The future of Serie A is ready
Emanuele Giaccherini’s clincher for Juventus against Catania was very much a thing of beauty for the impeccable quality of the move and its significance as a potential Scudetto decider.
And at the heart of it all stood Paul Pogba. With another barnstorming performance under his belt, the French wonderkid has stood out this campaign as one of the shining examples of how a resurgent Serie A has been altering its inclination towards youth development.
Yet it had not always been that way. Mired in a sporting and financial rut post-Calciopoli, the last thing on coaches’ minds was to nurture the next generation, when all that counted at that point in time was scraping to the next result in order to save their own skins in their comfortable dugout positions. Names that once upon a time harboured promise but could not guarantee immediate success – including but not restricted to Fabiano Santacroce, Robert Acquafresca, Luca Cigarini and one Sebastian Giovinco – were all too often left by the wayside to fade into mediocrity.
Even the previous June, €12 million was deemed excessive for the blossoming star of Marco Verratti, despite ‘the next Pirlo’ showcasing evident promise in Serie B. But signs have begun surfacing that attitudes and stereotypes are shifting, in a revolution of mindsets that places young players at the crux of the new Serie A that is being forged.
Pogba stands out as a symbol at the forefront of such re-alignment, having earned his place in Antonio Conte’s plans with fortune dictating that the Bianconeri have stood to gain from Sir Alex Ferguson’s criminal lack of foresight. Bristling with talent from the off, which probably would have helped him blow up on the grandest stage in any case, the 19-year-old’s case for regular football was nevertheless invariably boosted by arriving in a decreasingly self-absorbed elitist society of Italian football; one that was crucially opening up to and recognising of the need for change in her stance towards youngsters.
After introducing the Juventus Stadium and Museum as an icon of merchandising and branding eons ahead of its time on the peninsula, the Turin giants have likewise implemented sweeping policy changes to internal talent identification and development schemes in grand gesture to the rest of the league.
It is thus Ouasim Bouy, Gabriel Appelt, Vajebah Sakor, Manolo Gabbiadini, Alberto Masi, Nicola Leali and Richmond Boakye who now remain poised to burst onto the scene in Pogba’s mould, a furthering indicative of the Italian champions’ dedication to increasing sporting self-sustainability. That the club had capped off last summer by recording a belated return to glory truly afforded her management the freedom to dabble with the idea of integrating prospects into the first-team as viable starting options, dispensing with any train of thought that success was merely confined to the short-term in the process. If they can win Serie A again, they set in motion a precedent that developing the players for the future can occur concurrently with title commitments, a winning policy which others would do well to heed and follow.
Refusing to be outdone elsewhere, AC Milan have jumped on their rival’s bandwagon of tapping into the wisdom of venerable campaigners and injecting it with the vigour and enthusiasm of youngsters to create a competitive sporting model capable of winning, all without breaking the bank. After dispensing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and a host of iconic, albeit aging, superstars, a futuristic-looking Rossoneri are rampaging through a spectacular second half of this season, propelled by the offhand brilliance of numerous stars in the making.
More than showcasing his dazzling feet and an appetite for goals belying his tender age, Stephen El Shaarawy’s coming of age has been defined by his willingness to step up and take charge; more than just launching the career of a goal machine – and a phenomenal one at that – Massimiliano Allegri has chanced upon a leader, surpassing anything he was initially expecting to ask of the rising Italy international. Factor in M’Baye Niang’s explosive qualities, and Mattia Di Sciglio’s splendour in defence as a worthy throwback to Paolo Maldini’s better days, and Milan are rubbing their hands in glee at the fulcrum of her team for the next decade.
With Roma and Inter similarly beginning to place more emphasis on their youngsters, the revitalised state of affairs has genuinely led to a more youthful, more sustainable and ultimately, more potent Serie A. The adverse financial climate has failed to generate the widely-popularised demise of Italian football; if anything, Calcio is thriving as it embarks on a journey to show the rest of Europe’s big leagues that it is still very much alive and kicking.
The way forward has been made apparent to all, and if any clearer indication needs to be discerned on the state of Serie A’s readiness to kickstart a new winning cycle in an era where young players will get their chance to be protagonists, then the answers will not lie beyond the exponential rise of the superstars of tomorrow, today, during what has been a revelatory season for every one of Italian football’s starlets.
Follow Jeremy Lim on Twitter: @JeremyLimCalcio