It’s that moment every young player dreams of, angst-inducing yet euphoric – the professional debut. For Simone Scuffet, he didn’t have to wait too long for it, in relative terms, at least.
He was just 17 when the day came, too young to even drive a car in his native Italy, and light-years away from being permitted to order a beer on holiday in New York or Boston.
Some 13 months and change ago, Udinese number one Zeljko Brkic picked up the injury that made it all possible in a pre-game warm-up – and the local teenager from Udine started in goal against Bologna.
Across Serie A and Coppa Italia action, it would take opponents some 224 minutes of football to beat Scuffet. Udinese earned six wins and three draws from his first 12 appearances as he conceded 11 goals.
From the humble days of youth, a starlet had burst into luminescence. In a nation more enamoured with goalkeepers than most, Scuffet became an overnight sensation.
Like fellow young Italian shot-stoppers Mattia Perin, Francesco Bardi and Nicola Leali before him, the jewel of the Zebrette instantly drew comparisons with Gianluigi Buffon.
Seeing out the remainder of the season as Francesco Guidolin’s choice in goal, the only way for Scuffet looked up – and the enthusiasm surrounding him came to transcend international borders.
But agent Cladio Vagheggi confirmed just days later to Tuttomercatoweb that Scuffet had chosen to stay at Udinese in favour of moving to Atletico – in order to develop with continuity.
The twist in the tale is that the continuity Scuffet previously enjoyed would vanish.
With Adrea Stramaccioni taking over from Guidolin at the helm in the summer, Greece international Orestis Karnezis returned from a loan spell in Spain with Granada.
Competing with Brkic and Karnezis, Scuffet lost out. Karnezis started between the pipes on opening day, and the Italian’s hopes of overcoming him were soon dashed by injury.
Since, Scuffet has been forced to settle for three appearances in the Coppa Italia. Not once has Stramaccioni felt compelled to throw the 18-year-old into the mix at Karnezis’ expense.
There’s a distinct irony to Scuffet’s situation, given that his choice to remain in Udine was motivated by concerns that his development could be stunted elsewhere.
Sitting on the bench week in and week out is doing the young goalkeeper no favours, both in a footballing sense and from a mental standpoint.
Having demonstrated his value and mettle last term when unexpectedly called upon, being relegated to second fiddle is a significant psychological blow for the youngster.
Crucial will be how Scuffet processes the disappointment of his demotion under Stramaccioni, seizing his next chance as he did when it came around last February.
Scuffet isn’t the first youngster to find himself in this situation – taking a back seat after seemingly making his breakthrough – and the need to overcome adversity can be a powerful tool if dealt with properly.
Only time will tell how the story will play out for the now-embattled 18-year-old, who has found out just how littered with setbacks the road to fulfilling lofty expectations is.