AS Roma prodigy Cristian Volpato is unlikely to represent Australia at an international level as he sets his eyes on a call-up to the Italian senior national team.
The 18-year-old has undergone a meteoric rise to stardom over the last six months and recently started for José Mourinho’s side in the UEFA Europa League. This morning, Volpato starred in a match-winning cameo for Roma as he scored and assisted off the bench in a 3-1 victory against Hellas Verona in Italy’s top flight.
There have long been calls to select the Camperdown-born youngster at an international level for Australia and these calls have been amplified by Australia playing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup which kicks off in just under three weeks.
While the young star remains in contact with head coach Graham Arnold about being selected in the Socceroos’ 26-man squad for the tournament, mentor and former coach Tony Basha believes that Volpato is not far from being given an opportunity to play for Italy’s senior team having already featured for the Azzurri’s U19 and U20 sides.
“I think his heart is set on representing Italy. He’s playing in the youth team and doing really well and there’s very very strong rumours that the Italian national team is gonna call him up to the first team,” said Basha.
“He’s not upset with Australia, he’s a proud Aussie kid but the people working around him, they want him to stick to playing football for Roma. At this stage, I don’t think there’s a chance he’ll play for the Socceroos.”
This comes as unfortunate news for the Socceroos and Australian football in general as Volpato’s talents would have been of great use during the World Cup. Equipped with a strong mentality and natural technical ability, Volpato is capable of gliding past defenders with ease and can strike the ball with power when given space. He is a player who can create something out of nothing, in a similar vein to Australian youngsters Garang Kuol and Marco Tilio.
“He has improved a lot, just everything about him, even when I talk to him he’s more mature. He’s training with Dybala, with Smalling, he’s training with some big players… Tammy Abraham has been helping him a lot, he’s like a big brother to him,” Basha added.
“He can be one of the best players in the Serie A and play for the national team in Italy, he’s a superstar…when I first saw him train at the academy, the first session, I knew this kid’s a superstar and nobody believed me.”
“It’s starting to actually show now, and we’re starting to see what this Aussie kid is doing, showing the Australian public that if someone knocks you back in Australia then if you keep working and you really want it, you can make it.”
Despite having made just a handful of senior appearances, Volpato is already loved in Rome and is constantly stopped in the streets for handshakes, photographs and conversations. This is a far cry from the life he loved as a teenager when he was cut from the academies of both Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers.
While development is not linear and A-League clubs would surely have had legitimate reasons for not selecting him at a young age, it was arguably the best thing that could have happened in his career. He had to fight his way into improving his skills, often ringing Basha at midnight to use the facilities at the Australasian Soccer Academy that Basha oversees to improve his skills.
When given a chance by former Roma U17 coach Fabrizio Piccareta, Volpato was not looking back. He finally found somebody who believed in him and recognised his unique talent.
Unfortunately for fans of the Socceroos, it seems that Australian football has missed out on the 18-year-old. Basha does not believe that Volpato is disenfranchised with the system as a whole as he might not have ever played for Roma had he not been cut from the A-League academies, but he believes that abuse from “keyboard warriors” has driven him away from wanting to represent Australia.
“The comments and the backlash he’s copped from the Australian fans, he actually got turned off. People think that him and his manager don’t read it, but they read all that stuff and say ‘eff Australia man don’t play for them, look what they’re doing'”, said Basha.
“In Italy, I couldn’t walk five metres without people hugging him, shaking his hand…they love him.”
Previously, the rhetoric associated with Volpato had been centred around his lack of minutes at a senior level. However, this line of thinking no longer holds much weight when considering that he has only played 37 less senior minutes this season than the much-older Awer Mabil who is likely to start for Australia in Qatar. Volpato’s upward trajectory has been immense and is set to continue.
Much of the vitriol directed towards Volpato has been justified by a leaked image from his Snapchat story which showed him sending a laughing emoji in response to Australia’s 2-0 loss to Japan in March’s World Cup qualifiers. However, Basha asserts that this has been blown out of proportion and taken out of context.
“One of his mates messaged him and said ‘you should be playing for Australia’ and Cristian sent him a laughing emoji and accidentally put it on story instead of sending it to his mate,” he said.
“He never laughed at Australia, he felt disappointed about Australia losing…he has no sour grapes towards Australia.”
With football’s biggest tournament expanding to 48 nations from 2026, it is unlikely that Italy will ever miss out on another World Cup having failed to qualify for the last two iterations despite winning the European Championships last year.
Opportunities to play with and against some of the best players in UEFA qualifying and in tournaments such as the Euros are another driving factor behind Volpato’s desire to represent the Azzurri as he looks to turn himself into a household name worldwide.
The story of Cristian Volpato seems like it will remain one where Australia is left to rue what could have been. Italy look set to be the ones to profit from Australia’s misfortune as Volpato continues to go from strength to strength for Rome in Serie A.