Serie A: The Italian youngsters to watch this season
Italian clubs have been the subject of severe scrutiny in recent years surrounding their laid-back policy on the issue of integrating youth team players. Legendary Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi waded in on the ongoing debate earlier this summer, claiming tacticians around the peninsula are unwilling to risk youth in Serie A as they see it as too much of a gamble. The European Cup winner’s statement led to widespread argument and scepticism as to whether the FIGC (Italian FA) would take measures to remedy the distressing situation.
The issue came to the fore in the aftermath of Italy’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign. Having been knocked out in the group stages in South Africa, many pointed towards the fact there were only four players under the age of 25 in the entire squad as the reason for its downfall. The 2006 triumph in Germany brought with it a dependency on experienced players, with Coach Marcelo Lippi deciding to stay faithful to those who had delivered that aforementioned success.
Lippi was quickly ousted from the entire setup following the highly embarrassing tournament, and dynamic Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli was appointed to restore order. The former Juventus midfielder proposed that an all-Italian Under-21 team compete in Serie B to tackle the serious lack of promising players developing early on in his reign. Two years on, and following a prosperous European Championships that saw Italy reach the final with a younger generation, it looks as if times are finally changing.
While Prandelli’s slightly drastic plan never materialised, Serie A clubs look set to rely heavily on youngsters for the upcoming 2012-13 season out of necessity rather than choice. Financial difficulties have left several sides in precarious positions. The prime example being Milan, who were forced to sell both their prized assets in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this summer as they desperately attempt to reduce their colossal debt.
Troubling times are not the only reason behind a new dawn for youth in Italian football, however. A golden generation appears to be breaking through, with a new breed of attacking players developing as opposed to the stereotypical defensive players previously produced. The second division has proved to be an ideal breeding ground for these youngsters, with those excelling eventually making the step-up.
With this in mind, we take a look at five Italian youngsters to watch in Serie A this season…
Mattia Destro (Roma)
The traditional target-man striker impressed on loan at Siena last term, notching up 12 goals in Serie A and controlling the Tuscan outfit’s attack with commanding performances. A product of the Internazionale academy, the 21-year-old also proved to be Italy’s transfer saga of the summer this year, with Juventus, Milan, Roma and his former club all linked to him. He ultimately moved to the Capital and Zdenek Zeman’s Roma. Having represented Italy at every level since the age of 15, Destro recently earned his first senior cap in a friendly against England and topped it off with a man of the match display.
Angelo Ogbonna (Torino)
A concrete centre-back of Nigerian descent, Ogbonna has excelled at Torino over the past several years in Serie B. Last year the Piedmont-based outfit earned promotion, and despite signing a contract extension recently the 24-year-old has been the subject of endless transfer speculation. Torino Chairman Urbano Cairo insists the club will not part ways with the 6ft 2 in defender for anything less than £15m. This will undoubtedly be his most influential season, as he makes his top flight debut and announces himself on the biggest stage.
Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
Under the guidance of eccentric coach Zdenek Zeman, the diminutive striker managed 18 successful strikes, winning Serie B with Pescara in the process, last season. Turning many heads alongside fellow youngsters Marco Verratti and Ciro Immobile, the 21-year-old has since returned to parent club Napoli to replace Ezequiel Lavezzi up front for Walter Mazzarri’s side. Born and bred in Naples, Insigne has instantly become a fan favourite and his excellent performances in pre-season could see him become an instant success. The second striker has been a mainstay in the Italian Under-21s but is yet to break into Prandelli’s team.
Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan)
Following remarkable displays of trickery and pace at Padova, Massimiliano Allegri brought the half Egyptian second striker to Milan last season. Having represented Italy since the age of 15, he was recently handed his senior debut against England. Despite only being 19, El Shaarawy was thrown in at the deep end making 29 first team appearances and scoring two goals last season for the Rossoneri. An underwhelming return, but the departure of Ibrahimovic and an injury to Alexandre Pato will see the silky forward given another chance to shine.
Ciro Immobile (Genoa)
The 22-year-old striker also featured predominantly in Zeman’s Pescara Serie B win, scoring 28 goals in 37 appearances. Immobile spent his youth in Juventus’s academy, winning prestigious tournaments such as the Viareggio competition. Uneventful spells with Siena and Grosseto saw him brought to the western coastline of Italy where he become an unstoppable goal machine for Zeman alongside Insigne. The 2011-12 Italian Champions failed to sign him permanently from a co-ownership deal with Genoa in the summer, with the latter bringing him in for their strike force this season.
Honourable mentions: Marco Capuano (Pescara), Nicola Leali (Juventus), Manolo Gabbiadini (Bologna), Luca Marrone (Juventus), Diego Fabbrini (Udinese), Samuele Longo (Inter), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan).Tagged in: Lorenzo Insigne, serie a
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