Simone Pafundi Italy
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Simone Pafundi: INEOS’ Prodigal Italian Prototype for a New Multi-club Network

Manchester United’s hierarchical restructuring process shows no signs of slowing, with several executive personnel changes on the verge of completion. Omar Berrada has already been announced as Manchester United’s new CEO, while deals for Southampton’s Jason Wilcox and Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth draw near a conclusion. The acquisition of a ‘best in class’ recruitment specialist is expected to follow in due course.

In addition to these changes, groundwork has been laid for a multi-club developmental network in the shape of the City and Red Bull football groups. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, aided by the financial backing of INEOS, has acquired majority stakes in French side OGC Nice and more modest Swiss outfit FC Lausanne-Sport, along with a partnership formed with Ivorian side Racing Club Abidjan.

The Benefits Of A Multi-Club Network:

Multi-club networks are becoming increasingly common vehicles for player development across Europe; a pertinent case is City Football Group’s handling of Sávio Moreira de Oliveira. The twenty-year-old recently agreed to join the blue Manchester giants this summer from French side Troyes, unsurprisingly owned in their entirety by CFG (City Football Group).

Sávio has enjoyed a successful season-long loan at Spanish side Girona (47% CFG owned), accruing eight goals and seven assists in La Liga at the time of writing. Since joining Troyes from Clube Atlético Mineiro in 2022, Sávio has exclusively remained in the CFG network, illustrating the benefits of the increased control offered by a multi-club phased development plan.

Some argue that access to a multi-club structure (in some capacity) has become a necessity rather than a luxury for European clubs aiming for sustained success, with Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his associates appearing to agree. An early indication of INEOS’ intent to take advantage of such a network is the loan signing of Italian playmaker Simone Pafundi from Udinese. The deal announced last summer includes an option to buy for €15 million, according to Fabrizio Romano, a potential record signing for the humble FC Lausanne-Sport, perhaps subtly illustrative of INEOS’ underlying motives.


Italy’s diminutive debutant – Simone Pafundi:

The eighteen-year-old, born in Moncalfone, has emerged as one of Italy’s brightest prospects. Pafundi signed for Udinese from his hometown club, Unione Fincantieri Monfalcone, in 2014 after being scouted at a local youth tournament. The midfielder rapidly climbed the ranks at Udinese’s academy before making his first-team debut against Salernitana on May 22, 2022, aged sixteen, becoming the first 2006-born player to make a Serie A appearance. Later that year, Simone Pafundi received his first senior call-up to the Italian national team to be involved in international friendlies against Albania and Austria.

During that camp, Pafundi would go on to become the third-youngest Italian senior debutant of all
time, as well as the youngest in over 100 years. Roberto Mancini, the manager of Italy’s national team at the time, defended his somewhat controversial decision to hand the midfielder a debut at such a young age: “Pafundi’s call? If one is good at that age, he can play in Serie A. I did it, Pafundi can do it and he has enormous qualities: of course, he must be serious and not get lost off the pitch.”, insisted Mancini.

As far as his profile goes, Simone Pafundi is a highly skilled advanced playmaker, capable of
devastating final-third impact both as a creative outlet and a direct goal threat. The creative midfielder benefits from a license to roam, allowing him to influence play from all over the pitch. Pafundi possesses elite-level close control and ball manipulation, making him an adept ‘problem solver’ in congested areas.

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Verticality and directness are fundamental to Simone Pafundi’s game, known for producing spectacular line-breaking passes and solo runs penetrating opposition defences with ease. Blistering acceleration and top speed make him a handful for defenders, both on and off the ball. Standing at just 166cm, Pafundi’s height (or lack thereof) could prove problematic when facing tall, physical defenders, commonplace in the Premier League. The young Italian could benefit from bulking up to engage more effectively in physical duels—something that will no doubt come with time.

All-in-all, Simone Pafundi possesses a skill set suggestive of a future superstar—a player with real
potential to shine on the biggest stages. With this in mind, the €15 million option to buy included in
Pafundi’s loan deal seems a no-brainer for INEOS’; based on his current trajectory, there’s
every chance he’ll be worth double or even triple that number in a year’s time. If FC Lausanne-Sport were to activate the buy-out clause in Pafundi’s contract, INEOS would likely loan the youngster straight to French side OGC Nice as the next stage of his phased development, allowing him to acclimatise to a more physical environment more gradually.

In previous years, Manchester United may have bought an eighteen-year-old Simone Pafundi without
any structure in place to graduate his development, instead forcing him to attempt to adapt
to a level he’s not yet ready for—the likes of Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo come to
mind. This way, Simone Pafundi can benefit from more manageable jumps between clubs with
increasing physical, technical and tactical demands. If all goes according to plan, Pafundi could mark
the beginning of a new era of multi-club partnerships at Manchester United.

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