Why Italy's finest kids are being blocked

As Adriano staggers back to Brazil - future uncertain - another South American arrives in Milan.

Thiago Silva completed his move to AC Milan on Monday and as the defender is ineligible to actually play, he hightailed it back across the Atlantic after attending the club’s Christmas dinner.

With the transfer window about to open, no doubt there will be plenty of other foreign players winging their way to Serie A next month.

A fair share of these stranieri will become first-team regulars, leaving home-grown talent to either sit out the rest of the campaign on the bench or find another club.

What's the Motta with you, hey? 

Looking at the first XI of each of the 22 clubs in the top-flight in the early part of the season, there were only 95 Italians guaranteed a starting place among the 242 positions available.

Back in 2005/06 that figure was 114 and the following season it leapt to 136 although that was a bit of an anomaly as Juventus, who would have had a high percentage of foreigners, had been banished to Serie B.

The fall was pretty startling last season, with 105 Italian-born players in the starting line-ups and, on current evidence, a local in the team is going to be as rare as an end-of-year tax return.

AS Roma, for example, have always been considered the most ‘Italian’ of the top sides, developing local talent from Giuseppe Giannini through to Francesco Totti and more lately Daniele de Rossi and Alberto Aquilani.

De Rossi to Aquilani: "They're coming!" 

There was a time when Giallorossi fans dreamt of the club following the Basque model of Athletic Bilbao: fielding only players with Roman blood flowing through their veins.

However, forget those born within chipping distance of the Colisseum; over the last two seasons Italians at the club have lost a third of the starting places to imports.

World Cup winner and all-round Roma legend Bruno Conti is well aware that the right balance must be found.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, he admitted that the squad had greater depth, having brought in Julio Baptista, Jeremy Menez and John Arne Riise (some mistake there) in the summer, but invariably it would slow the development of youth team players.

Conti, in the days of stringent import limits 

“We don’t want to be in a position where a youngster feels he won’t get a chance here,” warned the former winger and current sporting director of the club.

Well, it has already happened.

In the last few seasons the following names have all continued their football education away from the capital: Gianluca Curci, Cesare Bovo, Simone Pepe, Daniele Galloppa and Stefano Okaka.

Okaka is back in the capital, but has only made one league start; Pepe has gone on to become an Italy international playing for Udinese while Bovo is now a mainstay in the heart of the Palermo defence and is a good 10 years younger than Christian Panucci.

Juventus are another club who in the past have been able to unearth gems from all points in the peninsula – although considering what the Old Lady was up to in the Luciano Moggi era, it may not have been that difficult to prise a youngster away from a rival.

Three of those young talents are at least on the fringes of becoming regulars and two of them played their part in the demolition of an ageing Milan, who may as well abolish their youth programme, with Paolo Maldini the only one to come through in eons.

But back to Juve, and youth team products Claudio Marchisio and Paolo de Ceglie were only brought back from loan spells at Empoli and Siena as cover in central midfield and along the left flank.

De Ceglie: "Aiiee!!" 

Injury has given the 22-year-olds their chance, while Sebastian Giovinco is being groomed to take over from Alessandro del Piero, although he remained on the bench on Sunday as the old master turned on the style.

The positive thing is that when Giovinco does get his opportunity he will be stepping into the boots of an Italian. But for many a local lad it seems that situation is all too rare.


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