Italy was already in love but, in England, many were apprehensive over the summer. Was new keeper Guglielmo Vicario the right man for Tottenham Hotspur?
One thing he has always reiterated in our many conversations is the importance of scouting the man as well as the player. Understanding who the man is, is paramount to predicting how well he will integrate, progress, and thrive within the squad – and this was key to signing Vicario.
His former coach at Empoli, Paolo Zanetti, explained: “If he’s not the strongest, he’s certainly among the top three, he’s also a very humble boy. In reality, he knows to be strong, this mix of skill and humility can take him far.”
Proud of having played at almost every level in Italian football, Vicario has utilised each experience to ensure growth and progression.
“In my first experience as a professional at Venezia, one [nickname] was given to me by the fans, Tegoina,” he explained. “In Venetian dialect it indicates the green bean, a long, narrow vegetable. I was tall and wiry and I wore green during the match.”
Understanding and improving his physique and athleticism became the priority. Working with Massimo Lotti, the goalkeeping coach at the club, they focused on building muscle mass and improving his reaction time.
Why Vicario is considered ‘the complete goalkeeper’
Moving to Perugia, Vicario was the starting keeper and began to show his importance while building a special relationship with those he worked with and the fans who grew to idolise him.
When the Covid pandemic hit, Vicario would call some of the season ticket holders to check in on them as part of a club initiative.
One particular phone call caused headlines as he spent much of his time assuring the elderly husband of a fan that it was indeed him, the Perugia goalie, and it wasn’t a joke. The fans already loved the player but now they admired the man and the humanity he regularly displayed.
The chance to play as a starter in Serie A for Empoli arrived in 2021 and Vicario used the opportunity to enhance his ball-playing ability under coach Aurelio Andreazzoli to make him a near complete goalkeeper.
In his first season at the club, Vicario also made more saves than any other goalkeeper in Serie A.
Last season under Zanetti, the Italian pulled off a remarkable triple save against Roma that left Jose Mourinho stunned. Technique, instinct, positioning.
“I must say that scoring goals against Vicario was difficult, he looked like the best goalkeeper in the world,” said Mourinho.
No longer the wiry green bean, even his nickname changed with DAZN now calling him Venom after the Marvel star. Why? “For the way I get caught up in the game.”
He draws inspiration from Samir Handonovic, Inter’s former goalkeeper and a great communicator, while Vicario says Thibaut Courtois is currently the best keeper in the world for his “genius”.
But, speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, he adds “even today, when I go home to Udine, I sleep with [Gianluigi] Buffon’s shirt on”.
Everyone was seemingly watching Empoli’s star between the sticks. World Cup-winning former Italy keeper Dino Zoff said “he always gives me the impression of being a complete goalkeeper” and that he would have liked to see him at Juventus.
Gianluigi Buffon, the Spurs keeper’s hero who won 176 Italy caps, remarked that “Vicario is the goalkeeper who, on the whole, is doing the best,” while former Inter and Italy keeper Gianluca Pagliuca noted earlier this year that “he will be the most sought-after goalkeeper of the transfer window”.
“He’s the goalkeeper I like most. If Inter sell [Andre] Onana for a good price and then sign him, they’re making a good deal,” Pagliuca added.
Vicario is outperforming the man Inter did indeed sell for a very good price, to Manchester United.
The Italian currently has the highest save percentage of any keeper in the Premier League at 78.6%. His success was perhaps easy to predict.
Why? Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou summed it up: “After speaking to him as a person I thought that he will fit in perfectly because he did not come trying to prove a point. He came here to be the best goalkeeper he could possibly be.”
‘Vicario is being hailed as the best Italian goalkeeper today’
One thing that worries sporting directors are players with ambitions of outdoing the greatest in the game. The ones who want to dribble like Lionel Messi, score like Cristiano Ronaldo or create like Andrea Iniesta.
The ones they covet are always the ones who simply just want to learn and be the best they can be. Vicario is that.
His family deserve a lot of credit for his emotional maturity. “I am an only child, pampered and much loved,” he said.
They even chose to show some of that love to a Ukrainian family who they took in after the Russian invasion, showing what really matters in life.
All the major Italian clubs were keenly tracking Vicario and Empoli president Fabrizio Corsi said that even Bayern Munich were watching, but the goalkeeper refused to listen to the noise surrounding his future. When Tottenham made the offer, the Italian was overjoyed.
“This was what I wanted, and I didn’t want to listen to anything else. As soon as I knew there was an opportunity to come here, I would’ve signed in blood and come on foot from Italy,” he said.
He spoke fluent English upon his arrival, and Postecoglou revealed that the first question the Italian asked him was who the goalkeeping coach was, as developing that relationship is paramount to any future success at the club. Based on current evidence, it seems Rob Burch and Vicario are working impeccably together.
Helping Spurs to a remarkable start to the Premier League season, which sees them sit top after 10 games, Vicario is being hailed as the best Italian goalkeeper around.
He has become the people’s choice to replace Euro 2020 winner Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks for Italy. Gazzetta dello Sport ran a poll asking who the Azzurri’s starting goalkeeper should be and a whopping 68% chose Vicario.
Vicario is just happy to be part of the national team. Whatever life has in store for him, he will be ready and maybe one day, a little boy will choose to sleep with his jersey on.
Mina Rzouki is a European football journalist and broadcaster who is writing for BBC Sport this season. If you have a question on European football that you’d like to ask her, then fill out the form below and she will answer a selection of them in subsequent columns.
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