Led by the resurgence of Juventus, Italian football is grabbing the attention of the world once again, and could very well be amongst the world’s best in the near future.
The Azzurri is known for its exceptional tactical approach and discipline which has so far brought them four world titles along with European glory in 1968. Their last success came at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and they have since been to the 2012 European Championship final. In the modern day, Italian football seemed to have taken a back seat due to the demand for free-flowing, flamboyant and scintillating attacking football. The Azzurri is the total opposite of that, but with the current crop of talent evolving, could their robust style become non-existent?
These are certainly exciting times for Italian football with the crop of youngsters coming through. Most appreciative should be their technical skill set that seems to be at quite a high level; embodying the attributes of modern day players. In the modern game, players are coached in a specific manner based on their respective positions, moulding them in a way that is acceptable as the ‘right way.’ There are a number of young players coming through that could revolutionize the Italian style and Beyond 90 Minutes seeks to provide insights on the exciting young talents emerging in Calcio football.
1. Roberto Gagliardini
Referred to as a well-rounded midfielder, the Atalanta graduate is one of the most promising midfielder plying his trade in the Italian Serie A. The 23-year-old started his professional career with La Dea back in December 2013 before three loan spells with Serie B outfits Cesena, Spezia and Vicenza. He made his Serie A debut with Atalanta last May and moved to Inter Milan in the January transfer market on loan. Since his move to Inter, he has commanded a place in the first team and has not been affected by a move to one of the biggest clubs in the country and continent. This can be seen as evidence of the ambitions of the player as well as the mental capacity he possesses.
Standing at 6ft 2in, Gagliardini has a dominant presence in midfield, but his athleticism and quickness across the ground makes him ideal in the modern game. The Inter youngster offers a unique variety as he’s capable of deploying as a defensive midfielder, a box-to-box midfielder and an attacking midfielder. These qualities are synonymous to Man United’s Paul Pogba, even though he may not be as gifted as the Frenchman. The former Cesena player is known for his technique, energetic displays, quick feet and an eye for a pass. He’s capable of retaining possession as well as the capacity for invention while having the ability to hit the back of the net from long range. With Andrea Pirlo out of the picture and Claudio Marchisio struggling to stay healthy, Gagliardini could very well be the long term partner of PSG’s Marco Verratti in the middle of the park for Italy.
2. Federico Bernardeschi
As a young Italian hoping to become a professional football player, it is perhaps common to reference Francesco Totti as your idol and this is the case of Federico Bernardeschi. A graduate of the Fiorentina youth set-up, the 23-year-old spent time on loan to Crotone back in the 2013/14 season. He competed at the 2015 U21 European Championships before breaking into the Viola first team in the 2014/2015 season and has not looked back since. He’s gone on to establish himself as one of the most exciting players in the Italian top flight and the Florence-based side could very well struggle to keep him at the Stadio Artemio Franchi this summer. He was included in Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 squad and managed just one appearance in France.
An extremely gifted player technically, the 6ft playmaker is known for his wonderful dribbling skills as well as his ability to penetrate defences with his passing. He has some pace about him with an explosion over the first five to 10 yards that helps him elude markers. His link-up play in the final third is very good and has it in his locker to hit the back of the net from outside the penalty area. He has got great imagination and innovation in the way he plays, but he also appreciates the dirty aspect of the beautiful game. He’s shown great stamina to help out at the back, then bursts forward with the ball on the counter-attack. His technique, vision and natural ability to create openings for his teammates are qualities of a top player and should only get better if he stays healthy. The Fiorentina forward has attracted a lot of attention this summer, with Juventus and Bayern Munich showing keen interest.
3. Andrea Belotti
One of the most sought after strikers this summer is Torino’s Andrea Belotti. With 26 goals along with seven assists this season, the former Palermo striker established himself as the best Italian striker and one of the most prolific on the continent. Having made his Serie A debut at Palermo back in August 2014, the 6ft striker went on to hit the back of the net just six times, but was snapped up by Torino in the summer of 2015. He would go on to double his previous seasons tally, finding his feet at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. That laid the foundation for the onslaught of last season. Belotti made his international debut last September and has been a fixture in Gian Piero Ventura’s plans since then.
The 23-year-old striker started his career as a wide player due to his athleticism and acceleration, but has adapted in an extraordinary way to leading the line through the middle. He has been constantly praised for his tactical discipline along with his work rate comfort on the ball. He has good strength and has shown on many occasions his willingness to run at defenders using his pace and power. Belotti also likes to run the channels and lives on the shoulders of the opposition’s defence. In and around the penalty area, his movement is brilliant and seems to have the predatory instincts of knowing where to be to pick up the pieces. He is capable of the spectacular, strong in the air and quite strong with both feet. For this season at least, he has shown he is capable of leading the line and has shown a willingness to help out at the back and pressing the ball high up the pitch harassing the opposition’s defence.
4. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Stepping out at the San Siro can be a daunting experience for any player, let alone a 16-year-old boy with the task of keeping some of Europe’s top strikers at bay. In October 2015, Gianluigi Donnarumma made his Serie A debut at the age of 16 years and 242 days, making him the second youngest goalkeeper in Italian history behind Giuseppe Sacchi. The 6ft 5in stopper quickly became a household name in the football world and alerted Europe’s biggest clubs after he was praised as the heir to Gianluigi Buffon. The now 18-year-old is one of the hottest prospects in the world and has been predicted to have an extraordinary career by many experts.
The Milan stopper has been praised for his tremendous mental capacity and great ability to cope with the pressure of being the first choice goalkeeper at one of Europe’s biggest clubs at such a young age. Displaying a high level of goalkeeping skills due to his reach, large frame, agility and reflexes of the highest order, Donnarumma shows excellent footwork when making saves and this is the mark of a truly great goalkeeper. His positioning needs to improve as well as his ability to command the penalty area, but this will all come together as he gains more experience and learn more about his trade. He also displays comfort with the ball at his feet despite having a few close calls last season, but this shows that he’s willing to play out from the back.
5. Alessio Romagnoli
A graduate of the Roma youth academy, Alessio Romagnoli has been hailed as the next great Italian defender since his emergence at the Stadio Olimpico. The 22-year-old first appeared in the Serie A back in December 2012 and was used in central defence as well as full back. He moved to AC Milan in the summer or 2014 and has established himself in the first eleven. Having represented Italy at U16 level, as well as the 2015 U21 European Championships, he made his senior international debut last October and would have learned quite a lot from Juventus duo, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. He certainly one of the most gifted of his generation along with Juventus’ Daniele Rugani and should be a mainstay for club and country for years to come.
Due to his technique, positional sense, decision-making and precocious displays, the 6ft 3in has been compared to legendary Italian defender, Alessandro Nesta. A versatile and composed defender, Romagnoli is best known for his excellent positional sense, good timing of his challenges and his excellent use of the ball. His distribution is of the highest order and likes to dribble into midfield much like Chiellini, but with more elegance. He also offers a threat from set-pieces due to his physicality and aerial strength. The Milan defender has all the right tools to become one of the best defenders in the world and the Rossoneri will do well to keep hold of their prized defender in the next 2-3 years.