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Chelsea’s forgotten man Emerson can help Italy crush England’s Euro 2020 dream

Footballers are desperate to play for their country in international tournaments and that often dictates their movements in the transfer market if they are struggling for minutes on the pitch.

But Emerson Palmieri remained calm. He was in no rush to leave Chelsea and why would he when, barring an injury to rule him out of the tournament, he had a place wrapped up warm in Roberto Mancini’s Euro 2020 squad?

Still, that didn’t stop the Italy manager from urging him to find another club.

“It showed that he cared about me,” he told Telegraph Sport in June.

“He wants to see me doing well, so he said that perhaps it would be best for me if I headed to another ambitious team where I could play as much as possible and raise my game again.

Emerson Palmieri has been selected by Roberto Mancini despite his lack of game time for Chelsea

“He expressed this wish, but we know that sometimes in football, it depends on other things, a number of factors. It’s not only up to me.

“All I can promise, whenever I’m with the national team, is to run and play to the last drop of sweat.”

Now, with a mixture of luck and hard work, his ultimate reward is to join his Chelsea team-mate Jorginho in face England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.

Patience really is a virtue.

In all honesty, his reluctance to leave Chelsea says a lot about Emerson’s ambition. At 26 years of age, he should be playing regularly and at the height of his powers. Instead, he made only two Premier League appearances in 2020-21 and 15 appearances in all competitions.

After Ben Chilwell joined the Blues for £50million last summer, Emerson was demoted to third-choice under Frank Lampard and then Thomas Tuchel behind Chilwell and Marcos Alonso.

Roberto Mancini has shown belief in Emerson despite his troubles at Chelsea
Roberto Mancini has shown belief in Emerson despite his troubles at Chelsea

Is football coming home? Can England beat Italy in the Euro 2020 final? Let us know in the comments section.

Curiously, he still made the bench for Premier League matchday squads along with Alonso, meaning Chelsea had three-left backs available for selection.

But it was a testament to his professionalism in training that Tuchel was willing to leave out Tammy Abraham and Billy Gilmour to make room for him.

The German even waxed lyrical about the left-back’s attitude after bringing him on against Atletico Madrid in the last-16 knockout round, when he rewarded his boss with a late strike to seal a 3-0 aggregate win.

Tuchel was beaming: “I’m so happy for him, the guy suffers all the time from my decision,” he told reporters.

“We have three players for one position with Marcos Alonso, Ben Chilwell and Emerson.

Emerson has had to wait for his chance at Stamford Bridge
Emerson has had to wait for his chance at Stamford Bridge

“So we started to play with a back three and chose different players so he only had the chance to show up in one cup game, which he did.

“After some days where he needed to settle to new information and a new style, he is training with an unbelievable effort. He is one of the nicest guys you can imagine.

“He’s always friendly, with unbelievable qualities. It was necessary to give him a reward and give him some minutes as a thank you for his attitude.”

It was a perfect gift for a player who has not started a Premier League game for more than 18 months, since appearing in the starting XI against Arsenal way back in January 2020.

Thomas Tuchel has hailed Emerson's attitude after seeing him score against Atletico Madrid
Thomas Tuchel has hailed Emerson’s attitude after seeing him score against Atletico Madrid

Indeed, there were two whole months between his last appearance for Chelsea last season and his first for Italy in the 4-0 win over Czech Republic in preparing for Euro 2020. Yet he still remained fit and fresh.

He has gone on to feature for the Azzurri three times in the tournament and while he was only recalled to the starting XI when Leonardo Spinazzola was ruled out through injury, he was a solid fixture at left-back in the penalty shootout semi-final victory over Spain.

Mancini will be looking to use his Premier League experience in going up against the likes of Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka as Italy eye their first trophy on the international stage in 15 years.

But former England international Danny Mills thinks Emerson will be the man for The Three Lions to target due to his lack of playing time.

“A big area that England can exploit is the left-back area, I think Emerson is a weakness,” Mills told talkSPORT.

Emerson replaced Leonardo Spinazzola in the Italy lineup for their Euro 2020 semi-final against Spain
Emerson replaced Leonardo Spinazzola in the Italy lineup for their Euro 2020 semi-final against Spain

“Compare him to Spinazzola, he was fantastic and he attacked a lot more and is good defensively.

“I think you can get at Emerson. I don’t think he’s the sharpest, he hasn’t played that much football, and if there is a weak link in that back four now, that will be the place to try and exploit it.”

There is nothing about the Brazilian-born defender that makes spectators jump out of their seats.

He is not lightning quick, nor does he boast the stamina of Spinazzola which allows him to race up and down the left flank for 90 minutes.

But his left foot can be dangerous when delivering crosses and he actually hit the crossbar against Spain. His defensive attributes often leave a lot to be desired, which is why slotting in as a wing-back would represent a smart tactical move.

With a Champions League winners’ medal already under his belt, Emerson will be hoping to cap a fine few months with an international honour in his trophy cabinet too.

Emerson last featured for the Blues in the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Man City
Emerson last featured for the Blues in the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Man City

It could be the last time he does so as a Chelsea player, with speculation linking the full-back with a return to the Serie A. Certainly, new Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti has refused to rule out a reunion with the player he coached at Roma in 2017.

“That is a question I cannot answer, but it’s possible that might’ve happened,’ said the 62-year-old.

Chelsea will be cheering him on for several reasons and one of them must be that an impressive display in the final, with millions of people watching around the world, would unquestionably raise his asking price.

Emerson dodged answering the questions about his future but with only a year left on his current deal, his departure has an air of inevitability about it.

Emerson has been a peripheral figure for Chelsea over the last two seasons
Emerson has been a peripheral figure for Chelsea over the last two seasons

“I try not to think much about these issues,” he says. “I have my personal goals and believe the best answer that I can offer about it is on the pitch, doing my work well.

“In the end, everything happens the way it is supposed to happen, so l have no concern about that.”

After months of sitting on the bench at Chelsea, Emerson has been waiting for his moment. But with Chilwell likely to be on the bench for England and Alonso never called up to Spain’s squad, he is no longer in the shadows — Sunday is his time to shine.




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