Davide Petrucci grew up in the suburbs of Rome dreaming of playing for AS Roma.
As a teenager, he was right on track, representing Italy’s junior sides and being regarded as one of the brightest talents at the Stadio Olimpico since the legendary Francesco Totti.
Petrucci struck up a close bond with another prized Italian prospect, Federico Macheda.
Ultimately, at the age of 17, it led him to Manchester United and an opportunity that, despite his lifelong ties to Roma, was simply too good to turn down.
“I was playing for AS Roma at the time and I was a big supporter of them,” Petrucci says. “I didn’t want to leave.
“But then when I saw United came, the opportunity was too big to turn down at the time. They had won the Champions League, they were competing in the Club World Cup, and it was the biggest and best club at the time.
“For me, the opportunity was too big to refuse it and I was so happy to join them and have such a big club on my CV. It was a big step.
“It happened because I was friends with Macheda. Even before Man United, we were friends. He had already signed for United, and the scouts came to watch him when he played for the national team.
“They saw me play, they were interested and they spoke to him about me, asked what my situation was. He asked me if I was happy to join United if there was an opportunity, and I said, ‘of course’.
“Then they started to follow me, they came to Italy, I won the top scorer in a tournament, they watched me again for the national team then after that they decided to sign me.”
Unfortunately for Petrucci, the move caused quite a stir back in his homeland.
Roma were furious with his exit but, with Italian regulations preventing teenagers from signing contracts at the time, they were powerless to prevent his exit.
“Roma were not happy at all when I moved, but in Italy, at the time, it was not possible to do contracts for teenagers, so they were free,” Petrucci explains.
“Since me, Macheda and some other players moved, things changed a little bit in Italy and it was like a revolution in Italian football.
“Of course, they were not happy but for me it was an opportunity too big.”
After arriving in Manchester in 2008, Petrucci went on to spend the next six years on the books of United, a spell he regularly refers to as a “school”.
“It was hard at the start, but it was a school for the rest of my life, because it was a really, really big club,” he explains.
“It was a big, big step. In Italy it was completely different – you have the first-team, then reserves, then Under-18s and everything is completely separated. They are like three different teams.
“In England, when I came, it was different teams but all of us were together, having breakfast together, lunch together, hanging out together.
“This was making you feel part of the team. Even if you weren’t playing for the first team, you could eat with Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo and they would chat to us, make us understand what the club was like.
“Talking about the history, the way they play, the way we have to do things, to improve, the way we train. It was like the biggest school you could go through.”
The chance to join United meant working alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, the man Petrucci still regards as the greatest manager in the history of the game.
“It was a long time ago, but I remember it as if it was today,” he says when asked his memories of Ferguson.
“He was, and still is, the biggest coach in the history of football, in my opinion, and I just remember the way he was making you feel welcome at the club was something that really impressed me.
“I knew he was such a big person in football, but at the same time he was so humble. He made you feel like you were on the same level.
“We knew that if he was getting angry it was like the end of the world. He had a really, really big personality, but he knew how to communicate with the players and get the best out of each of us.”
Whilst Ferguson was in charge of first-team affairs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer soon took his first step in coaching as manager of the reserve term, where Petrucci soon became a key player.
“I started with the Under-18s but after two months I moved to the reserves and Ole was there,” he says.
“He was always positive, always smiling and encouraging us to play football, play forward, play fast and to enjoy the game.
“I remember him like a father figure to us, or a brother, just part of the family and always being with us, never screaming at us or doubting us.
“He was always wanting to push us, make us feel free on the pitch and to know what we had to do. He was a really, really good coach.”
A few years on, Petrucci now sees his former manager in the top job and watches on keenly from afar.
“I thought that after Ferguson it was not easy to find a person who could replace him,” he says. Actually, I think it’s impossible because he’s one in maybe 10 million.
“But Solskjaer is one person who knows the mentality of United very well, he knows the club and everything, and I think he was the one who could replace Ferguson.
“They tried with Moyes, Van Gaal and others but it was not the same. Maybe the way Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played for them, having such big moments on the pitch, helped him and now I think they’re getting better and better.
“Hopefully United will get back to the level they were at when I was there and they had Sir Alex Ferguson sitting on the bench.”
In the heart of Solskjaer’s midfield, firmly in the spotlight, is a man whom Petrucci helped settle when he arrived at the club.
Like Petrucci a year early, Paul Pogba was a highly-rated teenager who joined United amid some controversy and with lofty expectations.
The pair soon built up a close bond and Petrucci believes Pogba’s spell in Italy with Juventus helped him return to England on another level.
“We were living together in the same apartment when he came, so we had a special relationship,” Petrucci explains.
“We were really good friends, and sometimes I still speak to him which I’m happy about because we had some great times together.
“He was a really good player already at the time, you could see he had amazing potential, but obviously he was young so you never know if he’ll become such a big player like he is now.
“After he moved to Italy I think he started to develop a lot as a man, physically, and the technique was always there, always so good.
“When he became so strong, so big he just combined everything and became such a great player. He won the World Cup and he’s a big, big talent.”
Pogba is one of a number of players Petrucci still speaks to from his time in England as he looks to keep in touch with those with whom he shared so many priceless memories.
“I’m still really, really good friends with Federico Macheda,” he says.
“I speak with Pogba, with Lingard, with Joshua King. I try to keep relationships with everybody. I just try to be friendly with everybody. If I can, it’s always a pleasure to speak to them.”
Whilst he never quite made a first-team appearance for United, Petrucci was named in a Champions League squad as a teenager and appeared on pre-season tours.
At reserve level, he won two league titles including captaining United as they lifted the trophy at Old Trafford.
They contribute to a pool of memories which ensure he will always look back fondly on his time in the famous red shirt.
“I remember Ferguson put me on the Champions League list, I was 16 at the time and the youngest player,” he says.
“After that, we played away and won our first tournament with the Under-18s, that was amazing memories.
“Later I became captain of the reserves, we won the league and I lifted the trophy at Old Trafford. To be the captain when we played there was amazing.
“We won the Cup, I also was captain at the Etihad Stadium when we beat Man City in the final. We played at Anfield and that was an amazing experience.
“I made my debut in the first-team in pre-season in South Africa, and to play in the first-team with Ferdinand, Berbatov, those sorts of players, was amazing.
“All the time I was there I was really happy, really proud and I can’t just say one favourite moment.”
When the time came to leave United in 2014, Petrucci opted to leave English football.
He has now found his way back to Italy after over a decade away from home, building a new life with his family and friends.
“After United I felt it was time to move from England because I’d been there six years, I had many injuries so unfortunately it didn’t go as I expected it,” he recalls.
“I felt it was time to completely change the chapter. I had the opportunity to go to Cluj, at the time they were playing in the Europa League and sometimes in the Champions League.
“I was thinking I could go there, make the best of it and see where it takes me. I went there, won the Romanian Cup, started to play regularly and I was feeling good.
“It was an important time for me. After that I signed for three years in Turkey, which was a good level and the football is really enjoyable because the stadiums are beautiful and the supporters are amazing.
“The way you can feel inside these stadiums is something incredible, something you can’t really describe. When you play against Galatasaray, Besiktas, Fenerbahce, it is the sort of experience I think you can only see in Turkey.
“After that it was 12 years I had been out of Italy, so I felt it was time to get back close to my family and my friends.
“Now I’m back playing here. It’s a different type of football but I’m enjoying it, I’m close to my friends and family and it’s another part of life.
“I’m happy. You have moments in life that are good, but at the end of it you always want to go back home and be close to your family.”
Petrucci arrived at Old Trafford amid plenty of headlines and with a huge degree of pressure given he was simply a fresh-faced teenager at the time.
It would be fair to say he was not quite able to live up to the expectations which were placed on him by others when he first arrived in England.
But he looks back philosophically at his time at the “school of life”, taking plenty of pride in the time he spent with the best team in the world.
“I think it’s just part of the game,” he says when asked about the pressure he faced as a teenager. “When you go to Man United, of course there is a lot of pressure on you.
“But if you want to be a Man United player you need to handle it, otherwise you cannot play there.
“For some of us, sometimes the step is too much, but my problem, I think, was the injuries I had. I was out for almost two and a half years with injuries. The time goes, new players come and you lose your time. It’s harder to play catch-up.
“Maybe I was not at the level to be there and to stay there, but if I didn’t have those years out with injuries I maybe could have played my cards better.
“But that’s how it was supposed to go, and I’m really happy because it was an amazing experience for me and I learnt a lot from it.
“Even if I maybe didn’t play so much, I didn’t make what I thought I would make, it was something amazing to be at Man United and something I’m really proud of.”
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