BEST YOUNG ITALY PLAYERS
SOME OF ITALY'S MOST INTERESTING YOUNG TALENTS, FROM EMPOLI TO SASSUOLO
Reigning European champions, Italy’s recent success was powered by a core of young talent, including Manuel Locatelli and Federico Chiesa. Here are reports on some of the most interesting emerging Italian football. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.
What is PSG's academy philosophy?
Paris Saint-Germain’s academy is predicated on local talent. In comparison to other elite clubs, they’ve hardly touched other markets (domestic and international) to sign the best young talent.
PSG have unrivalled access to Paris and the wider Île-de-France region, perhaps the hottest beds of talent in the world currently – along with Rio de Janeiro and London.
What is PSG's academy pathway?
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Paris Saint-Germain in the Qatar era is their failure, through incompetence and reluctance, to establish a pathway from academy to first-team.
Because of that, the majority of their home-grown talent leave the club at an early age. Adrien Rabiot & Presnel Kimpembe are the only academy players to become regular first-team starters in the past 10 years.
Who are the best PSG academy products?
PSG’s academy has produced countless high-level players. The best right now is probably Kingsley Coman, but there’s also Christopher Nkunky, Moussa Diaby, Ibrahima Konaté, Mike Maignan, and so on.
Of those still on PSG books, Arnaud Kalimuendo is an interesting prospect. 2006-born Warren Zaire-Emery is the one to watch coming out of their underage teams.
Which competitions does PSG's academy compete in?
Paris Saint-Germain are a competitive force at underage level, but aren’t as dominant as their elite-level peers in other countries. They’re also regulars in the UEFA Youth League but haven’t won it yet, although they did reach the final in 2016 and have a strong chance this season.
PSG have only won the prestigious Coupe Gambardella – French football’s iconic under-19 tournament – once in their history, back in 1991.
Lorenzo Lucca has become a sensation this season with high-flying AC Pisa, as the 2000-born striker continues to ride a wave that has taken him from Serie D to Serie B. He cost Pisa a hefty €2.1 million, but he has been worth every penny since his arrival from Palermo. Since stepping up a coupleof divisions, Lucca scored six goals in his first seven games – although he hasn’t scored since.
Lucca is very aggressive and very direct. Yes, his game could be improved by slowing things down on occasion, especially when he receives the ball in deeper positions, but this directness can be very effective, even if it is not always the most efficient approach.
STYLE OF PLAY
Lucca is a giant. He is an athletic two metre tall striker that loves to play in two ways; either with his back to a defender, or stretching the defence with runs in behind. He has a fairly lean frame that moves quite quickly, but he is powerful enough as well.
He loves backing into defenders trying to pin them back to open up spaces for others, or to spin them himself either when he receives the ball, or to then run in behind to receive through on goal. He tends to overplay his bodywork, looking for contact too readily rather than playing the ball. This routinely leads to losses of possession for his team.
Lucca is very aggressive and very direct. Yes, his game could be improved by slowing things down on occasion, especially when he receives the ball in deeper positions, but this directness can be very effective, even if it is not always the most efficient approach. He is two-dimensional though, and lacks the in-between game at this point to thrive in a possession-based tactic that thrives on combinations and movement between the lines.
In front of goal, he is naturally a great aerial threat, but he also possesses a venomous right-footed strike when he is given the space to wind up.
A breakout 2020/21 with Sassuolo saw Giacomo Raspadori rewarded with selection in Roberto Mancini’s Italian squad that sweeped Euro 2020. His form in Roberto De Zerbi’s exciting Sassuolo side was fantastic, with Raspadori defying his tiny frame to make a huge impact in the final third, both as a goalscorer and a creator.
STYLE OF PLAY
First, and most importantly when assessing a player like Raspadori, one needs to take a look at his height and how that will influence his ability to function in different positions. As a 5’7” attacking player, Raspadori is not going to be the type of striker that leads the line, but he has proven to be a cunning all-rounder up front and a good finisher when he is presented with chances to score.
His creative numbers leap off the page, even if his raw goalscoring numbers don’t. He functions best as a player receiving between the lines and creating for team-mates. He is an adequate dribbler that is quite good at winning fouls and penalties, but it is his ability to take possession, raise his vision and find attacking team-mates like Domenico Berardi and Gianluca Scamacca that makes him so effective. He holds up the ball superbly in congestion, and has a lot of strength to shield possession despite his size.
There are questions about his portability into different systems: he has struggled more under Alessio Dionisi this season at Sassuolo in comparison to his strong form under De Zerbi. The quick transitional style of De Zerbi really suited the young Italian attacker.
After a season in which he was crowned Serie B’s best player, alongside Italian under-21 team-mate Davide Frattesi, Samuele Ricci will be one of Serie A’s breakout stars in 2021/22. Ricci fits perfectly in Empoli’s free-flowing and attacking team under Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Ricci has the ability to be effective in a range of different roles; as a playmaker, defensive midfielder, even as a mezzala. He is a super all-rounder.
STYLE OF PLAY
His technique is exceptional; fitting perfectly within Italy’s current and emerging generation of midfielders that thrive when tasked with carrying the ball through traffic.
Like those players, Ricci matches technical quality with the tactical understanding to be effective in a range of slightly different midfield roles; out wide, as a playmaker, as a defensive midfielder, or even as a mezzala.
Ricci is a superb all-rounder. He is around six feet tall and is robust in physical duels, but also light on his feet as he glides through challenges with the ball. He has a great passing range as well. He also has a good passing range that has seen him play more often as Empoli’s deepest-lying midfielder in 2021/22, tasked with creating a lot of their ball progression from deep. And he has no fear of pushing up into the final third, although he needs to be more selective with his shots from distance.
Nicolò Rovella broke into Genoa’s first-team last season and has since established himself as a regular starter this season. It didn’t take long for him to be noticed, either.
After less than half a season as a Serie A player, Juventus invested a big sum at the start of 2021 to sign the Segrate-born midfielder before loaning him back to his boyhood club for the next 18 months. He’s also been a regular with Italy’s under-21 side.
STYLE OF PLAY
Rovella is a deep-lying midfielder that’s smaller in stature but tenacious in nature. His strengths in his current form are his up-tempo and clean technical abilities on the ball.
He’s an accomplished technician at the base of midfield: he scans regularly to inform his positioning and decision-making, his touch is consistent, his technique is clean. Rovella is also very good under pressure; he always wnats the ball and is adept at moving it on quickly to escape an opponent pressing him. Rovella does his best work in short, sharp bursts but he has the technical skillset to become a more progressive player too.
Defensively, it’s much of the same – the 20-year-old is better in smaller spaces than over longer distances. He has the tenacity to win the ball back when tackling, but lacks the long-range athleticism to cover big spaces and he can be overwhelmed in contact situations as well, owing to his smaller size. He should fill out in time.
Beyond the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nicolò Barella and Alessandro Bastoni, Italy have a decent core of young players coming through. Manuel Locatelli and Gianluca Scamacca are standouts, Samuele Ricci and Davide Frattesi have international futures, and Sebastiano Esposito and Lorenzo Lucca are interesting prospects.
The big academies – AC Milan, Inter, Juventus and Roma – produce a strong stream of international-level of talent, as does Atalanta’s impressive youth system. US Sassuolo also develop a lot of talent, picking up young players from other clubs and giving them first-team opportunities.