It’s not out of the ordinary for a teenage Australian to sign for a big European club. What is unusual is that two A-League clubs had Cristian Volpato in their youth systems and both came to the same conclusion: he wasn’t good enough.
Fast forward to 2021 and the 17-year-old was asked by the Italian FA to play in the U19s national side after his agent, legendary former player Francesco Totti, secured his protege a five-year contract at Serie A powerhouse AS Roma.
Volpato has been given the No.10 shirt for Roma’s primavera side this season and has repaid that faith by scoring several goals already from a hybrid of attacking midfield and striker positions.
This is a significant number for the Rome side – the previous incumbent was coincidentally Totti – and it was retired by the club.
Volpato is one of only a few primavera team players currently training with the Roma first team.
Coach Jose Mourinho and several of his players have been impressed with Volpato’s technique and goalscoring in the training that he’s taken part in.
How exactly did Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers both miss this potential though?
I first became aware of Volpato when he was running amok with the Abbotsford juniors as a striker.
His tally of 25 goals that season was box office and clubs began to circle the youngster like a shark smelling blood in the water.
Volpato initially signed for Sydney FC, which was an unusual move as Sydney are normally reluctant to recruit out of their ‘catchment area’ – Volpato is from Camperdown, which is a suburb in the heart of western Sydney.
His time in sky blue was short-lived, but cross-town rivals Wanderers were willing to give the talented teen another chance – unfortunately as a 15-year-old he was cut from the under-16 side.
There are many reasons why Australia’s talented kids don’t make it, competition for places is a big one – several kids can be vying for one position due to there not being enough professional clubs in the country.
Politics and the football system itself are other reasons for players missing out – clubs will target certain characteristics and if a player doesn’t have or develop them quickly, they are cast aside and lost in the Australian wasteland of a football system.
Volpato’s Sydney departure was due to his height, however – like many boys in their teens – he had a height burst very late to now stand a commanding 6’1″.
His time at the Wanderers was marred by perceived attitude problems, however the right coaching staff can nurture that wicked streak to the player and team’s benefit.
Australian coach Graham Arnold has reached out to persuade the talented attacking midfielder to play for Australia’s under 23s, but the offer was declined.
Even though Volpato holds dual citizenship, it is not a given who he will choose to represent. Two bad experiences with Aussie clubs left a sour taste in his mouth vurt Volpato is still open to representing the country where he spent his younger years.
Volpato would be wise to tread carefully though. Roma has a history of signing Australian teenagers and hyping them up, before they get lost in the European shuffle and come back home. Daniel De Silva comes to mind, having failed to reach his potential, he has bounced around A-League clubs since.
Volpato escaping the clutches of two of the biggest clubs in the A-League shows the problems in recruitment of players.
There’s a famous Italian saying: “Dietro ogni problema c’è un’opportunità“, which loosely translates to: “behind any problem, there is an opportunity.”
Volpato found his, but how many young Australian boys and girls will miss theirs?