Robert Stillo
Uncertainty has become a way of life for Stillo, who doesn’t know where he will end up from one year to the next. Ideally, he would like to return to Parma next season as a backup goalkeeper, where he would only be an injury away from playing in one of the best leagues in the world.

Last summer he had offers from England, which could be a potential destination next season, but he’s open to going anywhere, just as long as he can play regularly. He explained that he wouldn’t rule out a move back home to Toronto either, where several of his old friends from the Canadian youth sides currently play, or even to Montreal, where former Genoa teammate Matteo Ferrari would be a familiar face.

“I’m always open to a move [to MLS]. It’s unfortunate because I’ve tried to train with TFC when I’d come home for vacation, and they haven’t even let me train or anything,” Stillo said, who left Canada before Toronto FC’s inception. “They have a beautiful facility now and when I go see my buddies in the first team, I think, how can you leave home when you got TFC in your backyard?”

Seven years after having arrived at the Italian peninsula, Stillo's mentality has changed. He’s no longer content at being on the sidelines and merely an onlooker of the stars and greatness around him.

Now he’s anxious to play a part in it all himself.

“I know that I am very blessed to be where I am and that there are tons of kids who would kill to be where I am,” Stillo said. “Growing up was easy, now it’s a bit more frustrating, being here so long and I still feel a bit underappreciated and not being able to find more playing time and everything.

“When I was younger, I was just happy to be training with all the older guys and just watching and learning, but now that I’m a bit older, I really want to show my stuff.”