Radu Dragusin: 'Romanian Van Dijk' who rejected Chelsea for Juventus

Radu Dragusin NXGNGetty/Goal

When the world's best teenage talents are asked to name their footballing idols, the majority of attackers now cite Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Enough time has now passed that those players who spent their childhoods worshipping the perennial Ballon d'Or winners are making the step up to the senior ranks themselves as they bid to follow in their heroes' footsteps.

But who is the Messi or Ronaldo figure for prospective top-level defenders to study? The answer is seemingly becoming Virgil van Dijk.

Despite the likes of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Thiago Silva excelling over the past decade, Van Dijk's ascent to the top of the world game following his arrival at Liverpool has seen him usurp all other centre-backs when it comes to inspiring the next generation.

The Netherlands international's near-miss at winning the Ballon d'Or in 2019 has set the standard for other defenders to follow, and it is no surprise that he is being held up as the player many are studying as they plot their own journeys to the upper echelons of the game.

Juventus' 19-year-old starlet Radu Dragusin is no different.

"I am inspired by Van Dijk, as well as Bonucci and Chiellini," Dragusin told Juventus TV at the start of 2020, as he no doubt remembered to give a shout out to the Bianconeri's two centre-back stalwarts.

The Romania youth international has since been compared to Van Dijk for his confidence in possession and positional sense, and having made his breakthrough in Turin this season, is on the right path to emulate the Anfield favourite.

Dragusin becoming a professional sportsman should really have come as no surprise to his family, with both his parents having represented Romania at their own chosen pursuits.

His father played volleyball while his mother excelled at basketball, though it was his cousin that introduced Dragusin to football before he then joined local club Sportul Studentesc at the age of seven.

Having spent four years with the team, Dragusin moved to Regal Sport Bucharest in 2013, a club that shares an affiliation with Atletico Madrid.

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As such, the Rojiblancos were alerted to Dragusin's talent relatively quickly, though they were not alone in showing an interest in signing a player who, after five years with Regal Sport, had become captain of Romania's Under-16s.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain were also keen on the strapping teenager, but it was Juventus who won the race, agreeing to pay €250,000 after Dragusin underwent two trial spells with the Serie A giants.

“My brother called me and told me there's a good young player [in Romania] and I sent him to see with his own eyes," Florin Manea, the agent who brokered Dragusin's move to Italy, told TMW. "He confirmed that initial impression by telling me he is a star, so I quickly reported to Juventus.

“After about an hour, Matteo Tognozzi, Juventus' chief scout, called me to say that Radu impressed everyone. Other teams were interested too, but the Bianconeri really wanted him.

"He asked me, 'Where can I become a great central defender?' Chelsea wanted him too, but that's why he chose Juventus."

Dragusin was initially integrated into Juve's U17s side, but after a season at that level he was quickly promoted to play for both the U19s and U23s teams in 2019, the latter of whom play in the third tier of Italian football.

Standing at 6'3" (191cm) tall and with the requisite drive to spend two hours in the gym each morning, Dragusin certainly possesses an adult's frame, and as such playing against men at the ages of 17 and 18 did not faze him.

Instead he thrived, and when Juve's first team suffered a glut of defensive injuries in the autumn, it was Dragusin who was called up by Andrea Pirlo to begin training with the first-team squad.

Since first making the bench against Lazio in early November, Dragusin has only missed out on a place in Pirlo's matchday squad on four occasions, and made his debut as a 69th-minute substitute against Dynamo Kiev in December's Champions League clash.

He has gone on to make three further appearances while maintaining his match fitness with the U23s Primavera team, and was even singled out as a potential option at right-back given Juve's current lack of depth in the position thanks to his willingness to carry the ball out of defence.

Pirlo shut down the suggestion of Dragusin switching positions, though the former Italy midfielder may need to start giving the youngster more opportunities to impress or risk losing him in the coming months.

Radu Dragusin NXGN GFXGetty/Goal

Dragusin's contract is up at the end of the season, and the likes of Tottenham, RB Leipzig and Newcastle have been linked with his signature.

Goal reported in January that a new five-year deal was on the table for the teenager, and signs are that he will commit his future to the club, but until the pen hits the paper questions will continue to be asked.

"We've never had the idea of leaving Juventus, signing a new deal will not be a problem," Manea, who now represents Dragusin, insisted in December when quizzed on his client's next steps. "We see his future at Juventus.

“Three years ago he was watching Ronaldo on television, now he plays with him. Sometimes dreams come true.”

Van Dijk might be Dragusin's role model, but the allure of Ronaldo - and Messi - endures. Even for centre-backs.