Davide Petrucci: Former Manchester United wonderkid opens up on Paul Pogba and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Davide Petrucci’s five-year career at Manchester United did not garner a single first-team appearance but he was part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first foray into management and became a mentor to Paul Pogba.
The Italian arrived in Manchester from Roma aged just 16 and was built up as a potential superstar at Old Trafford. Sadly for the midfielder his career in England never really took off but he holds dear his time in the North West.
“It was a big step for me; I couldn’t speak English, the weather was completely different, my family was not with me, so it was hard at the start,” Petrucci explains.
“My ambition was to reach a good level at such a big club and push myself forward. At the time, [Federico] Macheda was already in Manchester and we were always friends from before, so whenever he could help I was in in house with his family, which made me feel more welcome and more at home.”
Along with Macheda, Petrucci formed a strong bond with housemate Pogba who was also trying to find his way in a new country. This was also reflected on the pitch where the duo enjoyed a successful spell as a midfield partnership in the reserves. Petrucci saw Pogba develop in England but feels he flourished after leaving Old Trafford.
“Pogba was a really good player, you could tell from the start. He wasn’t so physically strong, as he is now. We were living together in the same house, so we had a great connection and we were enjoying too much playing together.
“We had a really good team and in the two years playing together we won every competition. You could see the ambition he had but you couldn’t always tell he would end up being so good, it wasn’t until he went to Juventus and physically he became so strong, which is what made the difference for him.”
The duo would always talk about life back home and were there for one another in their new surroundings, something which helped Pogba down the line when he secured a move to Juventus in Petrucci’s homeland.
“It was fun to live together,” Petrucci continues. “We would share stories about his friends in France and mine in Italy, we would teach other the language.
“So when he went to Italy he could already speak a bit of Italian, so people were a little surprised, wondering how he could have been in England and learn to speak Italian and this is why, because me, Macheda and the other Italians taught him and he is a quick learner.
“We were going to school together trying to learn English and when we were at home, I was trying to learn French and teaching him Italian. When you’re in football, you have teammates from all over the world, so the more languages you know, the easier it is to communicate with everybody.”
Solskjaer started his coaching career as reserve manager at United, working with the likes of Petrucci and Pogba. The Norwegian quickly demonstrated his philosophy, which has earned him the top job at Old Trafford.
“You could tell he was going to be a good coach because he was somebody who would give you so much freedom to express yourself, to go on the pitch and enjoy football and this is something you need and he was exactly like this.
“He was not going to put pressure on the players, he just wanted them to go out and enjoy it. This is why everyone had a great relationship with him and I think it’s why United chose him because he can carry on with his mentality and hopefully he can take United back to where they are used to.”
Reserve team success did not earn first-team football for Petrucci, who had time out on loan at Peterborough, Royal Antwerp and Charlton. The two short-term spells in the Football League hold few fond memories for Petrucci, who tried to take the positives: “Sometimes from these negative loans or experiences you can learn more, so after this I felt stronger and tougher.”
Petrucci asked to cut ties with United at the start of the 2014-15 season as he saw no route into the club’s plans, eventually deciding to join CFR Cluj.
“It was hard to leave, as I had been there for five years and I felt at home,” admits Petrucci. “But sometimes you feel your time is over and unfortunately during my years at United I was doing well but always at the wrong moment I would get some kind of injury, which slowed my progress.
“I don’t want to use this as an excuse but you see the younger players coming up and you feel like there is no space for you, so I felt it was better to take one step back and be an important member of the team somewhere rather than just being a number at United.”
A spell in Turkey with Caykur Rizespor followed his time in Romania, which saw Petrucci test himself against some of Europe’s most famous sides.
“They were really amazing atmospheres, they were second to none. When you go into the stadiums the atmosphere is very heavy, the fans want to kill you and you can feel it.
“At the same time, it gives you extra energy. When you go there you cannot go to sleep, you need balls to play in these games and this is something that will stay with me.
“When I stepped into these stadiums, the adrenaline was so high and I was feeling so happy and proud to be there and fight against 50,000 people. It was really tough but it’s really good for you.”
Finally, at the age of 27, Petrucci is playing professionally in Italy having joined Serie B side Ascoli during the summer.
The club has aspirations of promotion this season, with Petrucci key to this. “After 11 years I felt it was time to get back. This is one my last chances to impress before it’s too late.
“I want to have a good season and hopefully go to Serie A, this is my target. Ascoli is a team trying to push up this year, so they’ve put a lot of responsibility on me to be one of the most important players on and off the pitch, to use my experience that I’ve gained over the years.
“They make me feel really important here, so sometimes it’s best to take one step back to take two steps forward.”
It’s been a long road home but now Petrucci, but the next stop could be the promised land of Serie A.