It seems like a different age, maybe a different man, when I last found time to delve into the youth sector. So much is happening both on and off the field, the world more challenging than ever before with each day, let alone week, providing further torment. Yet with the new boss finding his feet, sparks of a welcome high octane identity flashing in the darkness and the appearance of young players on the bench becoming a regular sighting, it seems prudent to take a snapshot of the U23s and Primavera.
Andrea Bonatti’s debut season is proving rather haphazard, with results rarely offering any consistency, other than a recent three wins on the trot sequence. Aside from which, it seems more a case of never knowing when a fixture will actually take place, so focused on the training.
In the league championship, we currently sit in 4th spot, with two games in hand over league leaders Roma who are 6 points above us in the table. Due to COVID restrictions, the league is a damn shambles, with Milan and Ascoli barely completing 3 games, to our 12. Talk of position seems presently futile and all we can hope is that we finish the season without further stoppages ending the damn thing, consigned to die on the vine.
We are through to the quarter finals of the coppa italia primavera, after a recent 2-1 victory over Samp.
Due to the mega disruptions across Europe, the UEFA youth league – pretty much the champions league for U19 squads – has been revamped with the group stage replaced by a round of 64! These matches will be played in early March with Juve set to face Borussia Dortmund.
One of the investments we made a few years back continues to interest me, partly due to his name, also because he has the eyes of a devil.
Enzo Barrenechea was signed from Newells Old Boys (ARG) for around 3m in the Summer of 2019. One of those curious ‘in synergy’ moves with our feeder club in Switzerland, FC Sion. The defensive midfielder then moved to our U19s in January of last year. Now 19 years old, Enzo has forced his way into the side in recent months, scored twice, with one assist from his 6 outings. Looking promising, especially given he is progressing to turn out for the U23 side of late.
Up top, we have Italy U18 prima punta Cosimo De Graca also in fine form. The 18 year old of brazilian italian heritage signed from Palermo has 7 goals from 7 games in the league, and is another who has broken tentatively into the U23 side.
Devil Eye’s chum from Argentine, Matias Soule, scored his first for the club recently, a fine free kick from just outside the box>>>
Soule came from Velez (ARG) last year and is punching well above his age, given he is just 17.
Others who appear to be performing consistently and worth a mention are>>>
Koni De Winter – Belgian U19 – CB
Fabio Miretti – Italy U17 – AM
Samuel Iling – England U17 – LW
Lamberto Zauli’s side are benefitting hugely from Pirlo’s eagerness to connect the B side with the seniors. Not only are we finding an increasing number of the U19s featuring in Serie C for the U23 side, we are also seeing the same promotion of the U23 players into the senior squad on a regular basis. Just a look at the expected squad for the match tomorrow against Napoli confirms this>>
Dragusin, Di Pardo, Frabrotta, Fagioli, Peeters are all likely to be included.
Frabrotta is training with the senior side and gaining plenty of first team action. Many of his team-mates from the B team are also mixed between the squads; the experience of match days, some coppa action, and simply being around the main squad is a splendid change in our strategy. As for too long the youth sector has been exclusively focused on buying talent and then selling them on for a profit or as makeweights in other deals.
So whilst the U23 side sit a slightly disappointing 7th in the table presently, the project is working. Better than ever before. And must be seen as a success.
Some will remember the goal in the coppa italia from Hamza Rafia, the 19 year old full Tunisian international AM. Who has been in great form for the U23s this campaign, with 3 goals and 6 assists from 14 games.
Also, I suspect some will be aware of the Felix Correia, the 20 year old Portuguese winger we signed from Man City in exchange with former Barca wonderkid Pablo Moreno.
I was a little dubious of the deal, as Moreno had shown phenomenal form in Spain, had been faring well enough in our youth sector, and the connections to Guardiola’s brother agent came into some muddled suspicion we were doing favours to try get Pep to join us in the future. This has since proven my cynical tendencies have gone to conspiratorial berserk. For young Felix looks a real gem, a true starlet destined for great things.
6 goals, 5 assist from 21 games, the tricky winger is a natural flair merchant, regularly making hideous fun of the burly bruisers of Italy’s third tier of senior football. He has made the match day squad for Pirlo’s crowd just the once, and I very much hope this repeats before the season is out and we gain chance to see what the lad can do at the top level.
Recent signing from Marseille, Marley Ake, has also hit the ground running, with 2 assists from his 3 games so far, the French U19 wing wizard has already tasted champions league football with the french side and looks a fine talent. I will continue to monitor his progress.
Worthy mentions around the squad…
Nicolo Fagioli, whose red boots lit up the coppa tie against SPAL with a commanding performance from the base of midfield.
Nicolo has long looked special, progressing through the national ranks Italy U15,U17, U19, U20…and shining bright throughout his movement through our own youth sides. Whilst we saw him operate with maturity, confidence and obvious talent in a DM role, he generally plays between the lines as an AM. I very much hope we keep him, as is one long earmarked as a future star of the senior side.
Of no relation to his better known namesake, Filippo Ranocchia, 19, DM, is enjoying a decent season. Chipping in with 2 goals, and 3 assists from his 21 outings.
Also keep an eye out for Belgian U21 Daouda Peeters, powerhouse DM.
And Italy U20, RW, Alessandro Di Pardo.
The last league fixture for Zauli’s young charges led to everything finally coming together in a pounding 6-09 victory of lowly Livorno>
Andrea Brighenti, the old warhorse, well seasoned warrior up top in the lower leagues, brought in to add some experience to help the little ones, grabbed the first two, the second of which was a superb header from a brilliant cross from Ake.
And it was Ake again, firing in the ball for Spanish forward Alejandro Marquez to head home for the third.
Felix took the fourth, a fine finish from just inside the box, before Marquez set up Compagnon for his debut goal, and finally, Felix was on hand to strike on goal and open up the chance for recent signing from Catania, Emmanuele Pecorino, to score the 6th of a brutal demolition job. Which was also the 6th goal from 17 games for the striker across the two clubs in Serie C.
Perhaps this is the turning point in the season for the U23s. Yet who cares eh? For I am excited with the expediting of progression through the sides of our many promising talents, which must be credited to Andrea Pirlo, as this is his design.
Fast tracking players to senior football, whether in Serie C or better still in Serie A was the aim of this project, and whilst still larval in the results, the early signs are very much leaning towards the dawn of a new era. Finally, we may well have a youth sector more focused on developing talent for our first team squad, giving the kids a platform at senior level much earlier in their careers than of the last decade or three. Which is to be lauded. Hope springs eternal to ponder some of these starlets offered the opportunity to prove their worth at the highest level, rather than treated solely as assets to be slightly improved, branded as juve stock, then sold to the highest bidder.
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