Man in the middle

When you think of Italian soccer the first thing that comes to mind is defense. Italian are known to be very stout on the defensive side of the ball. They don’t give up a lot of shots - and the build from the back forward.

What people may not know about the Italian game is the number of great offensive players they had. The younger generation will know Francesco Totti, Roberto Baggio, Luca Toni and Christian Vieri - great Italian forwards.

But, over the last 10, 15 years, the Italian game has been changing. The defense will also be there, but playmakers have come into the fold more and more. The playmaker that has made the biggest difference in the midfield is Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo won’t ever make you notice him for his defense, or lack there of. But his vision and being able to pick out anyone he wants with the long ball is something to be hold. Pirlo changed how Italians played the game.

Now a knew generation of Italian playmakers are coming up to prove their worth.

For Canisius College’s Manuelle Cavazzoli soccer is life, it’s all he knows. He wants to prove to everyone that Italian game can translate just fine here at the collegiate level.

“In Italy soccer is a real lifestyle. Our country has a great football tradition and since then this sport is the most popular and practiced,” he stated. “Since childhood, all children are enrolled in school scenes and most of them continue to play until adulthood. Not to mention how enthusiastic the fans are for their team, most of them get involved in this sport seven days a week by cultivating sports rivalry and continuing to talk about the game played or anxiously waiting for the next one. In addition, the whole country joins under a single flag when the Italian national team plays Europeans championship or the World Cup.”

You could say that Cavazzoli is the new type of Italian player. He saw Pirlo play, but patterns his game after Marco Veratti. Veratti is very talented in the midfield. He has been compared to Pirlo with his great vision of the game. He can pick out the perfect pass - but also play a tough style of defense.

Cavazzoli also has great vision on the pitch. His coaches have told him growing up that midfielders are the brains and lungs of the team. Midfielders need to be able to be smart enough out on the pitch.

They need to always be thinking two steps ahead of everyone else.

“During my career my coaches have taught me that the midfielders represent the brain and the lungs of the team. So as to succeed in bringing these tasks into play, a midfielder must be intelligent in interpreting the moments of the game, understanding when to accelerate the game, and when it is time for the team to refuse. A good midfielder must always be alive in the game and help his teammates find themselves free to handle the possession of the ball and "bite" the opponents to recover balloons,” explained Cavazzoli. “What I learned playing is that to have a good vision of the game you need to think very fast and play with your head high, so doing this every time you receive the ball you must already know which pass is the best to do, where you’re mates are located. In this sense, the position of the body is very important, it is necessary to always maintain a position that allows you to see a large portion of the field but at the same time cover the ball to the best of possible opponents.”

Cavazzoli’s soccer journey is just like every other Italian boy growing up. Soccer is the number one sport and every young Italian has their sites set on playing at the highest level.

If it was only that easy. Since every Italian boy wants to play in Serie A, it’s tough to crack teams. Wanting to still play soccer, and get an education, Cavazzoli embarked on his journey to America and Canisius College.

“As it often happens among Italian kids, becoming a professional footballer has always been my dream as a child. Growing up I realized how difficult it is to be able to make it because of the high competition , in the last few years I found my soccerl dimension between excellence and Serie D, categories in which soccer does not become a real job but something like that,” stated Cavazzoli. “I decided to come to America to play soccer first of all because I think the USA is a great country that has a very efficient university system - where it is easier and more satisfying to conciliate high-level study and sports. Graduating is in fact my first goal, but I never wanted to give up soccer for that. I also think that the US soccer movement is in great development and from the point of view of the structures are more equipped than in Italy.”

Cavazzoli will feel at home as he is one of four Italians to be playing for the Griffs this season. It should make for an easy transition on the pitch. Being able to communicate with his fellow Italians should help.

Even with so many Italians on the team, it should be easy for the rest of the Griffs to mesh. Meshing quickly will be key to the teams success.

“I think the group of Italians will mesh well with the rest of the team. We Italians are generally very open minded, available, and we have an aptitude for teamwork,” stated Cavazzoli. “I believe that we will be able to bring the tactical knowledge typical of Italian football and at the same time they will put us in the best conditions to face such a different and competitive championship.”

Winning a championship won’t be easy. The MAAC is a very deep league, and the Griffs will be challenged from the start. Another thing that will be challenging is the language barrier that Cavazzoli will have to get over.

On the pitch soccer is soccer. In the classroom is an entirely different animal. The transition from Italian to English won’t be easy. It will take some time for Cavazzoli to get a handle on the American language - especially with all it’s slang.

“Probably the toughest transition will initially be the language, it will not be easy to communicate with teachers and coaches without a thorough knowledge of the language,” stated Cavazzoli. “I hope to adapt myself to the best and in the shortest possible time. Once I overcome this obstacle perhaps the biggest opponent to beat will be the distance from home and from my family to whom I am very attached.”