The Liverpool-AS Roma friendly match at Fenway Park in July was just that — an exhibition, a hectic affair with little flow, partly because 18 substitutions were made. But the game did provide a stage for young players such as Raheem Sterling and Alessandro Florenzi.
Both Sterling and Florenzi were regarded as promising talents this summer. And, now, both have emerged as starters.
Sterling, 17, Jamaica-born, was called into the England national team camp after delivering strong performances on the left wing for Liverpool. Sterling, who played with Queen’s Park Rangers youth teams before being purchased by Liverpool in 2010, has earned his starting spot with speed and craftiness.
Liverpool coach Brendan Rogers clearly considered Sterling a part of the team’s future. But Sterling’s preseason performances apparently convinced Rogers to give him a prominent role.
Sterling only became a part of the national team after several players were injured, coach Roy Hodgson calling him in for a World Cup qualifier.
Rogers recently said of Sterling: “He is a very levelheaded boy. He doesn’t waste his time doing stupid things, he comes into work with the first team and listens to the senior professionals, he is happy to listen to the coaches. And it has been quite straightforward with him, and his performances have done the talking. We know he still has a mountain to climb to be a top player, but what we are seeing at 17 years of age is the early stages of his career and he is going to be a real talent.’’
Florenzi, 21, grew up in Rome and has been with AS Roma except for a loan to Crotone in Serie B.
Florenzi scored Roma’s second goal in a 2-1 victory over Liverpool before 37,169 at Fenway July 26. After the game, reporters’ requests to interview US national team midfielder Michael Bradley were denied. Bradley, who had scored Roma’s first goal, had become the first US player to make an impact in Italy’s Serie A since Alexi Lalas with Padova in the 1990s.
Instead, the postmatch news conference participants were coach Zdenek Zeman and Florenzi, neither of whom speaks English. Zeman delivered a few cliché answers, then left the podium.
Florenzi presented a gregarious personality, responding in flowing Italian, describing memories of the Liverpool-Roma Champions Cup final.
Zeman presented a poker face, remaining in the background while Florenzi took the stage, hanging in the doorway to the Red Sox weight room.
Zeman is a no-nonsense coach, and he gave the impression he wanted to get a sense of how Florenzi would handle this situation with journalists. Zeman has an exceedingly stern disposition and emphasizes fitness, but he also coaches high-octane attacking play. You got the feeling Zeman liked Florenzi’s uninhibited attitude both on the field and off it. Zeman comes off as a disciplinarian, but he favors flair players. Florenzi displayed personality during the game, and that is what Zeman was looking for. The fact Florenzi also was not intimidated by foreign surroundings,
comfortable in a strange land, was a sign of maturity.
Injuries also opened the way for Florenzi. In Roma’s season opener, Florenzi scored a goal off a Francesco Totti assist. Florenzi scored again in a 3-2 loss to Bologna Sunday, and Roma announced the next day he was being signed to a contract worth 550,000 euros annually.
It is difficult to read much into friendlies, but they sometimes do provide a platform for young players and a chance for fans to spot talent before it becomes well known. A few examples from local exhibitions include: Jairo “El Tigre’’ Castillo (Colombia) in 1998; Fabrizio Miccoli (Juventus) in 2003; Mario Balotelli and Mattia Destro (Inter), plus Matias Fernandez (Sporting) in ’09; Javi Garcia and David Luiz (Benfica) in 2010.
Castillo was a 20-year-old striker when he scored for Colombia in a 2-1 loss to Benfica at Foxboro Stadium. He soon attracted a multimillion-dollar transfer offer from Genoa, but was involved in an auto accident before completing the deal. Castillo recovered but never fulfilled his promise. Now 34, Castillo is playing with Atletico Tucuman in Argentina, his 11th club in six countries since joining America de Cali in 1994.
The ’03 game between Barcelona and Juventus, a 2-2 tie, at Gillette Stadium was the first chance for fans to witness Ronaldinho playing for Barcelona.
Ronaldinho had just joined the team and, facing fitness issues and other logistical problems, was planning to sit out. But match organizers and Revolution officials persuaded Ronaldinho to make an appearance and he did, as a second-half replacement for Oscar Lopez.
AC Milan in rut
The other Serie A club to visit the area last summer, AC Milan, is struggling. Milan has lost its opening two home games for the first time since 1930, failing to score a goal.
Antonio Cassano appeared disenchanted during Milan’s appearance at Gillette, a 3-1 victory over CD Olimpia of Honduras, complaining of the loss of defender Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain. Milan also had sent Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG.
Sure enough, Cassano was the next to go, going to Inter on a free transfer in exchange for Giampaolo Pazzini.
Milan, a seven-time European Cup champion, meets Anderlecht of Belgium in its Euro opener Tuesday.