Born in the city of Udine, Alex Meret is another jewel produced by the Udinese youth system, the same academy that introduced the world to legendary portiere and 1982 World Cup winner, Dino Zoff.
While the entire peninsula continues to gush over the talents of Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, the 20-year old Meret has been considered by many as one of the country’s most promising young shot-stoppers. Professional in attitude, serious in work ethic, and with an undying love for his craft, he has gone from a 16-year old fielding strikes from Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Diamanti in an Azzurri training session to guiding SPAL to a historic promotion in Serie B last season as 1st -choice.
Since his childhood, Alex Meret has only ever known the feeling of strapping on the gloves. No other position on the pitch caught his eye, and he was destined to guard the 18-yard box from a very young age. In an interview with Red Bull back in March, he spoke about his attachment to one of the most pressure-filled roles in sports.
‘’I have always been a goalkeeper; I never tried any other position. I like it because it is almost a completely different sport. You are alone; you must communicate with all your teammates and have a lot of responsibilities, and you are at the center of attention. It pushes you to give it your all because you know you are the last man, the decisive one.”
As he honed his skills within the Udinese system, he would go on to represent Italy at the international level, from the U-16s to the U-19s. From there, he would earn a call up to the 2013 U-17 World Cup squad, and later played every game for Italy at the 2016 U-19 Euros, where he would receive a runner’s up medal.
At club level, Meret spent three consecutive seasons with the Primavera from 2012 to 2015, but his path to the first-team was temporarily halted due to the sudden rise of Simone Scuffet into the Serie A spotlight. Scuffet was just as highly-touted as his Friulian teammate, but after turning down Atletico Madrid and suffering a disastrous campaign on loan to Como, his stock dropped drastically.
Udinese felt Alex Meret needed to follow in the same footsteps by going out on loan in Serie B to further develop, which led to him also joining a newly promoted club in SPAL, albeit with contrasting results compared to Scuffet’s time at Como.
Under manager Leonardo Semplici, he would go on to make 30 appearances for the Biancazzurri and collect 11 clean sheets. Although a broken wrist sidelined him for entire month, he played almost every game in the 2nd half of the season, only missing one due to a call-up to the national team. A full season as first-choice brought forward numerous applause-worthy performances, culminating in a league title for the Ferrara-based club at the end of the season. It is to little surprise that Meret and SPAL are now reunited once again for their maiden Serie A campaign.
Like every young Italian goalkeeper before him, from Mattia Perin to Scuffet to now Donnarumma, he too has entered the conversation of being crowned ‘’Buffon’s heir’’. Expectations of that level can heap immense pressure on any young shot-stopper, but it is not a weight that Meret carries on his shoulders when he steps onto the pitch. Mature beyond his years and a calming presence between the sticks, he lets his performances do the talking. It is rare to find his name scattered across newspaper headlines for off-the-field issues, nor does he seem to be the type of person who craves the spotlight. Room-temperature coolness would best describe his presence, never giving off the impression of being flustered in the most crucial moments of a match.
Where Meret truly excels in is his positioning, one of the biggest strengths in his game especially when dealing with crosses into the box. Whether the ball is whipped in towards his six-yard box or 12 yards out near the penalty spot, his initial starting position permits him to gain an advantage when rushing off his line to intervene on a cross. When you add in an exceptional reading of the trajectory, impeccable timing, and the extra reach provided by his long arms, his high success rate at claiming crosses comes to no
surprise. Regardless of the number of players occupying his area, he is not only fearless in attacking the ball, but also has a great understanding of his surround space, which allows him to maneuver through traffic and win most aerial duels.
Standing at 1.90m, his height does not take away from how quick and reactive he is on his line. Meret has showcased on more than one occasion that he is blessed with lightning-quick reflexes, which have been instrumental in repelling point-blank range and deflected strikes. The other great advantage his tall frame has is how much space he covers when diving to parry shots. While attacking the ball on 1-versus-1 situations, he narrows down the angle towards goal with his outstretched body. He also avoids needless movements with his body when in action (such as arms swinging back or leaping off the ground prior to a strike), relying instead on a balanced stance, sharp footwork, strong hands and a clean diving technique.
Any backline would be in safe hands with Meret commanding the 18-yard area and space behind them. Constantly involved in the play and projecting an unbreakable focus, Meret is a composed leader in goal with an immense future ahead of him. Courted by the likes of Juventus and Napoli, it is now his time take the next big step and perform at the highest of levels in Serie A. If he erupts with another momentous season at SPAL on his second loan stint, it will become very difficult for Udinese to hold onto their prized possession beyond this year.
By: Roberto Grosso/@RGrosso84