Young Italy – Five young talents to follow

By Steve Mitchell
Steve Mitchell tips these five young Italian starlets to shine in years to come

With the new season just around the corner, Serie A has lost two of its most influential players.

Kaka transferring to Real Madrid to join Florentino Perez’s new galactico era, and Zlatan Ibrahimovich also defecting to La Liga to attempt to “realise his dream” of Champions League glory with Barcelona.

Fortunately for fans of Calcio (and Marcelo Lippi), the next generation has arrived. Let The Sport Review mark your card for 2009-10.

Sebastian Giovinco
Juventus, Attacking Midfielder, Watch Video (above)

Formica Atomica or Atom Ant as he is known by the Juventus tifosi for his resemblance to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Giovinco is the heir to Alessandro Del Piero’s crown. This five feet four inch pocket rocket is set to be the Peninsula’s next superstar.

Playing in the fantasista role just behind the strikers, Giovinco started out with the Juve youth system in 2001 at the tender age of 14. He made his debut for the first team in May 2007, as Juventus swept back into Serie A after the Calciopoli scandal had demoted them to Serie B for the start of the 2006/07 campaign.

To gain vital first team experience, Giovinco was then loaned to Empoli for the 2007/08 season putting in some outstanding performances, most notably a wonderful display against Roma as the Tuscans clawed their way back from a two goal deficit, Giovinco had arrived. His performances for the Under 21 side have gained the youngster plaudits from across the footballing fraternity.

His link up play is exceptional and his dead ball skills are outstanding, and comparisons to the great Del Piero are there for all to see. A wonderful talent who may take next summer’s World Cup by storm.

Mario Balotelli
Inter Milan, Striker, Watch Video

Feisty, volatile, are just two words that could describe this imposing young centre forward, but his burgeoning talent has been the talk of Calcio for the past 12 months. Born into a Ghanian family, Balotelli was then adopted from the age of three by an Italian family in Brescia.

He was first spotted playing in the youth team for Lumezzane and picked up by Internazionale in 2006. His performances for the Primavera (youth) team were exceptional and a first team opportunity finally came in December 2007. Balotelli has pace and power in abundance and an eye for goal as sharp as his dress sense.

A defender’s worst nightmare, he was given a consistent run in the first team towards the end of last season as Jose Mourinho realised the talent at his disposal. He has already notched up 11 goals at senior level in just 33 appearances and will not be daunted by the frenetic transfer activity at his club this summer.

He is the complete striker with a larger than life persona. When this young starlet matures, he will surely become one of the world’s top centre forwards.

Davide Santon
Inter Milan, Full Back, Watch Video

Without doubt, the find of last season as Jose Mourinho threw this unassuming 18-year-old into the first team for the second half of the campaign. Santon has been with the Milan giants since the tender age of 14, and following in the footsteps of the Inter legends Giacinto Facchetti and Giuseppe Bergomi seems only to inspire the youngster from Ferrara.

The level of his performances has belied his tender years and in his first full season as a professional, he already has a scudetto to his name. Such is the outstanding promise shown by Santon, he bypassed the Italian Under 21’s going straight into Lippi’s senior squad. Confident at left or right back, he has pace, an imposing physical presence and most importantly, a fantastic ability to read the game, the essential part of any great defender’s armoury.

Mourinho had no fears introducing Santon to the big stage and should the Azzurri qualify for next summer’s World Cup, will Lippi put him onto the biggest stage of all?

Stefano Guberti
AS Roma, Midfielder, Watch Video

Every once in a while, football will produce its own fairytale that warms the heart of any lover of the beautiful game, this season, Serie A could provide that story. Stefano Guberti spent his early career playing in the lower reaches of football on the peninsula.

Suddenly at the start of the 2006-07 season, Serie A new boys Ascoli took a chance on the young Sardinian were he made 73 appearances for the club, notching nine goals. Unfortunately for Guberti, the end of that first campaign saw Ascoli relegated back to Serie B.

His relationship with the club started to deteriorate and in February 2009 he returned south and joined fellow Serie B club Bari on a sixth month loan deal. This was the catalyst for a remarkable turn around in form as playing in a more offensive left midfield role, he netted nine times in 18 starts as the club from Puglia blazed back into the top flight for the first time in eight years.

It was no secret that AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti was interested in bringing Guberti to the capital, but to his credit, he focused solely on achieving promotion with Bari before any negotiations were undertaken.

The dream of playing for one of the power houses of Italian football was realised on June 22 as Guberti put pen to paper on a four year contract with the Giallorossi. In Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4 formations, the young Sardinian will fit in perfectly. His offensive style supporting the main strikers will be a major asset and already in pre season, his performances have impressed his new employers. Stefano Guberti’s opportunity has come and now he must grasp it with both hands.

Luca Cigarini
Napoli, Midfielder, Watch Video

A playmaker who likes to orchestrate the play from just in front of the defence, Cigarini is blossoming with every passing season. He first made his mark at Parma, initially in the club’s successful youth academy, and made his full team debut during the 2005/06 season.

After 70 appearances for the Gialloblu, he joined Atalanta in 2008 in a co-ownership deal, as Parma dropped into Serie B. Consistent performances at Under-21 level brought Cigarini onto the radar of many of Italy’s big clubs and after a successful campaign last year for Atalanta, where he made 23 appearances and scored three goals, Cigarini got his big break this summer as he signed for Napoli on a five year deal. His style of play has brought comparisons with a certain Andrea Pirlo.

Cigarini oozes confidence on the ball and has total self belief in his own ability. The coming season is an exciting one for the man from Montecchio Emilia. With Napoli looking to return to the elite of Italian football under the guidance of Roberto Donadoni, Cigarini now has a perfect stage on which to display his skill and artistry with the ball. Should he play an integral part in the renaissance of one of Italy’s most famous clubs, a regular place in Lippi’s new look Azzurri could be achieved.

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