Italy’s Federico Chiesa follows proudly in his father’s footsteps

Federico Chiesa was not yet born when his dad scored for Italy at a European Championship in England. The Azzurri were a goal down to the Czech Republic at Anfield in 1996. Enrico Chiesa took possession midway inside his own half, sprinted forward 50 yards and fed a pass to Diego Fuser, overlapping down the right wing.

He continued his run into the box, ready for the return ball. Two defenders converged on Chiesa, sweeping his standing leg from underneath him, but not before he had drilled the ball underneath their keeper.

Twenty five years later, it was Federico’s turn to introduce himself to an English audience. Sent on as an 84th-minute substitute in Italy’s Euro 2020 last-16 game against Austria at Wembley, the younger Chiesa broke the deadlock at the start of extra time. Receiving a cross at the back post, he headed down, guided the ball away from a defender with his right foot and then swept it into the far corner with his left.

It was a magnificent piece of technique but, much like his father’s goal in 1996, the most impressive part was how he held his nerve. “I did well to stay calm on the goal,” Federico said afterwards. “In a moment like that you might get that desire just to hit it on the volley and rip the net open.”

Knowing which shot to choose in a pressured moment is an art that can take a whole career to master. Chiesa would be the first to tell you that he has a long way to go. But if he is further along than you would expect for a player of his age, then it might be because he got a head start.

Archive footage shared by Italy’s Sky Sports this week shows Enrico Chiesa placing his toddler-aged son repeatedly in front of a ball in the living room and instructing him to “Shoot! Shoot the ball!” Federico gurgles with delight at every attempt.

Italians have a word, predestinato, for a young player who is fated to achieve big things. It is one of those labels that can become a burden, adding unnecessary pressure at an early age. Federico has had to wear it for as long as he can remember, fans in Florence willing him to succeed from the moment they saw him scooped up in his father’s arms during another TV segment.

Still a toddler, he was asked who would score the goals for Fiorentina now that Gabriel Batistuta had gone to Roma. Federico immediately named Francesco Toldo before dad gently pointed out that this was the team’s goalkeeper. Contemplating all this for a moment while the grown-ups talked, he returned to the conversation by pointing a triumphant finger at his chest and saying: “Me!”

He did indeed go on to score goals for Fiorentina – 34 in four seasons – though his transfer to rivals Juventus last October has since turned the club’s fans against him. Chiesa was only following his ambition. He wanted to play in the Champions League, and he was ready for it. Even as Juventus crashed out of the competition against Porto, he scored three times across the two legs.

Federico is not yet as prolific as his father was at his peak. Perhaps he never will be – Enrico was a centre-forward, while his son plays mostly on the wings. Yet Federico has developed a useful habit of scoring in high-pressure situations. After the goal against Austria, Chiesa struck again in Italy’s semi-final against Spain.

Once again, his shot selection was perfect. Fans back home had for days been celebrating o tir a gir: Neapolitan shorthand for Lorenzo Insigne’s trademark shot that bends around defenders and goalkeepers before turning back towards the goal, as deployed in the win over Belgium. Now Chiesa produced his own homage, seizing a loose ball on the edge of the box and whipping it across Unai Simón.

Italy still needed penalties to get past opponents who had outplayed them for most of the match. Better to win by the skin of your teeth, though, than to lose like Enrico Chiesa’s Italy did against the Czechs at Euro 96. The Azzurri that year went home at the end of the group stage.

This year’s vintage are a different animal: unbeaten in 33 games. That run has been a collective effort, and Roberto Mancini insists that he views every player in his squad as a starter. Still, only 11 can be on the pitch at one time, and it is telling that, after starting the tournament with Domenico Berardi on the right side of his front three, the manager has now started Chiesa in consecutive games.

Enrico knows his son is in good hands. He played alongside Mancini for Sampdoria and the Italy manager later coached him for a season at Lazio as well. “Roberto means a lot to me,” he said last year. “He has been a continuous presence in my journey through life.”

Federico, too, appreciates Mancini, and has credited him with the spirit of togetherness in the camp. The player has been lucky to work under several exceptional coaches in his career, but it is his father who kept him on track through harder times: when his teenage body was deemed too frail by coaches who doubted that he could ever be great like his dad.

“In moments of difficulty he gave me the right advice.” It started all the way back in that family living room, with a simple instruction to shoot.

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