Two hours before Parma Calcio’s Serie B fixture against SPAL, Alessandro Circati was still unaware he would be making his debut.
“I didn’t actually know I was going to be playing, there are a couple of other boys who play in that position, so it wasn’t really in my mind,” Circati laughs.
“Two hours before the game, the coach pulls out the whiteboard and starts telling us who is playing, and I saw my name up there.”
The 18-year-old was thrown the opportunity of a lifetime, following the suspension of experienced defender Danilo after he accumulated too many yellow cards.
Giuseppe Iachini rolled the dice and selected Circati as the stand-in, throwing him right in at the deep end.
“From the first 15-20 minutes the nerves were kicking in, but after going to the stadium and walking onto the pitch they started to settle down. It was more just like go out there, play football and have some fun.”
A lot of fun, as it turns out. Debuts rarely get much better for a teenage defender as Parma triumphed 4-0, with Circati helping to keep a clean sheet in front of his home fans.
What makes Circati’s story all the more impressive is that it wasn’t so long ago he was playing in the NPL Western Australia with Perth Glory’s youth team. After he was born in Fidenza, 25km from the club his father Gianfranco once represented and that he would go on to debut for himself, the Circati family moved to Perth when Alessandro was just a one-year-old.
He grew up playing football for Perth Soccer Club’s youth teams, before spending four years with Perth Glory. In August 2019, Circati made the decision to move to England to trial, and he started training with Leicester City.
“I was there for a couple of months and things went really well, but due to Brexit I couldn’t stay there anymore.
“I have family in Italy, so I came over and the opportunity to play for Parma popped up and I took it. It’s a great club with some fabulous players and brilliant history so I ended up signing here.”
Until November, Circati had been playing with the Primavera (under-19s) squad, but was instructed to train with the first team, and soon found himself on the bench on game days.
“With the coach’s trust in me – and I owe him a lot for that – he made me play my first game and everything went well from there. I’ve played four games since my debut about a month and a half ago.”
One rather infamous member of Parma’s squad has helped Circati orientate himself into the first team particularly. World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been back at his home team since 2021, and at 44-years-old he’s an experienced campaigner that Circati is enjoying learning from.
“He’s very good and a big help. He’s always there telling you what he suggests and giving advice. He’s very good to play with, very constructive and not negative at all. To have him behind me for my first game gave me a little bit more confidence knowing that he was there to help me and guide me through the game.
“He’s a top guy, big personality, loves to smile, loves to joke. You never see him down or having an off day. He’s always positive and having a laugh with the boys, whether it’s the older ones or even us younger boys.”
Breaking into a Serie B team at 18 years old has turned some heads, including both the Australian and Italian national teams for whom Circati is eligible for. Trevor Morgan and the Olyroos announced that Circati would be part of a squad of European under-23 talent for a camp in Holland, but a week later, the Italians came calling.
“I got told the Italian national team wanted me. It was a very difficult situation; I am more than happy to play for both. It was an absolute honour to be asked to wear the shirt, but I felt like it was better for me to go play with the Italian national team.
“We went off to Norway to play their national team, and we won 5-0. It was a great honour to wear the Italian colours and fight on the field for the nation.”
However, the door isn’t shut on a call-up to the Green & Gold just yet.
“I’m not closing my options; I’m not saying now I’m not going with one. It’s not how some people think where they’re like, ‘oh he’s gone now, he’s Italian’. If the Australian team called me and my time here was over, I’d go with them.
“It’s all a matter of what’s in the moment and what I feel is the best decision for me. I’d have to have a good chat with my parents, the club and even with Gigi [Buffon], what he thinks is best for me and what is best for my development.
“A lot of thought would have to go behind that and a decision I couldn’t make in one or two days.”
Also part of the squad was New South Wales-born Cristian Volpato, who has recently made his debut for Serie A giants Roma. The two are both in regular contact with each other, and Circati says it goes to show that Australian football is worthy of the world’s approval.
“It shows just because you’re from Australia it doesn’t mean you’re not good at playing football and you don’t have to go play ‘footy’. Everyone’s got their different talents, they can be good at one sport or another.
“It really shows that it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you’re grew up or which academy you went through, it’s only the start. It doesn’t cap you and you can go far from where you start.”
Image Source: Parma Calcio