As Davide Astori turned twenty-five on Monday, he faced the choice between staying with Cagliari, a club mired in a relegation battle in Italy or moving to Liverpool, a veritable giant of the game.
On the face of it, the decision should be an easy one, even without taking into account the increase in his current €500,000 salary: the defender is now at an age where he is in danger of becoming one of the many talented but in the end “nearly men” of the modern Italian game.
Salvatore Bocchetti, Domenico Criscito and Davide Santon have found varying degrees of success on leaving Italy, and like Astori came through the Italy Under-21 ranks.
Astori nearly made it at AC Milan, nearly made it as a regular member of the Italy squad and has been linked with a move to one of the big five so often that it is no longer headline grabbing news.
A switch to the Premier League would take his aspirations in another, better direction. Currently, he must wonder when his side can actually play at home again: the failure of Cagliari’s new stadium to reach even the basic safety standards means that the team spends more time on the mainland than in Sardinia. Of course, there is more to life than living on one of the most beautiful islands in southern Europe.
Having been schooled in the Milan way, coming through the youth ranks, loan spells as a teenager were only meant to be stopgaps before a return to the San Siro, but in the creative accounting of the Italian transfer market his one million euro price tag saw him end up at Cagliari in a co-ownership deal and there he has remained for the last six years.
The Sardinians bought out his contract in 2011 and owner Massimo Cellino immediately accepted an €11million offer from Spartak Moscow. However, Astori was having none of it and refused the switch to Russia – especially because his old club was making renewed enquires.
Juventus, AS Roma and Fiorentina were all interested but only on a barter deal with a raft of fringe players and youth prospects moving in the opposite direction, while Milan decided that they would continue their policy of signing free-agent central defenders.
There is no reason why the Bergamo-born player should not be a mainstay at a top Serie A side: he possesses the technique to bring the ball out of defence, where his passing is unadventurous but sure; he has the physical requirements to dominate in the air and holds his own when it comes to pace.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli considered him good enough to cover for Andrea Barzagli when it looked as if the Juventus defender may not be fit to make the final squad at last summer’s European Championships. In the end, he was once more on the outside looking in when it came to the competition proper.
A start for the Azzurri against England in August should have been the launching pad for Astori to prominently feature in the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign but this season has been spent on the back foot in every sense of the word. Cagliari have not won a game since the end of October, conceding twenty-two goals along the way to end last weekend in the third and final relegation place.
Manning a crumbling defensive barricade has meant very few ventures over the halfway line but along with midfielder Radja Nainggolan, Astori is Cagliari’s only saleable asset. If reports are to be believed then Liverpool’s €11m offer would suit both the club and the player.
With the chance to move to a big Italian club looking to have gone for good, a move to Anfield could prove to be Astori’s saving grace.