TORONTO – Alessandro Busti is 18, but he still remembers when his mother sang ‘O Canada’ to him as a child.
Born in Toronto, Busti has lived most of his life in Turin, Italy, where he’s been in the youth system of Serie A club Juventus since he was 10 years old.
Earlier this year, the young goalkeeper received a call from Canadian men’s team coach John Herdman, who wanted to gauge his interest in playing international soccer for his birth country. Even though he’s spent little time in Canada – he moved to Italy with his parents when he was only six months old – Busti jumped at the opportunity to represent the Reds.
“It was a surprise, because I didn’t think I would have the chance. I talked to my parents and my agent, and I decided to go. My parents told me that Canada is a good country. Sometimes before I [went] to sleep [as a child], my mother sang the anthem to me,” Busti recalled during a one-on-one interview with Sportsnet.
“I was singing ‘O Canada’ to him and his twin sister when they were little. Every night with some nursery rhymes. He truly feels Canadian. I tried to pass [that on] to both my kids,” his mother Paola recalled.
“He was [previously] called up on the Italian national under-18 team. But as soon as Canada called him he didn’t have any doubts on who to pick.”
Busti could get a chance to belt out ‘O Canada’ prior to the Reds’ Concacaf Nations League qualifier against Dominica next Tuesday at BMO Field. If he does feature in that game, he’d be officially tied to Canada.
Busti has yet to play for the Canadian senior side – he was called up for a Nations League qualifier against the U.S. Virgin Islands last month but didn’t see any action. He did turn out for Canada’s youth team at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France earlier this year though. Busti made a pair of appearances, including a clean sheet performance in a 1-0 win over Turkey.
“He was outstanding in Toulon, just outstanding. A top professional. He did everything right off the pitch and then when he got his chance on the pitch he was fantastic in the match against Turkey. He led us to that win. From that, we know we’ve got something special here [and] he’s in my mind for potential minutes against Dominica,” Herdman told Sportsnet.
Herdman later added: “He has to earn that right. You have to perform on the field [in training camp]. There’s no free rides.”
Busti’s soccer journey began as a nine-year-old when he started playing for Lascaris, a small club from the suburbs of Turin where he was raised. A year later, both Juventus and Torino were interested in him, but he ended up signing with Juve.
“I went to Juventus because it’s one of the biggest teams in Europe and the world,” said Busti, who is learning English as a second language.
Busti has worked his way up Juventus’ youth system and currently plays for the Serie A club’s under-23 side, and he occasionally trains with the first team, most recently in August.
“It was so fast. [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Leonardo] Bonucci, they’re strong. Sometimes my shoulders ache after I save the ball,” Busti joked.
He even had the chance last season to train with former Juve goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon, who’s now at PSG.
“He gave me some advice. … I’m impressed by Buffon because he’s 40 and he’s amazing,” Busti said.
Busti is currently in Toronto with the Canadian team training ahead of next week’s Concacaf contest. Aside from a family visit with his mother Paola (who was born in Turin) and his father Paolo (a native of Milan) when he was eight, this is only Busti’s second visit to the city where he was born.
The budding Juventus hopeful would have fallen through the cracks of the Canadian national team if not for the meticulous nature of Herdman.
One of the first things Herdman did this past January when he succeeded Octavio Zambrano as coach was to instruct his support staff to identify players from around the world who were eligible to play for Canada. Online databases such as InStat, Wyscout and Transfermarkt were scoured, and Busti was among the names that popped up.
Assistant coach Mauro Biello, who speaks Italian, played a key role in convincing Busti to commit to playing internationally for Canada.
“We gave Juventus a call and asked to speak to him, and we did. That was the start of our conversations,” Herdman explained.
Even though Busti is only 18, Herdman has been impressed by his maturity and work ethic.
“There’s a real focus about him, a real seriousness,” Herdman said.
As for the future, Busti is looking forward to making his senior team debut for Canada, which could come against Dominica. Beyond that, he’s looking ahead to 2026 when Canada will co-host the World Cup with the United States and Mexico.
“It’s a dream. We hope to get there and do all the work to go to the World Cup,” Busti offered.