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Jacopo Sala: Why Liverpool have inside-running for ex-Chelsea starlet

After Nuno Morais' FA Cup heroics and the wave of publicity Kevin de Bruyne has generated, could another former Blue haunt Chelsea next season?

It's broke this week that Jacopo Sala, on Chelsea's books for four years, has Premier League clubs scrambling to bring him back to England this summer.

Along with West Ham United and Tottenham, bitter rivals Liverpool, where manager Brendan Rodgers worked with Sala at Chelsea, are also scouting the Hellas Verona midfielder.

Sala won the FA Youth Cup with Chelsea in 2010, playing alongside Rodgers' son Anton in midfield. A few weeks later he made the first team bench, at 18, as Carlo Ancelotti's team defeated Blackburn Rovers to lift the Premier League title.

"I was close to Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech," recalled Sala earlier this season. "They were all great people.

"Training with them, they helped me grow as a player."

As for Ancelotti, Sala adds: "He took notice. He would always say to me 'keep it simple. Don't complicate your football'."

A year on and both Ancelotti and Sala had left Stamford Bridge.

Sala was taken to Hamburg SV by former Blues football chief Frank Arnesen. Like many at Chelsea, the Dane was convinced by Sala's ability and knew he just needed a first team chance.

"Jacopo is a player with a bright future," Arnesen declared upon Sala's arrival.

"He has been through all the youth teams of Italy. He has excellent physical and playing qualities."

Sala was one of Arnesen's first additions in his new job as HSV sporting director and didn't let him down.

He spent two years with HSV, establishing himself as a first teamer and famously scoring his first senior goal against Bayern Munich in a 1-1 draw. But injuries and a failure to win over coach Thorsten Fink had he and his management team jumping at the chance of a return to Italy last season.

Newly promoted Hellas Verona came forward with a €100,000 compensation offer and HSV did not stand in the youngster's way.

Verona sports chief Sean Sogliano was particularly pleased with the deal. He recalled: "The boy had already had important experiences abroad with Chelsea and Hamburg and we were glad we brought him back to Italy in the summer of 2013, among other things because he was on a free."

Last season, with his powerful running and eye for a pass, Sala proved himself among Verona's standout players as they defied the critics and stayed up.

Sogliano adds: "He earned his place in particular in the second half of the 2013/14 season, but throughout the year he always worked well and with professionalism. He is still young and can become a great player."

There is some debate about where in midfield Sala is best suited. Standing at over 6ft, some say he could run a midfield through the middle. But Sogliano believes his engine suits a wider role, similar to how David Beckham performed for Manchester United and Real Madrid.

"He combines physical qualities with good technical qualities. He has been able to adapt to multiple roles in the 4-3-3 of (coach Andrea) Mandorlini. I think he best expresses himself as a right midfielder, being a dynamic player who can work the spaces. He's a modern midfielder."

Those inside the game have always rated Sala, but injury problems have held him back. Even this season has been somewhat stop-start, but his form and contract status - his current deal runs to 2016 - still has bigger clubs eager to discuss terms with Verona.

"I always think positive, reminding myself that injuries are part of the game," says Sala. "This time it's my turn, but it will move onto someone else eventually."

With Liverpool, Spurs and West Ham now circling, Ubaldo Righetti, the former AS Roma and Italy defender, won't be surprised if Sala is ferried away from Verona.

"He has extraordinary qualities, he just needed self-belief," says Righetti.

"He uses both feet well and is very good in one on one.

"The experiences he had abroad, first with Chelsea and then Hamburg were hugely important for his development."

And that development could continue at Anfield.

With Rodgers among the suitors, should Liverpool firm up their interest, Sala could be given the chance to show Chelsea what they missed out on next season.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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