Marco Verratti receives the ball at the edge of his penalty area. He slows to a pause, as if finally admitting he is too short to play the holding midfield role. His opponents circle in, talons out. The Italy and PSG No. 6 appears a 1.65-metre piece of dead meat.
They dig their talons into the flesh but the texture feels different. Too light, to be exact. “We are digging into thin air,” the vultures, embarrassed at the realisation, swear they smelled blood. Then panic sweeps over.
Verratti, the little owl, has left them for dead and is now headed toward their goal.
'ALL THESE DRIBBLING IN FRONT OF YOUR OWN PENALTY AREA. YOU MUST HAVE BALLS OF STEEL.'
“I’m born this way. My feet start doing all these crazy things by themselves during games and I don’t even realise.
Seriously though, I do what I do because I hate hoofing the ball without a clear idea of who I’m passing to. I’d much rather concede a goal. It’s just one of my football principles.”
'HOW ARE YOUR COACHES AGREEABLE TO YOUR HEART ATTACK MOVES?'
“Zdenek Zeman, my formation coach at Pescara, actually encouraged them. When I came to PSG, Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc, and Unai Emery continued to allow me free rein and now Thomas Tuchel speaks the same football language as me.
They must’ve known that whether they like it or not I’m not going to change one bit. Or they understand that my approach can open up space and eliminate opponents, and they trust me to pull it off.”
'YOU DO SEEM TO GET AWAY WITH IT EVERY SINGLE TIME.'
“It helps that I’m, well, my height: I can turn quicker, protect the ball closer thanks to my low centre of gravity.
More importantly, I already know my options before the ball arrives. I trained myself to constantly scan around for my teammates, opponents, dangers, opportunities. You need to have all scenarios thought out to truly leverage the power of your instinct.”
'AT ONE POINT YOU WERE GOING TO GET AWAY FROM PSG ALTOGETHER."
“It’s true that I was proposed something different and I believe it’s fair that like everyone else I ought to decide what’s best for my career. It’s also when the Parisian press was painting this party-goer image of me and I was tempted to leave the media circus behind.
But at the end of the day I feel good at PSG, I’m playing great games with great players, against great players, living the dream I had as a child. I want to repay the club for all that I’m given.”
'THAT EXPLAINS YOUR NEW CONTRACT. WHAT VISION DO YOU HAVE FOLLOWING THE EXTENSION?'
“I joined PSG in 2012 when I was 19. For the past seven years we’ve grown a lot together: from defeats, in victories, with time.
Right now we are one of the few teams in the world that can claim we want to win everything without sounding crazy. I can’t guarantee it, of course, but you can bet on us sparing no effort to get there.”
'ONE ASPECT OF THE GAME YOU CAN STILL IMPROVE UPON.'
“People do tell me I get carded too often and I can do more to score goals. The card situation is a bit of a goner because I’m already on the referees’ bad book, in France at least. C’est la vie.
I don’t mind finding the net more though. I prefer assisting a better positioned teammate than trying my luck from 30 metres but getting myself into those scoring positions from time to time can be good for variety as well. We shall see.”