Greg Lea introduces Daniele Rugani, impressive on loan at Empoli for the last two seasons and linked with both Manchester United and Arsenal this summer...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: July 29, 1994
- Place of birth: Lucca, Italy
- Height: 6ft 2in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Juventus (0 apps)
- Former club(s): Empoli (81 apps, 5 goals)
- International: Italy U21s (8 caps, 2 goals)
Born and raised in the historic city of Lucca in northern Tuscany, Daniele Rugani was an early bloomer, joining local side Empoli at the tender age of six. The youngster impressed academy coaches with his technique and athleticism, initially from a central midfield role, and spent the next 12 seasons in the club’s youth ranks.
A fine campaign for Empoli’s under-18s in 2012/13 convinced Italian giants Juventus to secure his signature, the Bianconeri doing a double deal for Rugani – who by this point had converted into a centre-back – and Albanian midfielder Elvis Kabashi.
Rugani is still yet to make his debut for the 31-time Serie A champions, however, having spent the last two seasons back at Empoli. He excelled as manager Maurizio Sarri returned the club to the top flight for the first time in seven years, and then got even better as they comfortably survived with a 15th-placed finish. Rugani played a big part in Empoli’s defensive record: the Azzurri conceded 52 goals in 38 league games, two fewer than Napoli and only four more than Inter.
Why you need to know him
Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, Gaetano Scirea – Italian football has produced some world-class defenders over the years, and Rugani could be the next in line.
The 20-year-old is probably the most highly-rated prospect on the peninsula at present, with many Italians hoping that he will be the bedrock of the Azzurri defence for years to come.
In the short-term, he's also the man who'll be charged with handling Harry Kane on Wednesday night as England meet Italy in the pair’s final group game at the European Under-21 Championship. Having already come up against Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in Serie A, Rugani won't be daunted by the challenge posed by the Tottenham man.
Long-term, Premier League fans might be seeing more of him sooner rather than later if rumoured interest comes to fruition: Manchester United and Arsenal have both been linked with the centre-back in recent weeks.
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You could probably count on one hand the amount of times that Rugani has been caught out positionally in his fledgling career so far. The 20-year-old seemingly always knows exactly where to stand, and he can rarely be accused of letting his concentration slip.
Rugani is excellent in possession, an important attribute for the modern centre-back. Confident with the ball at his feet, he is always willing to provide a passing option to his goalkeeper and midfielders, and has been known to hit more than the occasional fine long diagonal.
He didn't receive a yellow card throughout the entire 2014/15 campaign either, something of a rarity for a centre-half playing in a side battling against the drop. The type of defender who judges a good performance by how clean rather than dirty his shorts are, such a disciplinary record is testament to both Rugani’s footballing brain and impeccable reading of the game.
Rugani is an extremely classy footballer, but doubts remain as to how much he would relish a physical duel with rugged strikers like Diego Costa. At 6ft 2in, he's by no means small; his style of play, however, suggests that he could be vulnerable to being overrun or bullied by those forwards who combine pace with power.
When the man himself was asked about what he perceived his own weaknesses to be in March, he highlighted his weaker left foot as an area that required improvement, conceding that he rarely uses it for anything other than standing on.
Marcello Carli, Empoli’s sporting director since 2010, has witnessed first-hand Rugani’s rise from shy 16-year-old to Serie A regular knocking on the door of the senior national team. Having seen the defender up close and personal, Carli has no doubts that he is destined for the very highest level.
"Is Rugani Juventus quality?" he pondered in an interview with Sky Italia. "I think so, his professional approach is his greatest quality. I think he’s ready for Juve. If they don’t think so then we’re happy to keep him."
Did you know?
Rugani has played football since the age of five, when he took part in regular kickabouts with his older brother and his friends, but he's also a massive tennis fan and still enjoys grabbing a racquet and heading out onto the court.
"I loved tennis as a child," he revealed to Italian paper Gazzetta dello Sport. "My father played and it transmitted to me from there. I took a few lessons in the summer and learnt the basics… I’m a pretty capable player.
"I’ve never been to Rome to see the Italian Open, although there were many years that I wanted to go. The tennis player I like the most? [Eugenie] Bouchard (the Canadian currently ranked world No.11 in the women’s rankings)."
Rugani’s Premier League suitors would be well-advised to throw a pair of Wimbledon centre court tickets into any prospective offer – it could be a deal breaker.
- Shooting 5
- Heading 8
- Passing 7
- Tackling 8
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 5
- Creativity 5
- Work-rate 7
What happens next?
Manchester United and Arsenal aren't the only teams in the hunt for Rugani's signature: Napoli, now coached by former Empoli boss Sarri, are also thought to be considering a bid.
However, Rugani’s agent Davide Torchia has insisted that his client will spend the forthcoming season in Turin, telling Radio Marte last week: "Juventus want to hold onto Rugani… they will not consider any offers, even for a loan."
It would indeed be unlikely for Juventus to let such a talent go permanently, but with five central defenders – Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Martin Caceres and Angelo Ogbonna (who hasn't joined West Ham, whatever David Gold thinks) – already established in the first-team squad, it might be worth Louis van Gaal or Arsene Wenger testing the Italian champions’ resolve.