When former Wellington Phoenix assistant Luciano Trani first set eyes on hot Kiwi prospect Liberato Cacace 11 years back at the Italian eaterie owned by the youngster’s dad, he never imagined the starry-eyed fledgling would one day be on the European football menu.
That day has arrived, with Trani and the kid from La Bella Italia now reunited in Belgium at Sint-Truiden, the club led by Kevin Muscat with the ex-Phoenix assistant riding shotgun.
All Whites international Cacace, now 19, underwent a medical yesterday ahead of signing a three-year deal with the mid-table Pro League outfit, off the back of his breakout season for the ‘Nix.
Trani followed the progress of the budding left-back, from amateur outfit Island Bay United all the way to Wellington’s first team and the New Zealand national setup.
And he played a not insignificant role in Cacace, joining the talent smorgasbord at Sint-Truiden, amid interest from other offshore suitors.
Trani is convinced Cacace can dish up the full platter of his potential, so long as he’s given adequate time to marinate.
“I remember going to his dad Antonio’s restaurant, as the did the entire Phoenix team on a regular basis, and Libby would be there, mixing with the players, listening and asking questions,” recalls Trani.
“His eyes were wide open and you could see then he was keen to follow in the footsteps of the players he supported from the stands.
“Antonio was a huge Phoenix supporter also and we went there to eat often.
“I took an interest in Libby’s development and went to watch him play back then.
“He was small and quick, getting the ball near the touchline and making runs and beating players - pretty much as he does today.
“He’s been a standout in the A-League (where he was this week named in the PFA’s Team of the Season) and we feel he has the desire and determination to make inroads here in Europe also.”
Even after leaving Wellington to further his own football future, Trani followed Cacace’s progression.
“I hope this step he’s taking now will be an important one in realising his dreams and aspirations,” he added.
Instrumental in helping Phoenix attain their highest ever regular season finish with his surging runs and flashy footwork, Cacace’s exit has netted Wellington a six-figure sum.
Expanding on the part he played in enticing Cacace to Belgium, Trani added: “Kevin obviously knew a lot about Libby already and of course I had that little personal connection.
“I dropped him messages along the way, offering advice on improving certain areas of his game.
“I’ve tried to be there to assist in any way I can.
“Kevin asked me about various aspects of his game - and like every player he has strengths and areas he needs to address.
“I’m sure we’ll get to those but we also know his qualities and he’s shown what he’s capable already.
“This is a stepping stone for him, an entry point. Belgium is the focus for a lot attention on young talent in Europe.
“There are scouts everywhere looking for those players good enough to progress into one of Europe’s top five leagues.
“Libby has this opportunity now. He’ll have the chance to play and that will determine how far he can go into his career.”
Having finished 12th last season, De Kanaries have started the new campaign with one win, one draw and one defeat from their first three games.
Trani warned that Cacace’s fortunes will wax and wane in his demanding new environment.
“It won’t all be pretty - you’re not in the comfort zone of your own home,” he said.
“At times you’ll be alone and this is a good tester for Libby.
It will be fantastic and at other times it won’t be.
“Knowing each other from the past will help those difficult moments become a bit easier for him.
“Kevin views him as a player who will fit into the plans for the season.
“He’ll make him feel more comfortable in the environment, and once the timing is right I’m sure Kevin will give him the chance to show what he can do and people will see the value he brings.
“He has the focus and the mentality and is incredibly determined in his approach to the game.”