London (AFP) – Manolo Gabbiadini has all the tools to be Southampton’s League Cup final hero against Manchester United after completing a remarkable journey from a garage in Italy to Sunday’s Wembley showpiece.
Just eight years after dreaming of becoming a mechanic, Gabbiadini will walk onto the Wembley turf as one of Southampton’s main hopes of engineering a shock victory over Jose Mourinho’s star-studded United.
Gabbiadini worked as an apprentice mechanic with his uncle and cousins in a garage near Bergamo while he was an unknown teenager on the books of Italian club Atalanta.
“I kept going there because engines are my passion,” he said. “I was proud to go to work. It was more fun than a job.”
Although he relished his manual labour, with fitting tyres on cars a particular favourite task, Gabbiadini eventually realised his feet would be his fortune rather than his grease-stained hands.
Gabbiadini really made his name when he joined Sampdoria in 2013 after a frustratingly brief spell with Juventus.
At Sampdoria, he began to show the predatory instincts that have become his trademark and more success, following a move to Napoli two years later, enhanced his reputation in Italy.
Even so, when Saints boss Claude Puel splashed out a club record £17 million to sign Gabbiadini from Napoli last month, the Italy international’s low profile outside his home country was underlined by the non-plussed reaction to the deal in the Premier League.
Gabbiadini had scored just five times for Napoli this season and fans of a certain age joked that Puel had in fact tempted Marco Gabbiadini, a former Sunderland and Crystal Palace striker who starred in the 1990s and is no relation of the Italian, out of retirement.
To be fair, even Gabbiadini, who speaks little English, was unsure whether he would thrive in the Premier League as he mulled over the transfer.
– Good solutions –
His agent Silvio Pagliari this week revealed it took a recommendation from compatriot and former Saints striker Graziano Pelle to convince him to make the move.
But Gabbiadini need not have worried as the doubters overlooked the flashes of potential Puel had observed as he battled against the notoriously tough defences of Serie A.
The 25-year-old took just 12 minutes to announce himself to Southampton supporters when he netted on his debut against West Ham at St Mary’s.
The following week he scored Southampton’s first two goals in their 4-0 victory at Sunderland.
That Gabbiadini is already Southampton’s third-highest scorer in the Premier League this season underlined why Puel was willing to gamble on him succeeding in England.
“Gabbiadini is a good technical player. It is important to play high up the pitch and have many options. He is always available and gives good solutions behind the defence with good runs,” Puel said.
Shane Long’s late goal at Anfield in the semi-final second leg win over Liverpool was a huge moment in Southampton’s season, but even that might not be enough for the Irish striker to get his place back from Gabbiadini on Sunday.
And if Gabbiadini, whose sister Melania is already in Italy’s hall of fame, crowns his rise by firing Southampton to their first ever League Cup triumph, he might finally be the most famous footballer in his own family.
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