Serie A: The 5 Fastest Rising Stars of Italy's Top Flight
Italy is suffering through tough financial times, and the Serie A has not been immune to the economic downturn. Once the destination for the top players of the world, Italian teams have faltered in the transfer market. Even if a club could afford the exorbitant transfer fees required for the likes of Gareth Bale, they often can't afford the wages to go along with it.
Because of the financial crunch, youth development is an ever-more important aspect of Italian football. For Italian teams to compete with clubs in other countries backed by Russian oligarchs and Qatari oil magnates, they must manage their youth systems carefully and invest in young talent whenever it can be found.
Here are five examples of young players rising fast in the Serie A. Some have already made an impact at the top levels of the league, others are primed to become major players in the highest levels of Italy and Europe.
Mattia Perin is one of a trio of young goalkeepers that could keep Italy's posts secure on the international level for quite some time, and of the three he has the most top-flight experience.
Perin was a revelation last year while on loan from Genoa at Pescara. The Delfini let in the most goals by far in Serie A last season, but Perin—who played in 29 games and was credited with 121 saves by ESPNFC—bore no fault for it. His performances were incredible, and clubs in Italy and abroad began taking notice.
Genoa was not in a selling mood this summer, and instead shipped out Serie A veteran Sebastian Frey to make room for the 21-year-old. His performance with the Grifone this year has been good enough so far to drive up his price even higher.
Of the three young Italy up-and-comers between the sticks, Perin is the only one not controlled by one of Italy's major clubs. Francesco Bardi is an Inter property and could be the No. 1 there as early as next season if a ridiculous offer for Samir Handanovic comes in. Nicola Leali is owned by Juventus, and with the legendary Gianluigi Buffon's career beginning its final act, he could see himself starting in Turin within two or three years.
Neither of those two, however, has the experience at the top flight that Perin does. Bardi is getting his first taste of the Serie A on loan at Livorno this season. Leali has yet to be blooded at the top flight, having spent the last two years on loan at Serie B sides Lanciano and Spezia. Perin's top-flight time dwarfs them both—and in that time he has had tremendous individual success.
It will be interesting to see where Perin moves. An obvious answer could be AC Milan, who are in desperate need of goalkeeping help. Sky Sports reported interest from the Rossoneri early last year, but nothing concrete has ever been tabled because of Genoa's determination to have him play for the club at least this year.
Another Sky report linked him to Arsenal, Barcelona and again Milan in March, but that's about the last we've heard of concrete rumors. Perin's fate obviously rests at a club bigger than Genoa—the question is which club that will be.
Mattia De Sciglio
Mattia De Sciglio has been hampered by injuries this season, but the 21-year-old is the best young full-back out there. Barring any career-altering health concerns he is a sure bet as the next defensive star at AC Milan, following in the footsteps of names like Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta and Nesta.
De Sciglio is sure in the tackle, near-impossible to dispossess, a superlative crosser and can play on either flank with no difference in quality. For a full run on his abilities, check out my own profile of him here on B/R. What's scary for opposing attackers is that considering the fact he's only 21, he has vast room to improve even more.
Besides injuries, the only major obstacle to De Sciglio's establishment as a top-level star is Mlian manager Massimiliano Allegri's strange obsession with playing Kevin Constant at left-back.
If Milan's woes continue, however, Allegri will likely be gone by season's end, and with it the Constant-as-full-back experiment. Expect De Sciglio to be a household name in the red half of Milan for years to come.
Juventus has their hands on several of Serie A's better young strikers. Ciro Immobile (currently playing on co-ownership for Torino) and Manolo Gabbiadini (in the same arrangement with Sampdoria) both call Juve their home clubs.
As of this summer, the same can be said of 19-year-old Domenico Berardi, who could be the best buy of the bunch. Captured on co-ownership for €9 million—here's Juve's press release for the signing—the teenager stayed at newly-promoted Sassuolo on loan and has been one of the revelations of the season.
Berardi has appeared in 10 games—nine of them starts—scoring seven times and notching a pair of assists. Highlighted amongst his season so far is a hat-trick against Sampdoria in a 4-3 win and a last-second goal to draw level with then-leaders Roma.
His efforts—as well as those of another Juve property, Simone Zaza—have kept Sassuolo sitting in a surprising 15th, two points above the drop zone.
Berardi's signing brings to mind a similar move Juventus made almost exactly 20 years ago. The 19-year-old forward the Bianconeri brought into the fold in the summer of 1993 had limited first-team experience, but blossomed into one of the greatest men ever to play the game.
That teenager's name? Alessandro Del Piero.
Of course, it's far too early to be comparing Berardi to the likes of Il Pinturicchio, but the transactions do bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. Given Beppe Marotta's inability to sign impact players in the striker position until this past summer, a young gun like Berardi may be the answer to his woes—especially with Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente already in the late stages of their respective primes.
Given his form, it's likely that his time with the Neroverde is going to be short. Expect Juve to buy the other half of his rights in the summer and possibly keep him on the first team squad, especially if they off-load a player like Sebastian Giovinco. From there he could start making a name for himself on a European scale.
Lorenzo Insigne has been on radars ever since he helped Pescara to their first-ever promotion to the top flight two years ago.
He scored 18 times on loan to the Delfini from Napoli. When he returned to the Partenopei last season he was saddled with the expectation of replacing the departed Ezequiel Lavezzi.
He didn't come anywhere near his goal output of the last two years, scoring only five times. He did notch seven assists, but after the magic of Lavezzi some fans were disappointed.
There are numerous reasons for why he didn't score as much in his first top-flight season. For one thing, his manager at Pescara—and the year before that at Foggia, where he scored 19 times—was Zdenek Zeman, to whom defense is purely optional. Playing time was another—he came off the bench 21 times compared to 16 starts. A third reason—possibly the main one—is how totally dependent Walter Mazzari's side was on Edinson Cavani a year ago.
Cavani is gone now, as is Mazzarri. Rafael Benitez has started Insigne in 10 league games this year, and he has been taking more command of the team on the field.
His real emergence may be coming on the international level, where he has put in impressive performances in his four appearances. In some circles Insigne is being regarded as a potential key for Cesare Prandelli as the World Cup approaches. B/R's Matteo Bonetti tipped him as Italy's breakout star in this August's friendly against Argentina.
It's not hard to see why he played better under Prandelli than Mazzarri last season. Mazzarri's tactics didn't suit the versatile forward, whereas Prandelli and Benitez both play formations that allow him the freedom to use his considerable passing skill.
Insigne may never turn into a primary goalscorer at the highest level, but his ability to create will keep him in the limelight for a long time, regardless of what shade of blue he wears.
Juventus' acquisition of Paul Pogba was akin to highway robbery.
Unsatisfied with his first-team opportunities under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, the French wunderkind—then 19—signed a Bosman deal with Juventus.
In case you're wondering what the Red Devils missed out on, watch the video attached to this slide.
Those two rocket goals against Udinese in January weren't the only long-range shots Pogba buried last year. He scored five times last year, mostly off the bench and in spot duty when one of Juve's superb starting midfielders needed a rest.
After scoring four goals and notching as many assists in all competitions this season—along with 3.4 tackles per game in league play—it's impossible not to use the term "Juve's superb midfield" without mentioning his name.
He has played so well this season that he's pulled a Wally Pipp on no less a player than Claudio Marchisio. He came on in the Supercoppa after Marchisio was injured and put in a sublime performance, scoring the game's first goal and spurring the team to a 4-0 win.
Il principino and Il polpo Paul will now be playing in the same midfield for at least a month after Andrea Pirlo sprained his knee last week. That arrangement—along with Arturo Vidal—is likely to be Juve's central midfield in seasons to come. Opponents will have to pick their poison as to which of the three they want to beat them.
Pogba's skill set is comparable to Vidal's in most respects. He is a good passer, splendid dribbler, tenacious in the tackle and is more than capable of scoring from the midfield—particularly with that cannon shot of his. Vidal is widely regarded as Serie A's best midfielder, and Pogba could develop to match or even exceed his teammate's abilities.
Pogba is already one of the best midfielders in Serie A. Barring serious injury, he could be seriously putting his name in as a candidate for the best player in the world by the time he's 25.
All for absolutely zero transfer fee.