Sporting a Sampdoria cap, a slick blue suit and a pair of matching slip-on shoes, Walter Zenga, Sampdoria’s manager, certainly looked the part as he took in the action from the sidelines against Bologna.
While Zenga’s outfit saw him looking rather slick, his team’s performance didn’t quite match his sharp attire, but they nonetheless did enough to secure a 2-0 win, courtesy of goals from star men Eder and Roberto Soriano.
There would’ve been one man, in particular, he would’ve been taking a keen interest in, though. And that was his 20-year-old Slovakian sensation, David Ivan.
Ivan, who signed for the club back in 2011, from FC Nitra, and recently made his debut, in the 5-2 mauling of Carpi, knew he had a point to prove to Zenga against Delio Rossi’s side.
Despite the fact he enjoyed a largely successful debut, his late sending off undoubtedly tarnished the occasion. Crucially for him, however, Zenga’s trust and faith in the diminutive midfielder remained undiminished. As a consequence, the Italian coach decided to throw down the challenge to his young charge by immediately reinstating him to the starting lineup for the Bologna game. And Ivan didn’t let him down.
From his right-sided central midfield position, he went about his work confidently and fearlessly, showcasing suitably that he was by no means overawed by the occasion.
Fleet-footed and nimble, the Slovakian international’s technical ability allowed him to undertake his role nicely. By being such a great user of the ball, he passed it around comfortably in Samp’s possession phases, working well with the likes of Soriano, Fernando and Edgar Barreto.
With the right wing often left vacant, due to Zenga’s desire to deploy Soriano, Eder and Luis Muriel in relatively close proximity to one another, Ivan would regularly push into this area and provide great width for his side. This tactic worked effectively, for it forced one of Bologna’s midfielders to go to him, thus creating some additional space for the brilliant Soriano, especially, to weave his magic and shine as a result of the extra time and space he could utilise.
For such a slightly built young man, it’s clear that Ivan makes up for his physical shortcomings by being tactically and technically excellent. Plus, his never say die approach to defending means he isn’t a weak link to his side without possession. Quite the opposite really, his defensive energy added a vast amount of intensity to his side’s stopping efforts. Pressing relentlessly, flying into tackles like a man possessed and challenging manfully for aerial duels, despite him on only standing at 173cm, were all ways in which he imposed himself on the Rossoblu.
Furthermore, he provided essential cover for his right back, which was initially Mattia Cassani and then Pedro Pereira, when the former suffered an injury midway through the first half. Pereira, 17, who was making his debut would’ve been full of nerves, but Ivan supported the youngster brilliantly. Ivan helped him track Emanuele Giaccherini, plus ably marked Bologna’s marauding fullback, Adam Masina.
Ivan’s night ended halfway through the second half when Zenga substituted him for another of Samp’s talented youngsters in Joaquin Correa. As a testament to his fine performance, Zenga embraced his young charge in congratulations to say job well done, while club captain Angelo Palombo gave him a big kiss on the forehead.
In just his second Serie A match, it’s been great to see the man who was superbly spotted by Sampdoria’s scouting network, five years ago, repaying the club’s faith in him and fulfilling his dreams.
“When Pecini came to see me, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to lose,” Ivan explained.
“Even though I would miss Slovakia, I had to seize the moment. Such an opportunity will only happen a few times in life.”
Moreover, it’s refreshing to see a player who’s come through the youth ranks to progress to the first team, especially in a world where clubs are so often all about buying talent, not taking the time to develop it.
The player himself, when recently speaking to the Sampdoria website, is rightly proud of what he’s been able to achieve in Italy.
“I came to Genoa five years ago and I was delighted to move here. I’m proud about what I’ve managed to do,” he said.
“I think it’s great that at Sampdoria players from the youth team graduate to the first team. I’m happy, as one of the players that have made it this far.”
Throughout his five years in Genoa, Ivan has always made the step up in class as he’s gone through the ranks. Although he admitted to finding the step up from the Allievi to the Primavera challenging, he crucially adjusted and even captained the Primavera side last season.
It’s come as little wonder then that Slovak who wears the number 95 has been able to cope with the step up in class required now he’s in the senior squad. Obviously, he’s earned the right to be there, but the level-headed youngster is importantly thankful for the support he’s received from his teammates and manager, saying: “I always give everything in training, but I have to thank Zenga who has given confidence to a player like me, in spite of me having done nothing in my career so far.
“It’s so much easier when you’re playing alongside fantastic players like the ones we have here. They help you on the pitch by talking to you and with their movement. Having support from players like Fernando, Barreto, Cassani has allowed me to play with confidence.”
All things considered, it’s apparent there’s no better place to be for this promising 20-year-old whose father and grandfather played football professionaly in Slovakia’s first division, especially as the Blucerchiati are a great example of a club that is willing to give their youth a chance to shine.
Naming the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Samuel Eto’o as his idols, coupled with his unyielding desire to keep learning, has undoubtedly given him an outstanding foundation to get all the way to the top of the sport.
Only time will tell if he does, in fact, make it that far, but one thing’s for sure, and that’s that it’ll be fascinating to follow his career to find out.
At this stage of the journey, especially, as he plies his trade under the charismatic Zenga, things should be particularly intriguing.
About the author – Edward Stratmann
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.