6 Future Stars of the Italian National Team
Italian football has undergone a drastic transformation over the past few years.
Serie A has fallen behind La Liga, the Premier League and the Bundesliga and cannot match these leagues in terms of spending, which has forced the majority of Italian clubs to invest in their academies.
This has been a positive for the Italian National Team, with Cesare Prandelli happy to give opportunities to the best young talent around in order to promote a better relationship between the senior and youth teams in the country.
Having reached the final of the European under-21 championship this summer, Italy can be optimistic about their future at senior level.
With Stephan El Shaarawy, 20, and Mario Balotelli, 22, providing motivation for youngsters that they can become stars at such an early stage of their career, we are sure to see many more young players being afforded an opportunity in the build-up to the World Cup.
Here are six youngsters who could feature prominently in the coming years, some of which might just force their way into next year's squad for Brazil.
Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli
Lorenzo Insigne suffered a frustrating campaign last season as he failed to force Goran Pandev out of Walter Mazzarri's starting lineup.
The 22-year-old did not suit Mazzarri's tactics and has publicly declared his joy at new manager Rafael Benitez's arrival in Naples.
A traditional trequartista, Insigne is short and nimble, with a keen eye for a defence-splitting pass.
But with great agility and a willingness to carry the ball forward with his close control, Insigne can play all across the front line, making him a modern day manager's dream.
With Edinson Cavani set to depart the Partenopei, there might just be space for a new hero to come onto the scene and Italy will subsequently be the beneficiary too.
Mattia De Sciglio, Milan
Mattia De Sciglio broke through into Milan's starting lineup last season and was one of the bright notes in a rather forgettable season for the Diavoli.
Apt on either flank as a full-back, De Sciglio has great balance to his game and can provide decent cover at the back with plenty of useful forays forward.
The Rossoneri actually believe that the 20-year-old could eventually blossom into a ball-playing centre-back with the ease in which he reads the game.
Having not been entirely convinced by De Sciglio's ability to handle such an intense run of games, Massimiliano Allegri used the player sparingly at times, with Kevin Constant often filling the left-back spot.
But rest assured, with a breakthrough into the Italian National Team already achieved, De Sciglio will be a regular in the Milan side this season.
Riccardo Saponara, Milan
Riccardo Saponara is an exciting talent that emerged from Serie B last season, bringing comparisons with Milan legend Kaka.
Saponara thrived in a role just behind the strikers for Empoli, chipping in with 13 league goals to force Milan to sign half the rights of the player.
With Milan's lack of creativity and Saponara's confidence in himself to be able to supply the likes of Mario Balotelli with the quality service needed to bring the Rossoneri back into title contention, a loan away is not likely.
So the 21-year-old should get plenty of minutes on the pitch under Allegri, and it will therefore not be too long before a promotion from the Azzurrini to the Azzurri happens.
Marco Verratti, PSG
One of the most highly rated midfielders in Europe, Verratti is one of a rare breed who can dictate the tempo of the game from deep with his exceptional range of passing.
The PSG starlet has already been given many opportunities in Ligue 1 under Carlo Ancelotti and will hope to continue his rapid progression this season.
Able to change direction with relative subtlety like Claude Makelele, but then use the ball as productively as Xavi, Verratti is the real deal and he has fully justified the €12 million fee that was paid to Pescara last year.
It says a lot about the player when he is competing with the likes of Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi and still valued enough to be given regular action on the pitch.
Mattia Destro, Roma
Mattia Destro will surely experience a breakout season for Roma this year, with the Giallorossi set to hand him a prominent role in the side.
A combination of injuries and the competition of Pablo Osvaldo—who looks to be on his way this summer—meant that Destro struggled for a regular run of games last term.
Rudi Garcia will look to build his attack around the 22-year-old as they bid to bounce back from a dreadful season.
A traditional No. 9 who is happy to feature predominantly in and around the penalty area is a rarity in the modern game.
Roma will expect the player to significantly improve on his return of just six Serie A goals last season and anything short of double that figure will probably be a disappointing season.
His under-21 coach, Devis Mangia, declared to Sky Sport Italia (via Football Italia) that he could become the "best striker in Italy."
Alessandro Florenzi, Roma
Alessandro Florenzi was earning just €30,000 per year during preseason 12 months ago, but now the 22-year-old is a valued member of the Giallorossi and under consideration by Cesare Prandelli for the Azzurri.
Florenzi offers great energy and work rate in the midfield, and with Italy producing a number of talented attacking players, Prandelli will need to count on players to offer a screen for those stars to shine.
Florenzi offers this and can produce an unselfish role at such an early stage of his career, demonstrating great composure for such a young player.
The 22-year-old will grow with Roma this season and with bids coming in from Chelsea for Daniele De Rossi (per the Mirror, via Football Italia), Florenzi will surely be handed a greater responsibility next season under Rudi Garcia.