Lupoli: there's no substitute for experience

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Turn back the clock to 9 November 2004. Arsène Wenger, in what is now familiar practice, fields effectively a youth team against Everton in a Carling Cup tie at Highbury. Everton are third in the Premier League, but Arsenal still win 3-1. Two goals are scored by Arturo Lupoli, a 17-year-old Italian making his home debut.

It appears that Wenger has unearthed another gem. Soon, Thierry Henry is likening Lupoli to the great Italian goal-poacher of the 1982 World Cup, Paolo Rossi. A glittering career beckons.

Four-and-a-half years on, however – according to the benchmark set by one of his contemporaries, Cesc Fabregas – he is still waiting for it to happen. In between, there has been a change of club, three loan periods with second-tier English teams and another in Italy, and a good deal of frustration.

Having made one Premier League appearance in two seasons, then spent a year helping Derby County win promotion, Lupoli quit Arsenal to join Fiorentina in 2007 only for the waiting to go on, even though he had broken into the Italian Under-21 side and marked his first cap with a goal.

The Italian club have loaned him this season to Norwich and now Sheffield United, with whom he hopes that tomorrow's Championship play-off final against Burnley might at last provide the break he craves.

His stay at Bramall Lane has been typical, bringing only partial success. After another high-impact debut, scoring after only five minutes in the Sheffield derby, his last nine appearances have all been from the subs' bench, with manager Kevin Blackwell reluctant to disturb a winning formula.

Yet he retains faith in his talent and remains rational about his future. "I'm only 21 and the important thing is to keep patient," Lupoli said. "If I have the quality, soon I will go somewhere and do well. You just have to find the right place at the right moment.

"Of course I was disap- pointed about Arsenal. I came to stay for many years but as everybody knows there are so many good players there that maybe you play only in the Carling Cup and FA Cup games.

"People expect a lot when you score twice in your first game. They think you can always score, always play well. But they need to remember that you are only 17.

"Some players, like Fabregas, and maybe [Abou] Diaby, Alexander Song, Gaël Clichy, they are ready at that age," Lupoli admitted. "Maybe I was not ready. But it is no problem because everybody breaks through in his own time. Sooner or later – it does not really matter.

"It was more frustrating for me to go to Fiorentina and not play games because I was at least expecting to be part of the team. Now they have qualified again for the Champions' League so I don't know about my future there.

"But I will not go out on loan again. It is not good for a player to change clubs as many times as I have. I just want to stay at one club for two, three, maybe four years, play games and develop as a player.

"I think that I am suited more to the Premier League than Serie A and if there is a chance to have a good season in England, then why not?" Whether it is with Sheffield United may well depend on the outcome tomorrow.

"Arturo is the sort of player I would like to bring here," Blackwell said. "Pace is key at top-level football and he has that in abundance as well a clinical eye for goal and that mental toughness you often get with Italians. He is the kind of player who can change a game. But until I know where we are next season I can't make decisions on anybody's future."

Lupoli's hope is that he gets the chance to reinforce his case, even if it is only from the bench. It will be his third time at Wembley – he played in the 3-3 draw against England Under-21s and was there for Derby's play-off final – so he will not be fazed by the occasion.

"I would love to start on Monday, for sure," he said. "But games can be won even in the last minute and whenever the manager calls me, I will be ready."