Juventus: Examining the Bianconeri's Top Young Players out on Loan
The Italian Serie A has not been spared the dire financial circumstances of the rest of the country. Once able to bring in the very best in the world, Italian clubs are now selling off their best players and trimming their wage bills to make ends meet.
Juventus, who can reap the financial benefits of their club-owned stadium, are in a better situation that the rest of the league, but the Italian financial crisis has hit them too. Many of the moves that have transformed the team in the Antonio Conte era have been Bosmans (Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Fernando Llorente) or absurdly cheap transfers that turned golden (Andrea Barzagli).
Club director Giuseppe Marotta has also done a good job investing in young talent, both in Italy and abroad. The team has several players with great potential out on loan to gain the experience they will need to eventually break into Juve's first team.
How have those players developed this season? Let's look at some of the best of the bunch and see what they've done with their loan clubs this season.
Loan Club: Spezia
It seems like every young Italian goalkeeper with talent nowadays is referred to as the "Next Buffon."
Such was the case in 2012, when Goal.com first introduced the world at large to Brescia's Nicola Leali. The teenager had at that point taken over the No. 1 shirt for Italy's U19 team and had been a revelation at his club in Serie B, with teams like AC Milan and Napoli searching for his signature.
Juventus won that sweepstakes in 2012. Leali has since been on loan at Virtus Lanciano and, this year, Spezia. The youngster has shown improvement over last year. He has mostly kicked the tendency he had to give up rebounds and is more and more denying opponents second chances. His vision and reflexes are superb, and he can control his penalty area well.
His team has reaped the benefits of his performance in goal: They are in position to play in the newly expanded promotion playoffs in Serie B and made it to the round of 16 in the Coppa Italia after Leali denied Genoa's Francesco Lodi to end a shootout after a 2-2 draw.
Despite his improvement, Leali shouldn't be on Juve's roster next year. Buffon is still going strong, and to keep a still-developing young player behind him as his backup is counterproductive. After two seasons on loan at Serie B sides, it's time for Leali to ply his trade at the top flight. A loan move to a lower-level Serie A team will be ideal for him next year.
Loan Club: Ternana
Another youth buy in 2012, Masi has been on a co-ownership deal with Ternana this year after spending the second half of last year with the Umbrian side on loan.
When he was purchased by Juventus from Pro Vercelli two summers ago, comparisons were made to the great Alessandro Nesta. Like Nesta, Masi doesn't dive hard into unnecessary challenges but rather plays the space around the ball to nullify any danger. Normally he won't commit himself unless he is sure of winning the ball. It's a quality that was shared by both Nesta and his legendary AC Milan teammate Paolo Maldini.
He is also a very good ball-playing center-back. He won't mindlessly launch the ball upfield but rather plays the ball on the ground when possible to ensure that the team stays in possession going forward.
Masi has also showed a nose for goal, scoring four times in 19 starts for Ternana this year, per ESPN FC.
With his services, Ternana have been able to hold their position in the bottom half of Serie B and are currently three points above the relegation play-out spots. Masi has also picked up three call-ups for the Azzurrini.
A great prospect who is developing at a good pace, the next step will be to see him become a regular member of a loan team's XI. He's still at least a year or two away from being a serious candidate for Juve's first team.
Position: Central midfield
Loan Club: Real Valladolid
Fausto Rossi was temporarily catapulted into the European spotlight in March when he scored the lone goal in a shock upset of Barcelona, derailing the Blaugrana's title hopes.
Rossi is a central midfielder better known for his passing than his scoring. More regista than trequartista, he is an accurate passer who is accurate on the long ball and a good defender as well.
Given Valladolid's season-long battle with relegation, it's natural that Rossi's stats would be skewed more towards defense than offense. But when Rossi has had success, so have Valladolid. His one goal and three assists have come in a combined three games this year, and the club have won all three.
He has been something of a known quantity in Italy for a while now, having been the linchpin of the U21 side during the Azzurrini's run to the finals of the U21 European Championships last summer. He played in all five of the team's matches in Israel, completing 87.3 percent of his passes and recording 2.4 tackles in defense.
Valladolid have the option to make Rossi's loan permanent at the end of the season, and the youngster has said that he is happy there. However, he also told Rai Sport (via Football Italia) that he would very much like to "make life a bit difficult for the Juventus directors."
Next year he may be a candidate for an Emanuele Giaccherini-type midfielder who can be relied upon to provide quality depth in Conte's midfield.
Loan Club: Hamburg
A central midfielder with insane potential, Ouasim Bouy is a product of the vaunted Ajax youth system and came to Juve in 2012. He was loaned out to Brescia last season and quickly became a major part of the side, scoring once and notching five assists before suffering an ACL injury that capped his season at 17 games.
This year he stayed in Turin for the first half of the year, making his first-team debut as a sub in the Coppa Italia against Avellino. He was sent out on loan to Hamburg during the January transfer window, where he has appeared in one cup game and three Bundesliga contests.
Internationally he has represented Holland at the U17 and U19 levels, garnering a combined 28 caps and four goals.
Bouy is mainly an attacking midfielder, although I suggested him as a candidate to slide deeper and potentially convert to a regista in order to break into the first team.
Bouy will likely be farmed out again next season to get him starter's minutes with an eye towards the breaking into Juve for the 2015-16 season.
Loan Club: Elche
Young Ghanaian striker Richmond Boakye was signed from Genoa two summers ago and spent last year on loan at Sassuolo, where he played well and helped the Neroverdi to their first-ever Serie A season. This year the Bianconeri sent him to Spanish promotees Elche to experience his first full season of top-flight soccer.
WhoScored.com clocks him at five goals in 27 appearances this season. He has been something of a super-sub for the Spanish side, scoring three of his five goals from the bench.
His numbers aren't outstanding, but that's to be expected, as Elche were heavily involved in the relegation fight until recently, cementing themselves four points above the drop with two games to go.
He has had some big moments, though. The most notable was his September goal against Real Madrid, which at the time looked to have secured a shock draw at the death before the Elche defense imploded 60 seconds later and allowed a penalty to Cristiano Ronaldo.
More of a traditional target man, Boakye may be best served next season with a loan move to a low-level English Premier League side or a Championship team. Crosses are the lifeblood of English soccer, and Boakye would be able to more fully develop in a situation that best suits his talents.
Loan Club: Sassuolo
Simone Zaza is one of the most impressive young strikers in Italy, which he showed on April 28 against his parent club.
Zaza gave Sassuolo a shock lead at the Stadio Citta del Tricolore before Juve finally overpowered the Neroverdi.
Zaza caught the eye of Italy's big clubs last year when he scored 18 goals on loan to Ascoli from Sampdoria. That Ascoli were eventually relegated magnified how little help he got that season.
Juve and Sassuolo each bought half of his rights this summer. He has the distinction of scoring the Neroverdi's first-ever Serie A goal in a 4-1 loss to Livorno and has scored seven more times as the season has gone on. He has also developed a fantastic chemistry with teammate and fellow Juve property Domenico Berardi—whom we'll get to in a moment.
Zaza also does very well tracking back and contributing on defense—a trait that Antonio Conte will love. That contribution also leads to his biggest weakness: discipline. He has been cautioned 10 times this season and was sent off in Sassuolo's 2-1 loss to Udinese in October. Talented as he is, he needs to figure out how to stay on the field—something that will likely come with experience and maturity.
Juve's forward situation is likely to be crowded next year, so Zaza will probably be farmed out again. A stint with a mid-table side like his old club Samp or perhaps Parma would be valuable experience with an eye towards regular service in black and white in two seasons' time.
Loan Club: Sassuolo
Domenico Berardi caught the eye when he scored 11 times in his first professional season and helped Sassuolo to their first-ever promotion to the top tier. Juventus won the race to sign him and immediately farmed him back to his first club.
His first season in Serie A has been nothing short of spectacular. He has scored two hat-tricks—including a four-goal masterpiece against AC Milan—and in total has 13 goals and three assists, per WhoScored.
He is supremely talented and, perhaps most importantly, can play anywhere along the front line, which could give Antonio Conte the invaluable tactical versatility that he has been critically lacking this season.
That more than anything else could find him in a black-and-white shirt full-time at the start of next season.
There are, however, arguments to loan him out again for another year. Chief among them is discipline. Like teammate Zaza, Berardi will track back to help out in defense, but he can be rash. He has been suspended on three separate occasions this year, twice for yellow-card accumulation and once for an inexcusable straight red against Parma that he incurred less than a minute after being introduced as a sub.
It can also be argued that by bringing him in so early there will be too much pressure on him. The comparisons with Alessandro Del Piero have flown since Berardi's acquisition. The parallel is there: Both were signed by the Bianconeri at 19 after their first full seasons in professional soccer.
But would christening him the Next Alex before he even turns 20 be counterproductive? We've already seen young players—namely Sebastian Giovinco—wilt under the pressure of that title. Is Berardi ready for that sort of attention?
That will be what Beppe Marotta and Conte must weigh when deciding whether to bring the youngster in next season as a part of a new 4-3-3 system or loan him out again to a team higher up the table. We likely won't know until the summer window is almost over.
Loan Club: Sampdoria
Manolo Gabbiadini is among the most Juve-ready of the team's loanees.
Gabbiadini's value is in both his goalscoring prowess (eight so far this year by WhoScored's count) and his versatility. After Sinisa Mihajlovic took over at Samp, Gabbiadini was deployed on the right wing and exploded. Between the Serb's appointment at the end of November and the end of January he scored three times and notched two assists.
With Juventus set to include a 4-3-3 in their tactical toolbox next year, Gabbiadini's newfound ability on the wing would be invaluable. He should be on the team next year.
Loan Club: Torino
Every Juventus fan wants Ciro Immobile on the other side of Turin next season.
Two years ago, when Immobile led Serie B in scoring for Pescara, he was considered by many to be Italy's next lights-out striker. But when Juventus sent him on loan to a top-tier team for the first time, he flopped for Genoa, scoring only five times.
Granted, everyone at Genoa had a difficult time that season, but his move to Torino this year was considered a make-or-break for the 24-year-old.
His start was worrying—he had two assists early but didn't score a goal until the beginning of October. Then his blossoming partnership with Alessio Cerci went into full bloom.
From October 6 on, Immobile has scored in 18 of the 27 games in which he has appeared. He secured his spot at the top of the scoring table with a mind-boggling run of eight goals in his last seven matches.
With 21 goals, Immobile has a two-goal cushion in the race for capocannoniere.
His future is uncertain. Borussia Dortmund are going to need a replacement for Robert Lewandowski, and Stephan Uersfeld of ESPN FC reported that Immobile tops their list. Spanish outlet El Confidencial (via Football Italia) has posited that Atletico Madrid will also be looking for his signature if they lose Diego Costa this summer.
Juve, who own 50 percent of his rights, will have a say in wherever he goes, and many hope he ends up at the Juventus Stadium, where he could be the linchpin of Conte's line in a 4-3-3. He is clearly the most ready to be a member of Juve's starting XI—the question is whether he will come back to his boyhood club or move abroad.