With Serie A clubs keener than ever to give youth a chance, Adam Digby highlights seven fresh-faced stars to look out for in the new season...
Italian football has long held young players with scepticism, but the abolition of the co-ownership system and Serie A’s lack of financial power compared to that of rival nations has seen clubs turn to them with increasing regularity.
Here are some intriguing under-21 talents, beyond the more household names, to keep an eye on in 2015/16…
1. Federico Mattiello (Chievo; on loan from Juventus)
While champions Juventus have clearly invested heavily in young players from other clubs (Dybala, Coman, Morata), there is something of a disconnect between the club’s own youth sector and the first team, with very few players progressing from one to the other. Indeed, Claudio Marchisio is the only member of the current squad to make that leap, but Federico Mattiello is arguably the one who could change that pattern after his debut under Max Allegri last November.
In the January transfer window he moved to Chievo on loan to speed up his development, only to suffer a broken leg in his third appearance for the Veronese side. Now fully recovered, the versatile midfielder – who can also fill in at wing-back if required – is pacey and has the skill to open up tight games, possessing good accuracy with both crosses and shots when the opportunity arises.
2. Elseid Hysaj (Napoli)
While Napoli were unable to sign Rugani this summer, they did manage to bring Elseid Hysaj to the Stadio San Paolo. He too played for Maurizio Sarri at Empoli last term, and the new coach quickly entrusted the Albanian-born defender with a place in his starting XI this past weekend. Still only 21, he has played over 100 games for the Tuscan side since his debut back in 2011 and been used as a full-back on both flanks, looking comfortable in either role.
Tough and defensively sound, Hysaj averaged 2.1 tackles and 1.3 interceptions in his first top flight campaign, though might need to contribute more to the attack this time around. His distribution is neat and tidy if unspectacular; often playing short and simple passes rather than looking to get forward and cross.
3. Alessio Romagnoli (Milan)
Like Sarri, Sinisa Mihajlovic has raided his former club for a defensive gem, insisting Milan did whatever it took to bring Alessio Romagnoli to San Siro. At a press conference to announce the completion of a €25 million deal, club vice president Adriano Galliani stated his belief that the Roma youth product can become “one of those great defenders from the Milan school”. An elegant and left-footed defender, the 20-year-old arguably has all the tools to do just that, and has proven capable of playing either as a full-back, on the left of a three-man defence or as an orthodox central defender. Impressing last year on loan at Sampdoria, he is a perfect fit for Mihajlović’s tactics - able to press and harry opposition strikers, while combining defensive physicality with solid technical ability when in possession.
Romagnoli’s partnership with 19-year-old Rodrigo Ely did not get off to the best of starts, the Brazilian sent off on the opening weekend while his partner conceded a penalty in the defeat to Fiorentina.
Yet their talent is obvious, and the Rossoneri must have patience to allow them to develop together, while they form part of an exciting young group at Milan that also includes M'Baye Niang (20), José Mauri (19) and 18-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.