By Claudio D'Amato
He says his inspiration is Samir Handanovic, the man he calls "the best goalkeeper in the world", but Simone Scuffet actually has plans to follow in the footsteps of Gianluigi Buffon. While many have dreams of becoming Italy's No.1 shot-stopper, the 17-year-old has already proven in two months as Udinese's first-choice that he also has the talent to replace the Juventus man in the national shirt at some point in the future.
FROM THE PRIMAVERA TO THE DALL'ARA - Scuffet was raised in the youth ranks of the Pozzo family's club and was quickly promoted to the Primavera team after coaches were won over by his impressive frame and superb technique. A call-up for last year's Under-17 World Cup soon followed, with the Udine product excelling as the Nazionale made it to the final before losing out to Mexico. That, for Scuffet, was as close as he'd ever been to the limelight until Saturday, Febrruary 1, 2014.
That was a date the young keeper will remember forever. After Zeljko Brkic had sustained an injury in the warm-up ahead of the clash with Bologna at the Renato Dall'Ara, coach Francesco Guidolin chose to overlook Ivan Kelava and instead pick Scuffet as his replacement No.1. The teenager found out he was playing barely five minutes prior to kick-off, yet by full-time he already had his coach, the fans and the watching world convinced of his talent.
SAFE AS A VETERAN - Udinese won 2-0 in Bologna and parallels were immediately drawn between Scuffet and another 17-year-old debutant of times gone by. La Gazzetta dello Sport's player rating stated: "At 17, he made his Serie A debut without fear and kept a clean sheet. Just like a certain Buffon." He has remained Udinese's first-choice keeper ever since.
Brkic was given the chance to recover from his injury without the need to rush, with his young understudy turning in some monstrous performances all the while. For long spells of the two-legged Coppa Italia semi-final, Scuffet was a one-man wall, particularly during a sensational display at the Artemio Franchi. He also turned in man of the match-winning efforts in Serie A against Chievo, Genoa, Atalanta and Cagliari. He had been such a revelation that when Brkic returned to full fitness, he found the 17-year-old blocking his path back into the first team.
|PROFILE | Simone Scuffet
|Date of Birth
||31 May 1996|
|Height/Weight||187 cm/85 kg|
|He's a bit like...||Gianluigi Buffon|
The thing that stands out with the son of a former amateur goalkeeper is his innate talent for the role. He is quick to respond to danger and is attentive when coming to claim balls. His command of the defence belies his age, and his shot-stopping is also from the top drawer. It is impossible not to liken him to a young Buffon and he has admitted that a similar career path to Italy's all-time appearance record holder is exactly what he has always wanted.
"It would be wonderful and a dream to follow Buffon's footsteps," Scuffet told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It would be marvellous to win what he has for Juventus and in the Italy shirt.
"For now, I am very happy and I'll wait and see what happens next season. If I think that at the start of this year I was Udinese's fourth-choice keeper, then knowing I am now a starter is something of which I can be truly proud."
GAMBLE PAID OFF - Francesco Guidolin's punt on that evening in Bologna has certainly reaped dividends. Udinese are famous for the massive pool of unknown foreign talent they have developed through their youth setup, but in Scuffet they have a player with their own DNA. Ten years on from the departure of Fabio Rossitto, the Friulani finally have another local player of whom they can be proud.
Identified by Cesare Prandelli as a man who could well be fast-tracked on the road to success, it is hard not to see Scuffet becoming a star for some years to come. He has the talent to become one of the very best, and is already demonstrating his readiness to fulfill every inch of his massive potential.