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Featured Image Credit: Alessandro Arlotti/Instagram
Alessandro Arlotti knows he has sacrificed everything to be in this position. "Many people have said it's going to be hard, but I'm young," he tells SPORTbible from his new home in Boston. "I want to dream as much as possible. I will do everything that I can to make this happen."
Arlotti left behind a professional career in football so he could pursue another dream. A dream with a 3.5% acceptance rate and a serious amount of dedication. A dream that would see him study at one of the world's most reputable universities.
In just a matter of weeks, he will begin a four-year program at Harvard. But why leave behind a career in professional football - a profession millions of people around the world would love more than anything? Is it the right choice?
"I think it's the best decision I could have made."
Born in the French city of Nice to Italian parents, Arlotti grew up with ambitions of becoming a professional footballer and, at the age of seven, Ligue 1 side AS Monaco spotted his attacking talents while playing local football on the French Riviera.
Arlotti would flourish in Les Monégasques' prestigious academy, scoring goals and improving as an overall player. He would also become a top student in the club's fully operational educational structure within the Louis II Stadium complex.
Officially recognised by the French Education Ministry, there are around a dozen graduate teachers who supervise the young players in their development as students. During his spell with the French club, Arlotti would learn a great deal from his time there.
In the past, a number of big names have graduated through Monaco's academy. Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and more recently, Kylian Mbappe, spring to mind, not to mention Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Lemar and Nampalys Mendy.
As we speak over a Zoom call in his Boston home, the teenager opens up about how important that system has been.
"It was not easy to train as well as study," he says. "But again, I must thank Monaco. They are one of the most organised clubs in world football. They have a school in the academy itself that helps us as players to continue our education and academic progression.
"I think that's amazing and it helped me so much."
After nine productive years in Monaco's youth set-up, an ambitious Arlotti was desperate to prove himself in a first-team environment.
In the summer of 2020, he decided to join Serie B side Pescara - a move that was seen as a move in the right direction.
The youngster was achieving top grades at school when he joined the Delfini and, on top of his impressive academic achievements, he had already made his debut for Italy U17's.
"Playing for your country is one of the best feelings in the world," he said.
"I will always remember my debut with the national team. I was singing the national anthem and my father was in the stands. I saw him crying with pride, with his hand on his heart. I will never forget that moment."
He was prepared to make a breakthrough in the Italian second division but ultimately, his time at the Stadio Adriatico fell below expectations.
"I wanted to know if I could play professionally. At Monaco, I wasn't near the first team. So I went to Pescara to see if I could play at the next highest level. Unfortunately, the team wasn't in a good position and there were too many players. The coach also changed three times during my time there.
"I understood that they don't really put young guys in the team during a difficult situation. It didn't go as I had hoped."
There was a big decision to be made. He wanted to progress academically without leaving the game he loved behind so, in a bold move, he left Pescara to study in the US.
Arlotti had to take a number of tests to enrol at Harvard and because the school is extremely selective, getting a high SAT score and Grade Point Average is vital to having a chance at getting in. "I had to do a lot of preparation but it was worth it."
It may not be at a professional level but the attacking midfielder will play for the Harvard Crimson men's soccer team in the coming months, with pre-season kicking off on August 18th.
"I think it's the best decision I could make," he says again. "To come here and study while playing football at Harvard is incredible. It's still a high standard here. In the US, football is improving a lot. I hope it continues and it reaches the European level at some point."
Arlotti, who has been taking English lessons ahead of next month's start date, announced the news in an Instagram post earlier this year. It was a decision that stirred a huge reaction.
"I know it is a unique story. That's why I got so many messages from people saying that they couldn't understand my decision," he says.
"I'd say 50 percent of people didn't understand my choice, and the other half were really happy for me. They could see that I am an ambitious person.
To his credit, the 19-year-old took the time to respond to those who messaged him privately.
"I was trying to explain my decision to those who couldn't understand it," he added. "I understand that to be in the Italian national team and playing in the first team in Serie B for Pescara was big. They said 'but you are so close to making it..."
"It was difficult but I think some of those people didn't know how huge this opportunity was for me. Most of them understood eventually."
With ambitions to study economics at the Ivy League school; recently named the world's best university for a tenth year in a row, Arlotti has made an incredibly brave decision, although home comforts - and the support of his family - are not so far away.
"It wasn't so hard to move country," he says. "My brother is here in Boston so he can help me a lot. I also have my best friend here, too. They were telling me the big differences between the two countries.
"The first week was a little hard but I've been here for a few months now and I'm getting used to it, although the food is very different. It's not easy to eat healthy in America!"
The teenager's ambition to better himself is admirable. In the coming years, the former Italy U18 international will continue to strive for more and one day, he hopes to return to football with a degree from Harvard University under his belt.
"I love football. I dedicated all my life to play. I'm really focusing on Harvard for now and then I will like to play football again.
"Perhaps I'll come back to play football in Europe. I think that's the dream."