Duncan Castles
Thursday April 19th, 2012

Manchester United faces the prospect of losing another jewel of its academy system to freedom-of-contract departure. Italy U-21 international Davide Petrucci is considering leaving Old Trafford at the end of this season to take up one of a number of lucrative offers to return to his home country.

Two leading Serie A clubs are understood to have proposed contracts worth significantly more than the wage Petrucci has been offered to continue his career at United. The attacking midfielder, likened to Francesco Totti at his first club AS Roma, is also being pursued by several Premier League sides.

Should Petrucci ultimately decide to move outside the English game, United can expect to receive no more than €360,000 ($472,750) in training compensation for the four seasons the 20-year-old has spent with them. His case mirrors that of France youth international Paul Pogba, whose Old Trafford contract has also been allowed to run down.

As Petrucci was acquired from Roma to consternation from his parent club, Pogba was cherry picked from Le Havre's youth ranks. Though Pogba progressed as expected at United, the club failed to secure him to a full first-team contract, inviting attention from overseas.

Late last year the Italian agent Mino Raiola was invited to canvas offers for the athletic midfielder, eventually securing a lucrative salary and commission with Juventus. Sir Alex Ferguson's efforts to persuade Pogba to reconsider the move to Italy - including direct advice from Rio Ferdinand, selection for the first team, and a stint training alone -- have failed to convince him to sign a contract extension.

Petrucci's own progress at United had been hampered by a persistent groin problem that took 18 months to fully resolve. This season, however, the fit-again Italian has developed rapidly, being appointed captain of the reserve side and selected for the traveling squad for March's Premier League victory at Tottenham Hotspur.

Used by Italy at every youth international level, Petrucci made his debut for Ciro Ferrara's U-21 side in January. Ferguson subsequently promoted him to train with the first team, where the playmaker has continued to impress, leading to the offer of a new four-year contract.

United originally signed Petrucci as a 16-year-old in the summer of 2008, exploiting a well-used loophole in Italy's soccer regulations that prevented clubs from signing players to professional contracts before they reach the age of 17. At the time Roma's academy director compared Petrucci's enticement to Real Madrid's pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo.

"They complain about Ronaldo and then did the same thing with Davide," said Bruno Conti. "His father Stefano has disappointed me. I will not be told any more lies. As for the boy, I wish him all the best in the world."

Duncan Castles is a Scottish football journalist who also writes for The Sunday Times, The National and Champions magazine. You can also follow him on Twitter: @duncancastles

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