With the new Serie A season finally underway, The Hard Tackle brings to you a comprehensive selection of the top five U-23 players from the twenty teams competing in the Italian top division, that we predict will make an indelible impression in Serie A this year.
Serie A was once hailed as the retirement home of Europe where the decrepit seemingly sought asylum to while away their twilight years. While in the recent post-Calciopoli decade, that marks a significant re-emergence of the league with fresh capital, new stadiums and recruitment of youthful vigour and vitality, Italy continues to provide refuge to players in their supposed ‘twilight years’. And why not when the Luca Tonis, Fransesco Tottis, Carlos Tevezes, Patrice Evras and Sami Khediras of the world can set the kind of precedent that it has in recent years.
In the same way that Italian clubs recognise the importance of age (or its sweeter euphemism – experience), they also acknowledge the importance of a platform for the future. In recent years Italy has given rise to a number of prominent young marketable talents. The notion that Italy is a difficult place for a young player to develop is now a dated argument.
While players like Domenico Berardi, Paul Pogba, Mattia De Sciglio, Felipe Anderson and Alvaro Morata were already established young superstars before the start of last season, we came to cheer a fresh new batch of young sensations last year, most notably – Sassuolo’s Sime Vrsaljko, Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi and Bologna’s Amadou Diawara. Let’s take a look at the possible young talents who you would want your clubs to sign half way through the season.
5. Gerson Santos da Silva
Age 19 (born 20 May 1997)
Club: AS Roma
Position – Central Midfield/Advanced Central Midfield
It is not often that we see Roma spend €16.6 million on a player of relatively unknown merit. Gerson was bought from Brazilian club Fluminese who, head coach Spaletti hopes will be able to provide the kind of depth Roma need, looking ahead to a long season in Italy. In his breakout year in Brazil, he picked up a total of 41 appearances, scoring 5 goals at the tender age of 18. He has the ability to play both in the central midfield as well as the advanced central midfield of the pitch which gives Spallatti the option of using him both as a vice-Strootman or as a trequartista, if required.
4. Olivier Ntcham
Age 20 (born 9 February 1996)
Position – Midfield/Box to Box
Manchester’s City’s French prodigy who has been likened to Yaya Toure and a certain Paul Labile Pogba, is looking forward to spend a second straight season on loan at Genoa. He scored a wondrous opening goal and turned the match around shortly after coming on for Pandev in Genoa’s Serie A opener versus newly promoted Cagliari. Last year Ntcham was unable to establish himself as a starter, which is understandably a mammoth task for a 19 year old in Gasperini’s side, despite having great outings against Milan and Juventus. This year, however, Ivan Juric, the Croatian tactician will entrust him with more game time.
3. Dennis Praet
Age – 22 (born 14 May 1994)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (linked to Sampdoria)
Position – Advanced Attacking Midfield
Dennis Praet is the lesser known Anderlecht prodigy after the prolific Youri Tielemans. However, the club has entrusted him with the number 10 shirt as his future looks bright. With experience in Europa League and Champions League, Praet has made over 170 appearances for the Belgian side. This is why perhaps now is the right time to switch to one of Europe’s big leagues. Several English clubs along with Fiorentina were interested in the player, however Sampdoria have captured his signature as Marco Giampaolo is one of the very few coaches left in the subcontinent who still likes to play with a classic trequartista. With the departure of Vazquez to Sevilla, Saponara and Valter Birsa are the only trequartisti left in Italy around whom the team play revolves. Praet looks set to be the third in the line of the last of the trequartisti, a dying art in Italy.
2. Lucas Ocampos
Age – 22 (born 11 July 1994)
Position – Winger
The second Genoa player to feature in this list. Unlike Ntcham, Ocampos is not playing in Serie A on a dry loan spell, which gives Genoa the option of fully redeeming him if his loan spell is successful. The young Argentine who moved to France from River Plate can also play the role of a segunda punta (the second striker) if needed. Coupled with dribbling skills, composure and an ability to find passes he would be an ideal replacement for Suso, who moved back to his club AC Milan after the completion of his loan deal.
1. Marko Pjaca
Age – 21 (born 6 May 1995)
Position – Winger/Second Striker
Let us all hope that Marko Pjaca is a continuation in the long list of Dinamo Zagreb prodigies who have moved to Italy, stretching from the legendary Zvonimir Boban who played for Milan. From Milan Badelj through Marcelo Brozovic to Matteo Kovacic, Croatians never disappoint Serie A fans. Pjaca moved to Juventus after a dramatic few weeks of frantic negotiations involving the Old Lady and the Rossoneri. In the end, the Rossoneri lost out as the player chose to represent Juventus. Pjaca who already has played in the Champions League qualifiers put in a brilliant display in the Euros against Spain running riot past their defense. He tops our list of potential young players that will dazzle Serie A this year.
Rolando Mandragora (Juventus), Stefano Sensi (Sassuolo), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Davide Calabria (Milan), Manuel Locatelli (Milan), Federico Di Marco (Inter).