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Dennis Praet & Arsenal: Why Sampdoria ace a bargain deal in making

It's now inevitable. The education's complete. The conversion (albeit kicking and screaming) is done. Dennis Praet is ready for the next stage in his career.

In Genoa, they're saying a deal is close. Arsenal have had two bids for Praet - and teammate Joachim Anderson - turned down by Sampdoria. However with their valuations now so close - a matter of £6m - a third and likely final offer from Arsenal is now expected.

Whether by length of contract or age, the claim is between the two Anderson will go for the higher fee. But if Marco Giampaolo, Sampdoria's much sought-after coach, is to be believed, it'll be Praet who will have the most telling influence on Arsenal should the deal go through.

"Praet is a player for a big club," declared Giampaolo - just as Arsenal and Samp had kicked off negotiations regarding this double transfer a fortnight ago. "He's now one of the best players in Europe."

That Samp are prepared to do business with Arsenal for around £25m does suggest they're on the verge of getting themselves a bargain. And it's not like they don't rate Praet inside the club. Massimo Ferrero, Samp's charismatic and outspoken president, long viewing Praet's presence as epitomising the team model he's wanted to develop.

"Praet is a gift I wanted to give the fans and the coach to show that Sampdoria has a project," says Ferrero. "We want a young squad with great talent. Praet was 22 years old (when he joined) but all of Europe considers him already a top player.

"Having him arrive in Genova was a big sacrifice but we did it for the love of Sampdoria, because (coach) Giampaolo deserves all the talent for his style of play."

And working with Giampaolo has seen Praet's game - and reputation - make great strides these past three years. Although, as mentioned, the pair didn't always see eye-to-eye when it came to Praet's position in his coach's system.

A Golden Shoe winner in Belgium, Praet arrived from Anderlecht known as a free-scoring midfielder. "A No8", as he described himself. But Giampaolo had other plans, deploying Praet in a deeper role. Almost as a quarterback. The Samp coach always adamant the Belgium international could progress to the elite of the game as a midfield anchor.

"He can be one of the best players in Europe," says Giampaolo, "as a playmaker. An anchor. But not as a No8.

"With his spirit and determination he can be a future (Miralem) Pjanic or (Luka) Modric."

By his own admission, Praet wasn't happy with Giampaolo's demands when they were first made. And there was frustration that he was sacrificing one of his most obvious strengths - goalscoring - for what his coach was asking from him.

"He is among the best coaches in circulation, perfect for us youngsters," an appreciative Praet now says. "His way of forming a footballer, tactically, is amazing.

"His idea of football is ideal for my characteristics.

"In the beginning, I admit, it wasn't easy. I was struggling, but now it is going great."

Indeed, as Giampaolo has stated, Praet's positional switch has helped him develop into an all-round midfielder. The initial cynicism now giving way to appreciation.

"I was playing higher, now at Sampdoria I'm playing deeper, so my game has changed," says the 25 year-old. "I've become stronger, stronger defensively, and sometimes I miss a bit of not scoring and not giving assists, but I also touch the ball more, the game is run through myself more."

Honest and to the point. Praet isn't one to give interviews on a whim. But when he does, the message is always direct. And with AC Milan and Juventus hovering, Arsenal can be encouraged by his recent complaints of being overlooked by Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.

"Among other things, I do not understand the fact that players who do not play but who are perhaps in more considered leagues are called," lamented Praet. "It happens because unfortunately in Belgium there is a tendency to have little interest in Italian football: if Sampdoria were to play in England I would probably have already been called..."

But now, thanks to his current form - and the influence of Giampaolo - he could yet be on his way to England with Arsenal. And after three years in Italy, Praet admits the time has arrived for a new stage in his career.

"There is a lot of interest in me and this is a sign that I am doing well at Sampdoria. Over time, of course, I'd like to go to a bigger club," says Praet.

"We all need to change our goals every so often."

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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