Palermo's Josip Ilicic wears the bemused look of a man who cannot believe his good fortune. You just want to go up to him and say: “It’s okay Josip, you deserve to be on the same pitch as Javier Zanetti or Thiago Silva and please don’t look like you are going to apologise if you happen to nut-meg either of them.”
The 23-year-old is one of those deceptive players who seemingly would be more at home on a building site than running out for Palermo in front of the packed stands of the San Siro or Olympic Stadium, puzzled at how he ended up in Serie A rather than contently paddling away in the backwaters of the Slovenian league.
Standing over 6ft and possessing the build of a middleweight he is however no lumbering box to box labourer but in fact a perfectly poised ballerina capable of dancing en pointe in the tightest of spaces to leave opponents swooning at his nimble-toed feet.
It is doubtful he would see himself in such an extravagant light, preferring the shadows to the limelight even coming into his second season in Italian football where he has been given the freedom of the trequartista role following Javier Pastore’s transfer to PSG.
Ilicic has enough creativity in his feet to follow his former team-mate to greater rewards but while the Argentine was all Hollywood swagger during his stay in Sicily it is doubtful that our man would be noticed in the queue for the cinema.
There is one element to his game that needs no confidence boost and that is his ability to draw opponents into making lunging challenges before whipping the ball away and creating space - and tellingly he has energy to burn which would of course be an asset in the Premier League while in Italy his willingness to run until he drops is not considered such a virtue.
The 23-year-old is one of those deceptive players who seemingly would be more at home on a building site than running out for Palermo in front of the packed stands of the San Siro or Olympic Stadium.
Former Rosanera coach Delio Rossi was forever berating his charge for chasing back into defence when he should have been conserving his strength for runs in the opposite direction. Learning when to get involved in the play and when to drift out wide and create space has taken him time to grasp – hindered in part by his introvert nature and conservative knowledge of basic Italian.
However, with the ball predominantly on his feet and in the centre of a stage of his own making the former Maribor playmaker radiates star quality – and last season his inter-play with Pastore was one of the reasons while Palermo reached the Italian Cup final.
He finished the campaign with nine goals in all competitions but this season the internal chaos that owner Maurizio Zamparini creates has definitely unsettled the team, with youth coach Devis Mangia currently in charge after Stefano Pioli failed to make it to the start of the campaign.
Mangia conservative nature away from the Barbera stadium has seen Ilicic started on the bench at Lazio, AS Roma and Udinese and he although impressed when coming on that lack of belief on individuality from the man on the bench may encourage the player’s agent to peruse a January move.
With Zamparini well known for selling at the top of the market as he proved with the reported 40million Euro gleaned for Pastore, a profit of 20m plus on the 2m outlay for Ilicic makes perfect sense. Unsurprisingly, the player has remained tight-lipped about his future but like it or not his undoubted talent is set to bring him plenty of attention of a wider audience very soon.
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