When teenage sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma overthrew Diego Lopez as AC Milan’s undisputed number one keeper back in 2016, and was tipped as the heir to heralded champion Gianluigi Buffon’s Azzurri throne, many other young shot-stoppers in Italy’s talent factory fell by the wayside.
Despite the long lineage of developing top keepers and track record of producing in both quality and quantity, the Mino Raiola-represented star seemed to be a notch above the rest the country’s domestic talent. But in 2017, it was Italy U-17 goalkeeping coach Fabrizio Ferron’s bold affirmation of another from Udine as being technically superior to the Rossoneri phenomenon ushering another into the conversation for the peninsula’s top goalkeeping talent.
Born and raised with the Zebrette, Alex Meret earned a promotion to Udinese’s first team during the 2015-16 season to deputize, but more importantly be shown the ropes, behind Greek international Orestis Karnezis.
The youngster Meret was subsequently sent on loan the following July for consistent reps as a starter, joining Serie B side SPAL for the 2016-17 campaign which resulted in the Ferrara-based outfit earning promotion to Italy’s top flight.
Sharp, agile and with superb reflexes, the highly-regarded Italian shot-stopper had his loan extended for the Biancazzurri’s Serie A adventure, but muscular-related injuries would keep him shelved for the most of the season and limit his appearances to 13. Luckily for SPAL, Alfred Gomis stepped in between the sticks and played a vital role in the club avoiding the drop by the skin of their teeth with a 17th place finish.
Even after spending most of the season on the sidelines, Meret’s ability and ceiling were undeniable, and simply too good to pass up for a top club adamant on addressing their goalkeeping situation with a young, long-term solution.
On July 5, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis struck a €35 m deal with Udinese for Meret to replace Pepe Reina who departed for Milan after a contract expiry.
Despite having added Karnezis and David Ospina from Arsenal, the hefty fee shelled out for the 21-year old Meret was a clear indication that the number 1 shirt was his to hold.
Unfortunately for the Italian, an arm fracture six days into his Napoli career delayed his debut for most of the first half season. But since becoming available for selection last December, Carlo Ancelotti has entrusted him with first-choice duties – and he has done nothing but fulfill them.
Calm demeanor, seriousness and attentitveness sum up Meret‘s personality quite well in net. He has exceptional positional sense which allows him to neutralize strikes from an array of different angle. The previously praised reflexes make him difficult to beat from long-range as much as short. Dominant and self-assured on crosses due to keen recognition of the ball’s flight, Meret is very good at reading play and picking up cues to optimally position himself, whether it be dropping back or stepping up – especially in 1 v 1 situations.
While Meret, standing in at 1,90 meters (6 ft 3 in), isn’t as lengthy as Donnarumma, he uses his tall frame and wingspan to his advantage, covering more space and inches when diving.
Over his seven starts as a Napoli player, Meret has put his entire repertoire into action, keeping 4 clean-sheets while conceding just four goals.
“We are not surprised about Meret’s quality because we see it every day in training,” praised Ancelotti after the youngster’s decisive saves ensured Napoli pulled through with a win over SPAL back in December. (h/t Football Italia). “He truly is a special goalkeeper.”
After failing to escape their UEFA Champions League group, ambitions are running high for Ancelotti and Napoli to make a serious push for a Europa League title. Though the Neapolitans are one of the favorites, Italian sides have historically found the tournament difficult to navigate. Albeit a small sample size, the rising star has already turned in several postive performances for his new club, proving why he was worth the large investment and is the answer in goal. Ancelotti should feel at ease handing him his European competition debut in Napoli’s clash with Zürich in the 1st leg of the Europa League Round of 32 tie, as well as the platform to remind everyone why he remains one of the brightest young keepers on the continent.
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