If you’ve heard of Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, the chances are that you’re also aware of the endless comparisons made with Andrea Pirlo. It’s easy to make the analogy; the 40-year-old World Cup winner also began his career with Le Rondinelle and the former Italy star is similar to his young successor in appearance, sporting dark flowing locks.
Like Pirlo, Tonali is naturally gifted in terms of passing, connecting with 73.9% of an average of 39.5 average passing attempts this season, according to Whoscored.com. This might not seem a particularly high rate for a player in this position, but it’s important to note that this is the 19-year-old’s first campaign in Serie A, and Brescia are currently in last place in the table after achieving promotion from the second tier in 2018/19.
Despite all the comparisons to Pirlo, it is not an over-exaggeration to say that in this instance they simply do not go far enough. Anyone who has watched the youngster in action will understand that Tonali has all the attributes to become a player much more suited to the modern game than his legendary predecessor, and for this reason, it is absolutely no surprise that he has been linked with moves to the likes of Liverpool, Juventus and Inter.
While there is no doubt that Tonali – who already has three senior caps for Italy – can occupy the regista role that became so synonymous with Pirlo, his work rate, tackling and movement between both boxes indicate that he is well-suited to a team with a pressing style.
Teams who favour this style such as Liverpool and Atalanta have forced opposition sides to evolve the “Pirlo” role, as there is no longer time for a midfielder to pick out a considered pass when your opposite number is constantly hustling and looking to win back possession.
Indeed, former Brescia boss Eugenio Corini was keen to dispel the comparisons to Pirlo, insisting the youngster’s style is more like that of Daniele De Rossi, while Tonali himself believes that he resembles Gennaro Gattuso.
These correlations come from the 19-year-old’s grit and determination, yet he is not merely a grafter in the centre of the park. Tonali has the strength to hold off defenders with one hand, while taking the ball away from them with the agility, poise and speed of an incredibly graceful player.
Brescia owner Massimo Cellino has consistently declared that his talented star is not for sale, however whether he continues to hold that line in the current climate remains to be seen.
“I love president Cellino very much and he rates me highly,” Tonali told reporters in November 2019. “He’s a great person and I hope to travel down a good road with him. After the match against Fiorentina, he said he wouldn’t even sell me for €300 million, but that doesn’t scare me, even if it really is a lot of money.”
Whether the midfielder is considered to be like Pirlo, De Rossi or Gattuso, all comparisons are inadequate in this case. Here is a complete player, capable of becoming one of the greats in the modern game.
Sandro Tonali IS Sandro Tonali. There’s nothing more to say than that.