Pitchside Europe

The rise and rise of Mattia Perin

Giovanni, the bus driver for Pistoiese, started the ignition and began to exit the car park. He'd just dropped one of the club's youth teams off at a game, unloading the kitbags for the players to pick up before then climbing back into his vehicle and getting behind the wheel again. He turns on the radio ahead of the drive back and is just pulling out when all of a sudden a kid darts out into the road and forces him to make a screeching emergency stop. "Giovanniiiii" he shouts, a big grin on his face.

It was Mattia Perin, again. He'd hidden among the kitbags before dashing out to scare the living daylights out of the poor soul just as he'd done all season long, the cheeky little scamp. "I don't know how many times we risked being run over," Perin recalls, sniggering.

He loves a joke does the young Perin, even now he has turned professional and is considered one of the brightest goalkeeping prospects in Italy. Take his latest prank, for example. "I told my father that I was expecting a child. He began to unbutton his shirt and kept on repeating: 'Now who's gonna tell your mother?' The day after I broke it to him that it wasn't true. I still don't know even how to look after myself."

What japes. It's a wonder really how anyone takes him seriously. Yet they do principally because goalkeepers are supposed to be different, maybe even a little crazy, and this one promises much even though the beginning of his loan spell from Genoa to Pescara this season almost made him a laughing stock at his new club - not for a gag or a prank, but for a howler.

"This isn't a joke," Perin assured La Gazzetta dello Sport. "[It happened] in the first incident in the first training session of my first day here: The mister [Pescara's then coach Giovanni Stroppa] kicks the ball, it bounces in front of me and goes in. I turn around and say to Marini, the goalkeeping coach: 'You fell for that, eh?' and then to my team-mates: 'Good debut, no?'"

Making light of it, Perin knew Pescara would only see the funny side for so long. For they needed a good goalkeeper more than most. Their promotion to the top flight in the summer had not been built on the foundation of a solid defence. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Pescara had won Serie B under Zdenek Zeman by outscoring the competition with 90 goals for and 55 against.

By appointing Stroppa, a disciple of Zeman's, to replace him, Pescara were indicating that they wanted continuity of playing style. It was to be more or less all-out attack and, although Stroppa did try to add balance and a little restraint before his dismissal in mid-November, they were open, too open, meaning Perin was to be worked more than any other goalkeeper in the league.

On the eve of his 20th birthday, which happened to fall on November 10, 2012, the day Pescara played champions Juventus, the newly promoted side were conceding 1.7 goals per game. And yet in Gazzetta's famously ever-so-hard-to-please pagelle Perin had a commendable average rating of 6.3.

Asked if he had a birthday wish, he simply said: "Let's just say that I'd like to give myself a big present: a super game for Pescara, then the shirt of Gigi Buffon, the greatest goalkeeper of all-time." Juventus, however, spoiled Perin's party, handing out a 6-1 shellacking.

After the game, Buffon put an arm around his young protege and offered some advice. "He told me not to give up," Perin revealed. "Buffon is the best in the world. Until then I didn't know him [personally]. I spoke to him for the first time. He told me not to worry about it, to be carefree."

So Perin kept his chin up. More slaps were to come of course. How could they not when the defence in front of him did little worthy of the name. There was a 5-1 beating from Napoli and a 4-1 bruising from Milan to suffer.

Some found it difficult to isolate Perin's decent individual displays from the dreadful scorelines at Pescara. Devis Mangia, the Italy Under-21 manager, dropped him from first to third choice goalkeeper for the Azzurrini. Was his aptitude really in question or was it his attitude?

A self-proclaimed "slacker", who at times won't be budged "not even by a crane", perhaps led to the impression, only further enhanced by the stereotypes that come with having mop-like long hair not greatly dissimilar to his pet Bernese Mountain Dog Taz, that rather than carefree, he couldn't care less.

Before rushing to judgement, however, a distinction has to be made here between the private and professional life of a footballer. His comments were made with regard to housework. "I hate cooking and cleaning, even just making the bed," he said. "Giorgia, my girlfriend, does it."

One doesn't necessarily inform the other and while Perin has stood accused of immaturity in the past, recklessly going on a trampoline shortly before he was due to participate in the final of the Primavera championship with Genoa two years ago, he's still only young and claims to have grown up. "I wouldn't do that now for example," he said.

To be happy-go-lucky isn't always a bad thing in a goalkeeper anyway. Unless of course it leads to lapses in concentration. They can't allow themselves to be haunted by every goal conceded. It is what it is. Pick the ball out the net and move on. That's what Perin seems to do. He doesn't appear to let it or the scrutiny of the position affect him. He's sure of himself. And the confidence in him, the esteem in which he's held, only grew on Sunday when he delivered the goalkeeping performance of the season in Serie A.

Pescara travelled to Fiorentina, the revelation of the current campaign and a team unbeaten at home under Vincenzo Montella. As expected, they were dominated. Fiorentina, watched from the stands by new signing Giuseppe Rossi, played almost the entire first 45 minutes in their opponents' half. Perin came under siege, making save after stunning save, coming out to thwart Luca Toni then somehow contriving to keep out close-range headers from Nenad Tomovic and Alberto Aquilani.

As the disconcerting sense percolated within the Fiorentina players that even if they played all day they still wouldn't get past Perin, Pescara, so inspired by their goalkeeper's heroics, gradually grew in confidence and went up the other end and scored twice to record an improbable 2-0 win that puts more distance between them and the relegation zone.

"It's a sensational result," Pescara coach Cristiano Bergodi insisted. "We suffered in the first half and were a little fortunate, but I'd like to remind everyone [amid the now inevitable transfer rumours] that Perin is our player and was often [unfairly] criticised despite his young age."

By the full-time whistle on Sunday afternoon, Perin led Serie A in saves with 91 for the season. That afternoon alone, he'd made 15, a record for a single game across Europe's top five leagues in 2012-13.

Ironically of sorts, it came on the day that Buffon, who'd consoled him only a couple of months earlier, had made a rare mistake and was in need of some consolation himself after allowing Mauro Icardi to score an equaliser for 10-man Samp who then went on to get another for his team as they surprised everyone by beating Juventus 2-1.

Faced with reporters seeking to make premature comparisons between him and Buffon, Perin said bashfully: "Let's not exaggerate. A goalkeeper like him is born every 40 years, so the next will arrive in 20."

Though extroverted and outspoken, Perin remains a humble character. Good friends with Stephen El Shaarawy from their days in Genoa's academy, unlike his former team-mate's crest-like haircut, his own, he laughs, was grown to cover up a few occasional spots and blemishes on his face. He spent Sunday night not at a nightclub celebrating but at home getting in a sneaky session of "NBA 2K13 on PlayStation while my girlfriend slept".

Linked with Milan and touted for a full international call up this spring, Perin doesn't yet feel ready or like he's earned it. He knows his place in the pecking order. "After Buffon, De Sanctis, Viviano, Sirigu, Consigli and the others I'm... the 10th choice," he self-deprecates. "They wouldn't even recognise me at the gates. 'Who? Perini?'

And yet after Sunday's performance in Florence, everyone now knows exactly who he is, for Mattia Perin has made a name for himself as one to watch not just for the future, but in the here and now.

James Horncastle will be blogging for us on all matters Serie A throughout the season. He contributes to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and Champions magazine amongst others.

Follow @JamesHorncastle