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Moise Kean: The 'miracle' Italy have been praying for

13:40 EAT 26/03/2019
Moise Kean Italy
The Azzurri have been crying out for a goalscorer but the 19-year-old son of Ivorian parents may also prove the hero a divided nation needs right now

Roberto Mancini, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci all say the same thing: Moise Kean is destined for greatness.

His mother, though, has known that since he was born. Isabelle says even "his birth was a miracle".

"The doctors told me that I couldn’t have any more children," she told Tuttosport on Monday. "I cried and prayed.

"[My son] Giovanni also asked me for a little brother.

"One night I dreamed of Moses. He had come to help me and, four months later, I was pregnant again."

Isabelle's prayers had been answered. Some 19 years on, perhaps Italy's have too.

Shocked and devastated by the Azzurri's failure to qualify for last year's World Cup – for the first time since 1958 – the nation's footballing community have been desperately searching for saviours, exciting young talents to lead them into a new era of success.

On Saturday evening in Udine, Kean and the 22-year-old Nicolo Barella joined Gianluigi Donnarumma, 20, in Italy's starting line-up for a Euro 2020 qualifier with Finland, while teenager Nicolo Zaniolo came off the bench.

Of the four, Kean's rise to prominence is arguably the most important, for a variety of reasons.

Italy have been crying out for a goalscorer for years now. Andrea Belotti still doesn't look like he's recovered from the injury that checked his progression, while Kean's childhood idol, Mario Balotelli, remains a maddeningly frustrating enigma.

As it was, Ciro Immobile led the line against Finland – despite the fact that he hadn't scored in his nine previous appearances for the Azzurri.

The 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella came off the bench. The Sampdoria striker arguably should have started, given his sensational Serie A form this season, but even his heart-warming return – after four years in the international wilderness, as well as his stalker nightmare – didn't distract from the real story of the evening: Kean.

In firing home with 16 minutes to go to seal a 2-0 win – Barella had opened the scoring early on – the Juventus forward became Italy's second-youngest goalscorer in history.

The record-holder, Bruno Nicole, was just 18 when he netted twice for Italy in a 2-2 draw with France in 1958, but he never added to his tally.

It would be a major surprise if history repeats itself, particularly with Kean set to start against Liechtenstein on Tuesday evening.

However, the promise of many more goals isn't the only reason why "Everyone's crazy about Kean", as Tuttosport put it on Monday morning.

Kean's emergence isn't just a positive for the national team; it's a positive for a nation presently racked with divisions over a variety of polarising issues, chief among them, immigration.

It was thus heartening to see Kean's historic strike greeted with such glee in Italy. Both the Gazzetta dello Sport and the Corriere della Sera went with the headline 'Yes We Kean' on Sunday morning.

It may not have quite worked phonetically but the message of hope was clear; the political allusions obvious.

Of course, it is never the duty of a footballer to unite a nation, least of all one so young.

But, as we have seen in recent months in England, Raheem Sterling has provoked a long overdue debate on racism in the British press by having the courage to speak out.

Kean has demonstrated a similar fearlessness on the contentious issue of what it means to be Italian, pointing out that the colour of one's skin should be irrelevant.

"I'm an Italian citizen by birth," he said immediately after his goal in Udine. "My parents have been here for more than 30 years.

"I'm sorry but we're all in the same country and if we live here, we must be treated as Italians."

Sadly, most immigrants are not, particularly those of colour, which is hardly surprising in a country now headed by Matteo Salvini, a far-right, Trump-like populist politician who once accused Tunisia of sending Italy "only convicts who have come to Europe with the sole aim of committing crimes".

In reality, the vast majority of those African immigrants lucky enough to make it to Italy work long hours in tough jobs and difficult conditions.

Just like Isabelle, who arrived in 1990 from the Ivory Coast and, after separating from Biorou Jean Kean, effectively raised Moise and Giovanni on her own.  

“There wasn’t a lot of money coming in," she explained. "I worked at a treatment facility and often did night shifts.

“Then, one day, Moise called me at 5:30 in the evening. I was going to work in Nizza Monferrato. I got scared; I thought something had happened to him.

“Instead he says to me, 'Mum, I've got a surprise for you'.

"I replied, 'Don’t tell me that Juve didn't sign you!'

“He said 'No, Mum, I’ve signed! You don’t have to work anymore and you can live with me in Turin'.

"Moise's success has repaid all the sacrifices I made in the past."

The hope now is that Kean's continued success can play a small role in creating a brighter future – for all Italians.