SHEFFIELD UNITED: The battle for Diego

Wanted man: Diego De Girolamo on his United debut
Wanted man: Diego De Girolamo on his United debut
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DIEGO De Girolamo, Sheffield United’s teenage midfielder, is at the centre of an international tug of war between England and Italy.

The Star understands that De Girolamo, who made his senior debut at Coventry City earlier this month, has attracted the attention of scouts from both the FA and Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio less than five weeks after signing professional terms with the South Yorkshire club.

Although De Girolamo was born in Chesterfield, he qualifies for Italy courtesy of his Neapolitan father.

Indeed, officials at the FIGC were last night believed to be increasingly confident of winning the battle for the 17-year-old’s allegiance after monitoring his progress with United’s development squad.

Alberigo Evani, the Azzurrini’s under-18 coach, could attempt to force the issue by selecting De Girolamo in his team for a forthcoming youth fixture.

“Italy and England are both looking at Diego,” a source revealed. “Nothing definite has been announced yet but Italy feel they will win the race.

“There are some games coming up shortly and they could force the issue by calling him up.”

Evani, a two-time European Cup winner with Milan, was alerted to De Girolamo’s situation when United fended off interest from a host of Premier League clubs, including Arsenal and Manchester City, to secure the youngster’s services.

De Girolamo’s decision to sign a three-year contract in October was rewarded with a second-half cameo during the recent Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie with Mark Robins’ side.

“Diego is one I believe has got a real chance if he continues to work hard,” Danny Wilson, the United manager, said afterwards. “He has trained with the first team for the last couple of weeks and the lads know what he can do.

“The whole experience of having a pre-match meal and spending time around the lads at the hotel is new to him but he is a very confident young man.”

England under-18 coach Noel Blake wants to persuade De Girolamo that his future would be best served by representing the country of his

birth but the lure of Italy could prove impossible for the midfielder to resist despite their defeat by the Young Lions in a friendly two months ago.