Forza Italian Football’s ‘Next Generation’ series takes an in-depth look at some of the most exciting players on the peninsula who are yet to make their breakthrough. To qualify, the youngsters must be under 21 and have made a maximum of five Serie A appearances.
Atalanta fans could be forgiven for harbouring mixed emotions about the sale of Dejan Kulusevski to Juventus in January.
On the one hand, they lost one of the most talented youngsters in Serie A, a player who has shone brightly on loan at Parma this season.
But on the other, banking €35m – which could rise to €44m – for a player who cost the club just €175k and played three games for the first team is what you call extraordinarily good business. Plus, the Champions League quarter-finalists aren’t exactly struggling in his absence.
It could matter little in any case, because in Alessandro Cortinovis, La Dea already have their next star-in-waiting lined up to replace the Swede.
Unlike Kulusevski, the floppy-haired trequartista isn’t the result of a successful overseas scouting mission.
The 19-year-old was born in Bergamo and has worn the black and blue stripes of his hometown club since he was eight years old, after Inter let him slip through their fingers.
During his 11-year apprenticeship, Cortinovis has generated a buzz of excitement and a growing belief that he could be the next big thing to come out of the Atalanta talent factory.
From Gaetano Scirea to Domenico Morfeo, Riccardo Montolivo to Giampaolo Pazzini, Giacomo Bonaventura to Alessio Tacchinardi, there is no shortage of examples for the youngster to follow.
The playmaker first made waves in the 2015/16 season, scoring a double against Barcelona in the final of the Scirea memorial trophy as Atalanta fought back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. He soon earned his first Italy call-up to the Under-15 side.
Ever since, Cortinovis has steadily moved through the ranks at club and international level; progressing from U15 to U19 level with both and representing his country at every age grade between.
An eye-catching 13 goals for Atalanta’s U17 side in 2017/18 saw him earn promotion to the Primavera ranks the following year, where he made 13 appearances as the Bergamaschi sealed the Scudetto in Parma.
While Cortinovis saw that as something of a transition year, in which he often played against opponents two years or more his senior, he was in no doubt about the importance of becoming a protagonist in 2019/20.
“Last season I got a taste of the Primavera with a few appearances, this year I need to try and find greater consistency and show that I can be at the very top at this level,” he said last summer.
He has since delivered in impressive style, becoming a fixture in the Primavera side and providing five goals and six assists in 24 appearances between the league, cup and UEFA Youth League.
When football was suspended, Atalanta were on course to defend their title, sitting three points on top of the Primavera 1 table, while they were only knocked out of Europe by Lyon on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw in which Cortinovis provided two assists.
Cortinovis’ form at youth level hasn’t earned him a call-up to Gian Piero Gasperini’s senior squad yet, but he has been brought in to train with the first team as they prepare to resume the season.
He is a wonderful player to watch. Wearing the No.10 on his back, Cortinovis plays between the lines of midfield and attack, drifting into space to confuse opponents.
His agent told TuttoMercatoWeb that the teenager’s role model is Real Madrid’s Isco: “He would like to follow in his footsteps.”
He’s been used this season in a mezz’ala role, while in the past he’s also been deployed as a false nine, underlining his versatility.
Wherever Cortinovis is positioned on the pitch, his greatest strengths lie in his technique. A strong dribbler and good passer possessing terrific vision, he has generated a lot of hype due to his elegance on the ball and instinctive understanding of where the space is on the pitch and how to find it.
His goal against Dinamo Zagreb in Atalanta’s 2-0 UEFA Youth League win earlier this season is a great example of what he can do.
Cortinovis gathered the ball on the halfway line after a turnover in possession and immediately drove forward before pinging a pass to the wing. He progressed to the edge of the box to receive the return pass and, with his back to goal, turned away from his marker with a deft first touch before calmly finishing from a tight angle.
The scrawny teenager undoubtedly looks a bit lightweight for senior football still, and would benefit from bulking up a little, while he has also been criticised for drifting out of games and lacking consistency.
But these things can be taught and improved, whereas the natural instinctive ability he is already demonstrating can’t.