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.
Considering the flirtation with relegation and dizzying number of coaching changes in recent years, Genoa has been a surprisingly auspicious home for strikers.
Whether it’s been Christian Kouame, Pietro Pellegri and Krzysztof Piatek launching their careers or Giovanni Simeone and Gianluca Lapadula furthering theirs, the Rossoblu have rarely lacked a talented front man.
Flavio Bianchi could well be the next name to add to that list.
Bianchi won his first silverware for Genoa aged just 12, before helping the Grifone win the Italian leg of the Nike Cup three years later, when he formed a devastating partnership with Pellegri.
While representing Italy in the tournament finals at Old Trafford, Genoa knocked out Real Madrid in the semi-finals, only to fall at the final hurdle against Africa’s Right to Dream Academy.
Things were looking rosy, but with Bianchi coming through at the same time as Pellegri and Eddie Salcedo, competition for spots at Primavera level was fierce.
He was sent on loan to Torino in 2017/18, with the Piedmont club beating off interest from Manchester United to capture him on a short-term deal.
It was in Turin that the young forward first started to make waves at Under-19 level, scoring four league goals and bagging another four during the Granata’s run to Coppa Italia glory.
On his return to Liguria in the summer of 2018, Bianchi became captain of the Primavera side. By this point he was no secret to fans of the Rossoblu, having spent 10 years at the club, but his first major breakthrough came at the prestigious annual youth tournament the Viareggio Cup in 2019.
Bianchi netted two goals as Genoa stormed to the final, where they met Bologna. Ten minutes into the second half, he pounced.
The Grifone skipper peeled off to the edge of the box and received a low cross. He controlled the ball and, with a Bologna defender rushing towards him, spun away to his right to leave his marker dazed and free up enough space to drive a clinical finish through a crowded box and into the bottom corner.
It was a moment of remarkable skill. However, things soon went sour as Bianchi was forced off with an injury, leaving his side to concede a late equaliser before losing on penalties in the absence of their captain.
As the medals were handed out to the delirious Bologna players, Bianchi earned some solace in being voted as ‘Golden Boy’ of the tournament by journalists.
It is a prestigious, and often auspicious, award to receive, having been previously won by the likes of Ciro Immobile, Leonardo Spinazzola and Bryan Cristante.
Despite Genoa’s good run at Viareggio, they fared worse in the league. Bianchi’s 11-goal haul wasn’t enough to keep them out of the relegation play-out places and a defeat to Empoli in the decisive clash saw them relegated, only to be fortuitously reinstated following Palermo’s financial meltdown.
Last summer, Bianchi ignored offers from Serie C as he dreamed of a first team breakthrough and he couldn’t have done much more to capture the attention of the boss this season, be it Aurelio Andreazzoli, Thiago Motta or Davide Nicola.
When football was stopped, Bianchi was averaging more than a goal a game for the Primavera side, with 16 in 15 appearances between league and cup.
That was despite fracturing his fibula in November and missing two months of football. On his return to the pitch in January, Bianchi went on a run of seven goals in five games, including a hat-trick against Sassuolo.
He’s now regarded as one of the most promising young strikers on the peninsula, having represented the Azzurrini at every age grade between Under-15 and Under-18, and he’s become one of Genoa Primavera’s most prolific players of all time with 34 goals in 62 games at that level.
Bianchi is yet to play any senior football and, having turned 20 in January, his ability to perform at that level will be tested soon.
He possesses good technique, is a strong penalty taker and a clinical finisher on his favoured right foot. Bianchi likes to play between the lines and drop into space, while he moves well in the penalty box to find pockets of space and times his leaps to win headers.
But he admits he still has a lot to work on.
“I think my greatest weakness is the use of my weaker foot. But I also think I must improve on the mental level,”he told World Football Scouting in October 2019.
Bianchi names Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero as his role model – “I try to steal the things he does best” – but for now his stated aim is simple.
“I dream of debuting in Serie A, at the [Stadio Luigi] Ferraris, with the No.9 shirt,” he said.
His chance may well come soon. Genoa were hovering just outside the relegation zone on goal difference when Serie A was suspended.
They lack a clinical striker to lead the line, with defender Domenico Criscito currently level at the top of their scoring charts, alongside veteran Goran Pandev, on seven goals.
With Christian Kouame out injured, Antonio Sanabria and Andrea Pinamonti struggling for form, and five substitutes allowed if and when football restarts, this could be Bianchi’s time.