“There is no shortage of talented players in Italy. It’s just a question of letting them express themselves and giving them confidence.” In his role as the President of the Italian Football Association’s Technical Committee, Roberto Baggio is looking to safeguard the future of the national team by nurturing the country’s brightest prospects.
Yet as they wait for the policy to pay off, Baggio’s babes are finding it hard to make a name for themselves at Italy’s top clubs, their place in the spotlight currently occupied by a galaxy of gifted young imports.
With the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ already under way, FIFA.com runs the rule over six of Serie A’s brash new generation of South American stars and picks out a local lad who is doing his very best to match them.
Not surprisingly, three of Serie A’s brightest talents hail from Brazil. Leading the way is the 21-year-old Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, better known as Pato, who has already collected 11 caps since making his international debut in a March 2008 friendly against Sweden. Two-footed and quick with it, Pato has capably filled the void left by Kaka at AC Milan, establishing himself as the linchpin of a Rossoneri attack that also features compatriots Ronaldinho and Robinho, and Swedish target man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Though the youngster was overlooked by Dunga for South Africa 2010, he has regained his place in A Seleção under Mano Menezes and looks set to be a key figure in their bid to land a sixth world title.
Making the switch
Known as Coutinho in Europe and as Philippinho in his native Brazil, the 18-year-old Philippe Coutinho Correia is a rough diamond with a very bright future, having already displaced Goran Pandev from the Inter Milan first team. Purchased two years ago from Vasco de Gama, the tyro made the move to the San Siro earlier this year. After winning his first cap for Brazil in mid-August, he made his Serie A debut later that month and took his first bow in the UEFA Champions League in the middle of September. Blessed with a low centre of gravity and searing pace, the baby-faced Coutinho possesses superb dribbling skills, which have led to him being dubbed “The New Messi”. Daunting though that moniker may seem, the Brazilian livewire has the talent to live up to it.
Seven years Coutinho’s senior, Hernanes has also recently touched down in Serie A, joining Lazio from Sao Paulo. The playmaker has made a seamless transition to calcio, providing the inspiration behind the revitalised Romans’ surprise surge to first place. One of the main reasons for that is his telepathic understanding with Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate, who at the age of 23, has finally found his bearings in a withdrawn position behind the front two.
Rich in promise
One other South American striker making a mark in Serie A is Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani. Operating just in front of the no less talented twosome of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, the Napoli spearhead has scored six times for the southerners in their opening eight games, raising hopes among Azzurri fans of a long-awaited return to the big time. Cavani’s figures at international level are also impressive, the 23-year-old scoring eight times in 23 outings for La Celeste and also confirming his promise at South Africa 2010.
Cavani’s close-season departure from Palermo has given another South American prodigy the chance to shine. The holder of Italian and Argentinian nationality, Javier Pastore made his allegiances clear by running out for La Albiceleste in South Africa. Nicknamed El Flaco (The Thin One), this graceful and technically accomplished attacking midfielder is liable to pop up anywhere in attack. Now 21, Pastore has an eye for goal that has led to comparisons with the likes of Kaka and Juan Roman Riquelme.
Faced with this influx of stellar talent and the refusal of several more established names to depart the scene, Italy’s homegrown tyros are having to work hard to make their way in Serie A. One man waving Il Tricolore high at the moment is 24-year-old utility player Domenico Criscito. Co-owned by Juventus and Genoa, Criscito can operate on the left side of defence and in midfield and has finally nailed down a first-team place with I Grifoni and the national side, having earned 11 caps since his debut in August 2009.
It is Baggio’s hope that Italy’s up-and-coming talents can follow Criscito’s example and break into the elite. In the meantime, however, the country’s football fans will have to be content with getting their domestic kicks from Serie A’s legion of foreign prodigies. Given the entertainment they are providing, the wait will at least be an enjoyable one.