3 Juventus Youngsters Preparing to Step Up and Replace Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo is one of the best midfielders to ever step between the chalk. His passing abilities have led his clubs to a combined four Scudetti (with a fifth on the way), two Champions League wins, a Coppa Italia, three Supercoppas and two UEFA Super Cups. He also guided Italy to the Holy Grail of a World Cup title in 2006.
He is still playing at the top of his game, but at 34 years old, his storied career is coming to a close. Of a more immediate concern for Juventus is that the three-year contract that he signed after being let go by AC Milan in 2010 will expire this summer.
All signs indicate that the latter concern won't be a huge issue. He was quoted last month by La Gazetta dello Sport (h/t Sky Sports) as saying, "There is absolutely no chance I won't sign a new deal." Juve fans are reportedly set to see him in black and white for at least another two years.
The club needs to use those two years to discover who will be replacing "l'architetto" in the lineup when he does hang up his boots. Players of his level come once in a generation, but there are players in the Juve setup who, with a little more seasoning, have the ability to step into his role.
Who can Juve send up through the ranks when Pirlo is done? Let's take a closer look.
Fausto Rossi was catapulted into the world spotlight last month when his 17th-minute goal proved the difference in Real Valladolid's 1-0 upset of Barcelona.
In Italy, he's been a known quantity for slightly longer. He was a key cog in the Azzurrini squad that made the final at the U21 European Championships in Israel last summer. According to WhoScored.com, in his five games he completed 87.3 percent of his passes and averaged almost 4.5 long balls per match while chipping in defensively with 2.4 tackles per game.
After two seasons on loan in the lower divisions of Italy, Rossi made his debut in top-tier soccer this season on loan at Valladolid. Some of his counting numbers are down—something to be expected on a team that is battling relegation—but he managed to notch three assists in addition to his shock winner against Barca. It's significant to note that Valladolid won every game that he managed to post an assist.
He is 23 and needs a bit more seasoning to get him to a Juve level. The Bianconeri would likely want him back to loan him to a higher-level club, but Valladolid does have the option to buy. Rossi has expressed satisfaction with life at Valladolid but admitted to Rai Sport (h/t Football Italia) that he would "like to have the chance to prove my qualities and make life difficult for the Juventus directors."
After the selection crisis that Juve has gone through the last six weeks due to injury and suspensions, another quality midfielder is needed for depth. In seasons past that was Emanuele Giaccherini, but no such player exists on this year's squad. Rossi could fill that role and learn directly from the master before taking the reins when Pirlo leaves.
At 24 years old, Marrone is running out of time to make his move, but his loan stint with Sassuolo is starting to bring results.
A regular starter since the end of October, he has been completing 83.9 percent of his passes this season, according to WhoScored.com. He has three assists this season, all of which came in eventual wins for the Neroverde.
His performance against his parent side in December was an example of his progress. He completed 86 percent of his pass attempts and made two key passes while supplying three tackles, two assists and two clearances from the defensive end.
He's shown a particular knack for key passes this season, averaging one per game. On a better team than Sassuolo, those passes would have better chances at turning into assists.
After two years of being stuck behind the MVP midfield of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Pirlo (plus Paul Pogba when he broke out last year), Marrone has finally started getting enough reps as a midfielder to slow the game down for him.
A return to Juve for a little more direct instruction from Pirlo could see him turn into a late bloomer in the team's midfield.
Ouasim Bouy is the youngest and least polished player on this list. Plucked from the Ajax youth system, the Dutchman was loaned to Brescia last year and became a starter, scoring once and notching five assists in 17 games before an ACL injury ended his season.
He is an attacking midfielder, but many people forget that Pirlo was too at his age. It wasn't until 2001—six years into his professional career—that Pirlo was moved deeper and became the player we all know today.
A shift deeper may also be beneficial to Bouy, given what's in front of him at Juve. The team has a trio of attacking midfielders in Vidal, Marchisio and Pogba who—should they all remain with the club—would likely block the youngster from getting into the team. Even if one of them left the club, the spots flanking Pirlo would still be manned by some of the best midfielders in the game.
Pirlo's spot in the midfield is the one that is most likely to vacate first, and if Bouy wants to maximize playing time, learning to play the regista position may be his best ticket to the starting XI. He certainly has the passing skills to do the job.