Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli has refused to rule out a summer exit, suggesting that “playing abroad is an option” amid interest from a number of clubs across Europe, including Manchester City.
Locatelli, 23, has been one of the standout performers in the heart of Sassuolo’s midfield this season, earning recognition at international level as a result, with Roberto Mancini featuring him in all three of Italy’s recent World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.
Such has been Locatelli’s influence as the heartbeat of The Watermelon Peel’s system that he not only ranks first in Serie A for most passes into the final third (338) — and the only player to clear the 300 mark — but he also ranks second for most tackles (68), a versatile blend that highlights the full breadth of his midfield palette.
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The 10-capped Italy international has now been recognised as one of Europe’s most sought-after midfielders, with Man City mooted as a potential future destination, and Pep Guardiola is thought to be an admirer of his talents. And such speculation is unlikely to abate after Locatelli’s latest comments.
When asked about his future by Corriere dello Sport, Locatelli said: “I don’t know if this will be my last year here or what the future holds for me. When, and if, there are opportunities, we will evaluate them all together.”
On the prospect of leaving Serie A, he added: “Playing abroad is an option for me and at the moment I’m not excluding anything. It’s part of my job and it means that I have raised my level.
“Certain certificates of esteem and interest from big clubs increase my motivations and make me understand I’m on the right track.”
Sassuolo CEO: Locatelli deserves a big club, like Juve or City
With speculation gaining significant traction as we inch ever closer to the summer transfer market, Sassuolo CEO Giovanni Carnevali has also fanned the flames on a potential departure from Emilia-Romagna for the club’s crown jewel, believing Locatelli has all the right attributes to play for a club like Juve or City.
“My hope is that it’s a great club,” Carnevali told Tuttosport last month. “Whether it’s Juve or City or others of global value, I don’t know.
“He deserves it and has the characteristics to aspire to play there.”
Juve are widely considered to be at the front of the queue for Locatelli’s signature, but City are also said to have their noses firmly pressed up against the Sassuolo shop window, and Guardiola could well be in the market for midfield reinforcements with Fernandinho’s contract set to expire in June.
The Italian certainly has all the characteristics of an archetypal Guardiola midfielder; passing with the precision of a Swiss watch, recycling possession with metronomic rhythm, and even tackling with a terrier-like quality, making him an all-round talent.
Not only does Locatelli rank first for most passes into the final third of any Serie A player this season (as mentioned), but he also ranks first for passes overall (2066), first for touches (2522), fifth for recoveries (194), second for tackles and sixth for interceptions among midfielders (43).
Such a diverse skillset would mesh well with Guardiola’s fluid Cruyffian system, in which players are expected to interchange positions and perform multiple roles, and he certainly holds a candle to the club’s current No. 6 Rodri.
This season, Locatelli has outranked Rodri for tackles (68 to 57), interceptions (43 to 30) and possessions won in the defensive third (85 to 78), though it should be noted that City usually dominated the ball so there is less of a a defensive emphasis on the latter.
Either way, with key defensive traits, coupled with his high-ranking passing metrics, Locatelli would certainly make for a fine Fernandinho replacement to potentially partner Rodri in midfield, or even challenge him for Guardiola’s much-vaunted ‘Busquets’ role.