There’s only so much you can say about a kid who’s only played in six games in senior football. Battocchio arrives with a lot of talk about future stardom – which makes Watford’s announcement that there’s a deal in place to make the move permanent next summer quite mystifying. It could be that the Pozzos are throwing us a starlet to build our dynasty around, but if he’s so good – he’s been likened in the past to David Pizzaro – why are they so willing to let him go?
Battocchio’s lack of first team action is down to the swiftness of Udinese’s scouting network. Born in Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina – nicknamed ‘the Argentine Chicago’ not for its grain shipping industry, but for its ‘mafias, corrupt police and bordellos’ – he joined Newell’s Old Boys (the Argentine club, not Luton) at a young age. The club, based in Rosario, started the careers of such luminaries as Gabriel Batistuta, Gabriel Heinze and Lionel Messi – before he was whisked away to Barcelona for HGH treatment. The young Battocchio was training with the first team by the age of 14 and was named Argentine Youth Player of the Year at the age of 15.
This promising start at the club was not allowed to continue into a first team career as Udinese spent €200,000 taking the young midfielder to Friuli in 2009, when he was still 16. He quickly became captain of Udinese Primavera, the youth team, and made his debut for the senior squad in February 2011 as a late sub in a 7-0 defeat of Palermo. His second game came in the Europa League tie at Parkhead, lining up in the centre of midfield alongside Almen Abdi, who scored a late equaliser. His one start for the Zebras came, surprisingly, this season, in the opening fixture – a 2-1 defeat to the new-look Fiorentina – in which he played centre back. The side was missing a lot of the recognised Udinese stars that day, but a league outing as recently as last week suggests that Battocchio is hardly a fringe player out of sight of first team action. He also has a few Italy under-20 caps, qualifying through his Tivoli-born grandparents.
The man himself tweeted earlier on this week: ‘It’s time for a new adventure! Udinese thanks for everything… I’ll miss you! Watford arrival’. There’s a distinct air of finality around the tweet; that he is leaving the club forever. Why he’s being passed on to us on a permanent basis remains to be seen, but it could be that he is the star-in-waiting that the Pozzos will use to ignite the star quality of the club.
What do we know about how he plays? Not much. He’s fairly short – about 5ft 7, in keeping with most of the arrivals via Italy so far, and is regularly described as a deep-lying playmaker, something along the lines of a Michael Carrick – shielding the back line and using his vision to orchestrate attacks. He shies away from being compared to Pizzaro: ‘He’s a great player, but I don’t try to imitate him. Whenever I hear these comparisons I cover my ears.’ There are suggestions on forums that he lacks the physicality needed for playing in central midfield, but praise for his ‘two feet of gold and extraordinary vision of the game’.
He sounds good, but if great players were decided on words and YouTube videos alone, every club in the Championship would have four or five world beaters. That he came straight into the matchday squad for the Derby game implies that he’s fit and ready for action, so we’ll get to judge him soon – and we all know how much football fans love an early judgement!