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.
If there is one common theme running through our look into the next generation of Serie A talents, it’s that the path facing a young footballer can be long and arduous.
But few, if any, can claim to have been through as much as Bologna’s Musa Juwara.
At the age of 18, the winger already has a remarkable story to tell of triumph against the odds.
Juwara was born and brought up in the small west African country of The Gambia, but at the age of 14 he left his native land to begin a treacherous journey to Europe.
The child, travelling alone, boarded a ship crossing the Mediterranean and landed on the coast of Sicily on 10 June 2016 – one of 25,000 unaccompanied minors to arrive in Italy that year.
Authorities moved him to the province of Potenza in the small southern region Basilicata, where Juwara picked up odd jobs to sustain himself before joining amateur football club Virtus Avigliano in a nearby town.
His decision to join the club proved to be life-changing. His coach, a man called Vitantonio Summa, decided to adopt the teenager into his family and become his legal guardian.
With life off the pitch looking brighter, Juwara fared well on it too as the young winger fired his new club to the regional title in 2016/17, attracting attention from big-name sides around the peninsula.
Juwara and his new family eventually opted to join Chievo. Loredana Bruno, the wife of Summa, explained to Corriere della Sera that their choice came down to “the sporting path, but also the academic and educational one proposed by the club.”
She added: “Musa considers school to be very important because his grandfather – his point of reference – has always told him ‘knowledge comes first’.”
But disaster struck when the FIGC blocked the transfer, citing new anti-exploitation rules for young illegal immigrants as the reason.
“Musa took it really badly, he was almost depressed, and we were struggling to explain the bureaucracy to him,” said Bruno.
But Juwara’s new family refused to accept the judgment and sought legal help to fight his case, and eventually the teenager was granted permission to make the move in November 2017.
Since then, his progression has been remarkable. Seemingly unfazed by the step up to Primavera level, the Gambian has found the net with remarkable consistency.
In his debut season with Chievo, 2017/18, Juwara scored eight goals in 15 games. He was then called up to the first-team squad for the first time in November 2018, and eventually made his senior debut on the final day of the season against Frosinone, by which time the Flying Donkeys’ relegation was already confirmed.
The 2018/19 campaign wasn’t a memorable one for the Veronese side, but Juwara notched another five goals for the Primavera team as well as bagging three in three games when he was sent on loan to Torino for the Viareggio tournament.
His eye-catching form also saw him named in The Guardian’s list of the 60 best young talents in world football for 2018.
Bologna pounced last summer, signing the 18-year-old forward from relegated Chievo for a reported €500,000.
It was yet another change of scene, but Juwara hasn’t been knocked off his stride, scoring 13 goals in 18 games this season for the Rossoblu’s Primavera side, including four in his first four games.
He has taken steps towards gaining more first-team experience, with Sinisa Mihajlovic calling him up to the first team squad regularly since October.
Juwara made his senior Bologna debut off the bench in a Coppa Italia defeat to Udinese in December, and made three consecutive substitute appearances in Serie A shortly before the season was suspended.
We can expect to see more of him soon, especially as his abilities and favoured roles suit Mihajlovic’s style of football.
Juwara is at his best on either wing, where he thrives in space and uses his blistering pace and excellent dribbling to get past defenders.
The areas of his game that could be improved are his consistency, strength and discipline, but his powerful shot and eye for goal make him a potent weapon, while he is capable of playing through the middle too, offering precious versatility to his coach.
At the moment, he has another young Gambian called Musa ahead of him in the pecking order – on-loan Atalanta forward Barrow – but Juwara is one to watch when Serie A resumes.
The progress he has made in Italian football in such a short space of time suggests that defenders should brace themselves for what is to come.
His first senior goal is surely not too far away – and it would be no less than he deserves.