I paid my first visit to St Georges Park over the bank holiday weekend and cast eye over the Italian under 17 national team as they beat Switzerland in an opening match of the UEFA European Under 17 Championships.
Interested to see how the future Italian stars would look & shape up especially after their senior men’s team had failed to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958. A national crisis perhaps? I simply put that down to the preposterous grouping of coupling the Azzurri with Spain in the Qualification stages more than simply having a ‘crisis’ and I still believe Serie A has a strong depth of quality within the sides playing in the ‘Calcio’.
The Italians this year have impressed me in Europe through Juventus & Roma especially whilst I love watching Napoli & their free flowing attacking brand. Lazio are fantastic to watch too and have some great young players that I’m sure will be snapped up this summer. The two Milan teams I feel are more than ready to kick on and have been on the verge of getting back to the weights they once punched at for all too long now. The likes of Atalanta, Sampdoria, Fiorentina all exciting teams that need no introduction to those of us that were born into Channel 4’s dynasty during the 1990’s and the golden era of Italian Football… But can Italy get back to those days?
Whilst the crumbling stadiums of Serie A and a league hindered by violence and corruption in recent years may not attract the finances and the players that they once did. You cannot ignore the star talent that is coming through the Italian ranks right now.
Lazio’s Ciro Immobile is currently leading the Italian scoring charts and is looking to score his second Capocannoniere having attracted attention from Tottenham Hotspur amongst others in recent weeks.
Other exciting strikers include the former Arsenal target Andrea Bellotti of (Immobile’s former club) Torino and the diminutive Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli. Kevin Lasagna is netting regularly for Udinese whilst youngsters Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina) and Patrick Cutrone (Milan) are also attracting a lot of transfer interest here in England.
For the under 17’s I watched Edoardo Vergani of Inter Milan a number nine who plays selfishly, scoring with almost his first touch after coming off the bench verses the Swiss. Composed, assured and with one thing in mind he looked like a proper centre forward and although he may frustrate team-mates with his approach play he certainly has an eye for goal. The number ten, Alessio Riccardi of Roma is almost modelled on his club hero Francesco Totti. Busy, creative, keen to be involved in everything & taking all set plays with the captains armband wrapped around his left bicep. He plays in a way that is sure to make him a fans favourite (perhaps at the Stadio Olimpico) one day.
Whilst Juventus have dominated the league and are on the verge of their seventh successive crown they have the obvious pick of the players based on a strong defense with an experienced midfield and some of the game’s best known attackers purchased from around the world. The bianconeri have the likes of Daniele Rugani and Felipo Bernedeschi getting plenty of game time with some fantastic talent in the Juniors led by Giusseppe Leone a seventeen year old midfielder in the Andrea Pirlo mould. Clever in possession agile and efficient he can dominate games with his passing and looks to be a real star of the future. As does Paolo Gozzi Iweru a young African defender very much typically Italian with his ’gutsy’ defensive displays likened to that of the great Chiellini almost fifteen year his senior.
There are certainly some very talented youth players coming through right now and I believe it won’t be long before Italy are back to their best following this mini blip in International football.
Watching Carmine Nunziata’s U17’s play they are shaped very much in the traditional model of strong defence, centre halves that mark tight and full backs that defend first, get forward second. They pack the midfield with quality and energy and are quick to press with the almost traditional number ten (Giannini, Baggio, Zola, Totti inspired) and a target man to lead the line with goal threat. It’s all very simple stuff but one which has worked for many years across various International levels.
On Monday Italy were beaten by England 2-1 at Walsall after leading 1-0 for most of the match. No shame in the defeat though as I believe England are leading the world when it comes to youth talent right now. The English problem is not necessarily bringing players through, but instead the parent clubs giving these players the confidence to allow them to break through.
In Italy this is still a problem amongst the top sides but there are examples of talent shining through. Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini & Inter’s Roberto Gagliardini are fine leggy centre midfielders whilst Milan have a host of players led by their 19 year old Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. AC have Davide Calabria a young full back who is neat on the ball. Manuel Locatelli a hard working midfield playmaker with a touch of class. And Cutrone who I’ve mentioned, at just 20 years old a striker that is tipped for the top.
With the likes of Caldara, Cristante & Petagna at Atalanta, Biraghi, Benassi, Chiesa at Fiorentina, Murru, Verre, Caprari & Capezzi at Sampdoria & of course Andrea Bellotti at Torino all of these men under 25 years old and all getting a chance in the top ten teams of Italian football with that in mind the future of the National team (& Serie A in general for that matter) looks to be quite bright indeed.