Reported Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur target Nicolo Barella has the world at his feet at Inter Milan, Premier League legend Gianfranco Zola has told Sky Italia.
Towards the end of the 2014/15 campaign, the one-time Chelsea star handed a precocious teenager his Serie A debut in the red and blue of Cagliari.
Now, six years on, Zola can look back proudly on his role in the development of arguably the finest central midfielder in Serie A.
The driving force of an Inter side cruising towards its first Scudetto triumph since the Jose Mourinho heyday, Barella is operating at peak condition right now, buzzing, whirring and scheming at the heart of Antonio Conte’s engine room.
But, with the Nerazzurri set to reward the 24-year-old with a new and vastly improved contract, it seems unlikely Inter’s Italy international will be following in Zola’s footsteps with a move to a Premier League giant just yet.
“Nicolo is among the most precious assets we have in Italy and he seems set to improve even more. I can even see similarities with (Italy legend) Marco Tardelli because they play in a similar way,” Zola says.
“Both have great footballing intelligence, they have an eye for goal and they know how to play passes. But they’re also physically strong and they get through defensive work as well.
“Perhaps Nicolo has better technique (than Tardelli).
“He can and must get better because I think it’s very important to keep broadening your horizons. With this in mind, Barella will become even more important for (Italy and Inter).”
Zola is impressed by the way his one-time Cagliari youngster has added control to his game, picking up fewer yellow cards while retaining the aggressive, never-say-die spirit that has made him integral to Conte’s game plan.