It took him until the age of 29, but Graziano Pelle has received his chance to shine for the Italian national team.
The Southampton striker was called up by Azzurri boss Antonio Conte for Euro 2016 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Malta after a brilliant start to life at St Mary’s.
Pelle has notched four goals in seven Premier League appearances thus far after following Ronald Koeman from Feyenoord to the south coast over the summer.
He had been scoring at an incredible clip in the Eredivisie – 50 goals in 57 appearances – for two years but was passed over at the international level due to his Dutch base.
Now training with La Nazionale, the Lecce native has recounted a story from his first stint in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar – where he was signed by Louis van Gaal.
He told Vivo Azzurro: “We were talking about the shirt number and I like no. 9 because it’s the classic on of the striker. We went through the possible numbers, like 19, 90 or 99, but I didn’t want those high numbers.
“Eventually I jokingly said in that case I’m not signing for the club. He was so severe and was absolutely furious, jumped up and asked my agent how I could possibly do such a thing!
“I told him sorry, I was joking. He’s a great coach though.”
Pelle’s AZ career – 14 goals in 68 appearances – wasn’t nearly as successful as his tenure at Feyenoord.
But as the striker put it himself, he took “the long way round” to get to where he is today, landing in the Italy squad with the likes of Mario Balotelli left out.
The Italian won’t face his former boss in van Gaal until December 8, when United go to St Mary’s, with the Azzurri set to play one more qualifier in 2014 against Croatia in November.
Next up for him in the Premier League after his maiden adventure with La Nazionale is a visit from Sunderland, who boast the second-best defensive record in the division.