As hard as it is to imagine, there will be no Italy at the 2018 World Cup. Anyone could argue from dusk till dawn why the national team is in the situation it’s in, and whether the Italian Federation has somewhat dug its own grave. But, it’s far more optimistic (and less painful) to focus on the stars of tomorrow instead of the disappointments of today. So, while sales of Swedish furniture no doubt plummet in Italy, let’s talk about country’s young talents who are certain to keep on rising to the very top.
Patrick Cutrone – 20 – Striker – AC Milan
There is a certain irony in the fact that for all the investment and hype around Milan’s summer transfers, the brightest light in an otherwise dull season, has come from the Primavera youth team.
After watching Cutrone several times, a fitting comparison would be Duracell’s finest battery fuelled by pure passion and love for the game (good thing he’s managed by Gennaro Gattuso, Milan’s resident madman). What makes him an exciting prospect is the combination of this self-determination, and a football brain wise enough to anticipate passages of play ahead of time and make intelligent runs, making him a nightmare for defenders. It’s the latter half of his game which has drawn comparisons to a young, more robust Filippo Inzaghi.
The striker has ten goals in all competitions this season, whilst also rotating with two other strikers for Milan’s number nine spot. With four goals in five appearances for Italy’s U-21 team, and no major tournament for the senior team this year, it’s surely a matter of time before Cutrone gets his chance for the Azzurri.
Nicolo Barella – 20 – Midfield – Cagliari
What the current Italy squad is crying out for, is to rejuvenate an aged midfield. Andrea Pirlo has retired, Daniele De Rossi and (arguably) Claudio Marchisio, are on their way there to, and Marco Veratti has failed to live up to potential so far.
The answer may lie with Cagliari’s hugely talented central midfielder, Nico Barella. From a regista, to a box-to-box, to an advanced playmaker, the youngster can do it all. He has been instrumental in Cagliari’s season, featuring in 19 out of 22 matches so far, helping to keep them in the top flight as they currently sit 16th.
Good news for Cagliari fans, the hot prospect has just signed a contract extension until 2022, putting to bed, for now, rumours that he would join Serie A’s big boys, with Roma the most heavily linked club.
Like Cutrone, Barella is playing his international football at Under-21 level, having played at every single age level starting at U-15. Naturally, the next step is for Barella to make an impact in the midfield at senior, and judging by the ageing old guard, his time may come sooner than later.
Moise Kean – 17 – Verona (Juventus) – Striker
After becoming the first player born this millennium to score in Europe’s top five leagues, the Moise Kean hype-train keeps building and roles into Verona for a season-long loan. He also broke the record for the youngest player to feature in Europe’s top four leagues, making his debut against Pescara in November 2016, aged just 16. Now 17, the young striker has played 16 games for Verona, becoming a key player in their relegation fight, including scoring a brace in a 4-1 away win against Fiorentina.
Blessed with an impressive physique, Kean has pace, power and presence in abundance. Similar to Romelu Lukaku, he developed physically at an early age, allowing him to hold the ball up well and integrate the rest of the team in attacks, a rare trait for a player so young.
He is also eligible for Ivory Coast through his father’s heritage, but, has already featured for Italy from U-15 to U-19 level. With an inevitable call-up in future, here’s hoping Kean chooses Italy and features in what could be a formidable attack in a few years.
Federico Chiesa – 20 – Fiorentina – Winger
Son of former Azzurri striker, Enrico Chiesa, Federico has well and truly followed in his father’s footsteps. His career has started with a bang at Fiorentina, his old man’s most prolific club, but instead of a goalscoring striker, Chiesa is instead making a name for himself as a dynamic, young winger.
Four goals and four assists so far this season, Chiesa has inherited the right-wing position from another Federico, after Bernardeschi left for Juventus last summer. So far, he has been more than a fitting replacement, causing nightmares for full-backs with his agility, dribbling and all-around elegance. As with many young wingers, he is still to refine his finished product, but the thought of Chiesa as a finished product is already a scary idea.
Chiesa is lucky in the same sense as Barella, his position in the senior national team is filled by ageing players, with Antonio Candreva now the wrong side of 30. In a position such as a winger, youth is often better than experience, and no doubt Chiesa dynamism will be crucial in national sides to come.