10 Youngsters to Watch in the 2014/15 Serie A Season
The 2014/15 Serie A season begins on August 30, and there are plenty of young players to watch in the division this year.
In this slideshow, players who are first-team regulars and no older than 21 years of age prior to the 2014/15 start date will be featured.
Some of the names will be familiar and trying to build on their standout 2013/14 campaigns; others will be trying to assert themselves in Italy's top flight for the first time.
Here are the 10 young players to watch in Serie A during 2014/15.
10. Daniele Rugani
Daniele Rugani made 40 appearances for Empoli in Serie B. He was so impressive that parent club Juventus wanted to include him in their squad this season, per David Amoyal of GianlucaDiMarzio.com.
Rugani has instead remained with Empoli and will participate in the team's first Serie A campaign for six years. It is a benefit to the Azzurri as they're tipped to be one of the relegation favorites.
The 20-year-old should be assured of a spot in the starting XI this year. Rugani was recently called up to the Italy U21 squad and impressed in his debut.
Expect Rugani to continue his form from last season. He could become a starlet and have a positive impact on Empoli's chances of survival.
9. Keita Balde Diao
Lazio underwhelmed last season, but Keita Balde Diao gave supporters some hope for this year. Keita earned his debut at 18 and managed to score five goals in 23 league appearances.
Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page, but Keita was a tireless worker and showed tremendous maturity for someone so young.
Keita was also deployed as a left-winger, so his ratio of goals is justified. Keita was able to start in most of the games, despite Vladimir Petkovic and Edy Reja both taking charge as manager during the campaign.
8. Domenico Berardi
No one expected Sassuolo to stay up last season, but they managed to do just that, despite Eusebio Di Francesco getting fired then re-hired.
The Neroverdi were one of the most entertaining sides to watch in 2013/14 thanks to their injection of youth, led by on-loan Juventus forward Domenico Berardi.
The 20-year-old burst onto the scene when he stuck four goals past AC Milan in an entertaining 4-3 win for Sassuolo. Berardi finished the campaign with 16 goals in 29 league appearances.
He's staying at the Mapei Stadium for another year, as is his teammate Simone Zaza, who is also a Juventus player. This means that Berardi has to be one to watch this season as Sassuolo try to survive the drop for the second time.
7. Mattia Perin
When Mattia Perin was at Pescara, the newly promoted side conceded a whopping 84 goals. A year later, Perin was called up to Italy's World Cup squad as the third-choice goalkeeper.
Perin's 2013/14 at Genoa was a lot more impressive than his previous season with Pescara. The Grifone allowed just 50 goals en route to a lower mid-table finish.
Genoa were involved in relegation battles in the seasons prior to 2013/14, but they managed to comfortably maintain their Serie A status last campaign. Perin's performances were a major reason for that success.
Perin was fantastic to the point that AC Milan were reportedly interested in signing him this summer. The 21-year-old is still with Genoa, but if he can replicate his previous season, he won't be there for long. Calling him Buffon's successor might not be that irrational.
6. Salih Ucan
Roma had a busy summer signing several players to enhance their squad. One of those who slipped under the radar is Salih Ucan.
Ucan arrived on a two-year loan deal from Fenerbahce, with an option to buy him outright in2016, per Goal.com. Considering how strong he's looked in pre-season, Roma manager Rudi Garcia might want to activate that clause.
Ucan has showed tremendous potential in his short time with the Giallorossi. He has excellent vision, stamina and is effective on both sides of the pitch. It's hard to believe that the Turkish international is only 20 years old.
5. Mateo Kovacic
The 2013/14 season was tough for Mateo Kovacic. Manager Walter Mazzarri wasn't giving the starlet many chances to play, and when the Croatian international was given a start, he underperformed in an unfamiliar role.
That didn't stop Mazzarri from laying into the 20-year-old after Inter's loss to Juventus in Turin, per Football Italia. Despite that incident, it seems as if that's all forgotten and both player and coach are on the same page.
Kovacic's World Cup performances gave Inter fans hope that he'll be able to bounce back from those tough few months last year and that Mazzarri's tricks will be consigned to history.
The midfielder works best behind the strikers, where he can drift around and play killer through balls. If Mazzarri gives Kovacic that luxury, which seems likely, then the Croatian will recover and enjoy a strong campaign.
4. Juan Iturbe
Roma signed Juan Iturbe for €22 million plus add-ons, per Football Italia, which raised some eyebrows. For a 21-year-old player who has played just one season in Serie A, it was a sizable fee.
The Argentine is a strong, fast winger who can take set pieces. Iturbe recorded eight goals and four assists in 29 matches with Hellas Verona last season, which is quite impressive for a winger.
During the International Champions Cup this summer, Iturbe suffered eight fouls, per ESPN FC. He can expect more of the same ,considering how dangerous he is with the ball at his feet. His technique is unmatched by many in Italy.
Iturbe will be motivated to prove critics wrong about the high transfer fee. That's one of the many reasons why fans should keep an eye on this future star.
3. Stephan El Shaarawy
Mario Balotelli is close to completing a move to Liverpool, per the BBC. That's great news for AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy, who was overshadowed by his enigmatic teammate.
El Shaarawy became Milan's poster boy after scoring 15 goals in 22 league appearances for the Rossoneri in the 2012/13 season. However, once Balotelli showed up, the Pharaoh finished the campaign with one goal in his final 15 games.
Balotelli's inclusion forced then-manager Massimiliano Allegri to change his system. Now, new boss Filippo Inzaghi has switched to a 4-3-3, the formation in which El Shaarawy thrives.
Without any other big names joining the club, El Shaarawy will lead the line for Milan this season following an injury plagued 2013/14. The 21-year-old might take time to gain his confidence back, but he's one of the top players to watch this year.
2. Simone Scuffet
Udinese goalkeeper Simone Scuffet has quickly become one of the top youngsters in Serie A thanks to some luck and taking advantage of an opportunity.
Regular starter Zeljko Brkic picked up an injury in the warm up before a match against Bologna on February 1. Manager Francesco Guidolin didn't have faith in back-up Ivan Kelava, so he gave the 17-year-old Scuffet his debut.
Since then, the young custodian has quickly become one of the brightest young talents in Europe. Reigning La Liga champions Atletico Madrid were one of many clubs that were keen on Scuffet, per Sky Sports.
Scuffet's agility and shot-stopping abilities are top notch for someone so young. He commands his area well, which is uncommon with inexperienced goalkeepers.
If the 18-year-old starts this season under new coach Andrea Stramaccioni, then Scuffet will rise to super-stardom in no time.
1. Paul Pogba
As of now, Paul Pogba is considered the best young player in the world. At 21, Pogba possesses strength, vision, composure, scoring abilities and defensive attributes.
All of these attributes have contributed to the Juventus player becoming one of the top box-to-box midfielders in Serie A.
There were several clubs linked with the Frenchman following his strong World Cup performance. Manchester United wanted to bring him back for a reported £60 million, per Daniel Taylor of The Guardian.
It appears to be a matter of "when" in regard to Pogba leaving Juve. If Real Madrid, PSG or United approach the Bianconeri with a bid, it may be too hard to turn down.
For now, Juventus fans can enjoy him and see him make even bigger strides this season.