Welcome to Grande 50, a new and exclusive feature brought to you by Tactical Calcio. The aim here is to present you with the best young talent in all of Italian football on an annual basis, starting right now in 2015.
Some of the 50 players herein are teenagers on the fringes of their first-teams, others are already well established. For a rare few, superstardom beckons. All were born on or after 1st September 1992.
Please feel free to like, share and get involved. Is anyone on the list unworthy in your opinion? Has someone been missed out? Feel free to drop a comment below or get in touch over Twitter @tacticalcalcio or on Facebook.
Without further ado let’s get started. The rankings are ordered alphabetically by surname and not based on merit. As well as detailing their name, age, position, club and country each player has been assigned a category, of which there are five. They are as follows: Prospect, Rising Star, Make or Break, Regular and Star. Below is a breakdown of each category.
Prospect: Yet to have made a consistent impact at first-team level but possessing potential.
Rising Star: Has shown glimmers of ability in their first-team with plenty more to come. Or a lower league talent with the potential to move up to Serie A.
Make or Break: An established player with an important, possibly even career-defining, year ahead.
Regular: A top-level player who is already well-established in their first-team.
Star: Not only well-established at top-level but shows clear potential to be an elite player.
Star (22, Winger, Lazio & Brazil)
Rising Star (22, Centre-forward, Ternana & Uruguay)
Avenatti signed for Ternana on the back of a strong year with River Plate in his hometown of Montevideo but, upon moving to Italy, he failed to hit the back of the net with such regularity. In his first season, two goals in 25 appearances saw Avenatti go from prospect to failure. Such judgements have been proven premature this season, however, as Avenatti has hit 12 goals in 37 games; a much improved strike rate. Tall, strong and deceptively quick, he is the archetypal centre-forward.
Regular (22, Striker, Fiorentina & Senegal)
Having recovered from a long-term injury the formerly prolific Mario Gomez has found his marksmanship called into question. Babacar was on loan at Modena in Serie B last season, so was unable to capitalise on Gomez’s injury woes, but the loan was nonetheless fruitful for the Senegalese. He bagged 20 goals and nine assists in 39 league games, enabling him to return to Fiorentina a more mature and confident player.
His display away to Sassuolo in February was consummate. He set up the opener for Mohamed Salah with a delicate flick before doubling the Viola’s lead. His second goal was the pick of the bunch, however. Beating the offside trap he brought a lofted pass out of the sky with one touch before calmly stroking home to seal victory. More recently, an acrobatic finish gave his team a vital away goal in their Europa League tie against Dynamo Kiev. Given such effective contributions it can’t be long before Babacar is Fiorentina’s first choice source of goals.
Rising Star (20, Winger, Lazio & Spain)
While the aforementioned Anderson is garnering plaudits at Lazio, Keita Balde is progressing without much fuss. Having come through Barcelona’s youth ranks he showed enormous promise but was loaned out to UE Cornella after he put an ice cube in a teammate’s bed.
After a positive spell away, he was unwilling to return to the Catalan capital and instead sought to develop his game elsewhere. At that point, Lazio came calling. Joining the club for the modest sum of €300,000 in 2011, he has become a regular on the fringes of the first-team of late. A lithe winger with pace and trickery, he has scored three goals in five Coppa Italia appearances for Lazio en route to their final with Juventus and can be expected to play a more prominent role in the coming years.
Rising Star (21, Striker, Palermo & Italy)
Having broken through as a teenager with Albinoleffe in Serie B, Belotti joined Palermo as a 19-year old and aided them in their promotion back into top-flight football by scoring 10 league goals. Unfortunately for him, this season he has been overtaken and overshadowed by Paulo Dybala. As a result, he has had to be content with a place on the bench but, should his Argentine teammate depart, Palermo have a replacement ready and waiting in Belotti.
Regular (20, Central Midfielder, Torino & Italy)
Benassi has booked a fairly regular spot in the Torino midfield since the beginning of 2015. Many of the Granata’s central midfielders are now over the age of 30 and thus Benassi’s youthful enthusiasm and dynamism has been a welcome addition. He can often be seen making late attacking runs, getting into the final third to get on the end of chances. He was seemingly unwanted by Inter but has been a regular in the Italian under-21 side.
Regular (20, Inverted Winger/Second Striker, Sassuolo & Italy)
Make or Break (21, Winger, Fiorentina & Italy)
Last summer Bernardeschi was called up to a pre-World Cup test squad by former Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli. The call-up came on the back of an excellent season on loan at Crotone in Serie B, where Bernardeschi showed his quality with 12 goals and seven assists. Misfortune has since derailed Bernardeschi’s momentum, with injury keeping him out of the Fiorentina side for much of the 2014/15 season.
Now recovered, the quest has begun for the starlet to find a position in the Viola’s starting line up. Until recently, that would have been hard, what with coach Vincenzo Montella’s prior predisposition for fielding a wingerless 3-4-3 formation. Now Montella has began utilising a 4-3-3, Bernardeschi might have an outlet on the right-hand side, though that area is currently occupied by Mohamed Salah.
Prospect (17, Striker/Second Striker/Winger, Sampdoria & Italy)
The Torneo di Viareggio has often been used as a springboard for young talent. This year the tournament belonged to Inter, and to Bonazzoli. The forward scored five goals to be awarded the Golden Boy award, though strangely he was then immediately farmed out to Sampdoria on an initial loan that will be made permanent come the end of this season.
Tall and skillful, many were left scratching their heads regarding the decision to let Bonazzoli go, though Inter do have a purchase clause on the youngster. The likelihood is he will be given greater room to grow at Sampdoria before returning to Inter a more seasoned professional.
Regular (20, Central Midfielder, Lazio & Italy)
Amid the flurry of enthusiasm surrounding Felipe Anderson, Cataldi has burgeoned quietly in the Lazio engine room this year. Making his Serie A debut in defeat to Napoli in January, the young midfielder has shown the subtly important traits required of his position. His passing is simplistic yet effective; his positioning intelligent. Often seen sitting just in front of Lucas Biglia, Cataldi’s quality lies in his ability to keep play moving. His role isn’t necessarily the most noticeable but, considering his relative inexperience, the manner in which he has undertaken it is worthy of recognition.
Rising Star (19, Full-back/Centre-back, Brescia & Senegal)
An athletic and defensively solid left-back, there is good reason why Manchester United and Roma are rumoured to have recently coveted Coly’s signature. Hard to beat in the air or on the ground and with good pace and strength, Coly is one of many talented young players on Brescia’s books and; even as they struggle in Serie B, he can expect a bright future ahead.
Prospect (18, Trequartista/Winger, Juventus & France)
Coman has all the raw attributes necessary to become a top player in his position. Blessed with excellent close control and a turn of pace, he has featured fairly regularly throughout his first season in Turin. Having been honed in the Paris St Germain youth system, he left upon expiry of his contract and turned down many others in favour of Juventus.
Since then he has been compared to Paul Pogba, but although the two share similar creative abilities, they are different players; Coman plays further forward. He surprisingly started the opening league game of the season away to Chievo though has not yet been entrusted with consecutive starts.
Rising Star (20, Winger/Trequartista, Sampdoria & Argentina)
There was a great deal of talk regarding where Correa would end up when he left Estudiantes. Chelsea were mentioned as a possible destination, though eventually he became part of Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Sampdoria revolution in January. He has failed to make much of an impact on the first-team, with competition for places coming from more experienced players such as Samuel Eto’o, Eder and Luis Muriel. Questions remain over how, or even if, he will fit in. Only time will answer them.
Mattia De Sciglio
Make or Break (22, Full-back, AC Milan & Italy)
De Sciglio has been usurped at Milan by January arrival Luca Antonelli following an injury and has found first-team appearances hard to come by ever since. Initially (and ambitiously) labelled the new Paolo Maldini, De Sciglio made his debut way back in 2011. By the 2012/13 season he was a regular starter, but last year injury stalled his progress. A right-footer, De Sciglio has not always appeared entirely comfortable in the left-back role.
Formerly Milan’s great hope, his future is now far less certain although, with Ignazio Abate’s contract expiring at the end of this season, perhaps De Sciglio will settle into his right-back berth. Indeed, that looks the best opportunity given Antonelli’s form. Nervous and prone to foul defensively, and lacking the forward presence of a great modern full-back, the next year could prove telling for the Milan native.
Regular (18, Central Midfielder, Cagliari & Ghana)
Born in Accra, Ghana; Donsah lists his compatriot Michael Essien as one of his heroes. Watching Donsah play, his idol of choice makes sense. Physical and keen to turn and drive forward with the ball, he has been utilised out wide by Cagliari, though it’s clear for all to see that his future lies in the role of central midfield powerhouse. Cagliari look set for the drop this year but Donsah might not be going down with the sinking Rossoblu ship; he is reportedly being closely monitored by every English Premier League club under the sun.
Star (21, Striker, Palermo & Argentina)
Stephan El Shaarawy
Make or Break (22, Winger/Second Striker, AC Milan & Italy)
For the second season in succession, El Shaarawy has been blighted by injuries. As a result the former prodigy, who hit 14 goals before the winter break in the 2012/13 season, appears to have lost all momentum. Nine appearances and one goal last season, 15 appearances and 1 goal this; it’s clear that El Shaarawy is suffering an early career crisis of sorts. The next year could be critical to his development; if he can get over his injury problems he could be a key figure in a Milan resurrection.
Regular (20, Trequartista/Winger, Udinese & Portugal)
Fernandes left Portugal to join Novara, at the time in Serie B, at the age of 17. That same year he rose to prominence in their first-team and began to play regularly. By the summer of 2013, Udinese called and Fernandes was primed to be the latest product of their excellent scouting system. He almost went on loan to Watford, but former coach Francesco Guidolin decided it was better that he stayed. Two seasons on and that decision has proven prophetic; Fernandes is a regular in the Udinese lineup and arguably their most important playmaking force.
Prospect (18, Central Midfielder, Inter Milan & Ivory Coast)
On the eve of the second Derby della Madonnina of the season, few had heard of Gnoukouri. At the game’s conclusion, he was seen as one of the next big things in calcio.
Having been let go by Marseille, the Ivorian made his way to Italy where he joined Venetian fourth tier club Altovicentino. From there he and his brothers joined Inter’s youth system. He only joined the Nerazurri at the beginning of this season; his rise has been meteoric. After making a substitute appearance against Verona, he handled the Milan derby with composure in place of Fredy Guarin, before switching to the base of midfield for the next match; at home to Roma, where he took Gary Medel’s usual role.
In just two starts Gnoukouri has exhibited a level of surefootedness associated with more experienced players, as well as a fine passing range.
Rising Star (19, Regista/Central Midfielder, Brescia & Morocco)
H’Maidat has been a footballing wanderer, travelling from club to club in search of a breakthrough. This season that has finally happened with Brescia. After numerous spells in Belgium were punctuated by brief stays with Twente and Crystal Palace, H’Maidat appears to have found home in Serie B where he has prospered playing in a regista role. He is a refined player combining precision with poise. That, alongside an unhurried style, allows him to dictate a game with his left foot.
Regular (21, Full-back, Empoli & Albania)
Hysaj left Albania and followed his father to Italy at the age of 14, having trials with a number of clubs before joining Empoli. He was part of the team that gained promotion from Serie B last year and has continued to be an important cog in the side. Able to play on either flank though more comfortable on his favoured left, Hysaj is a good all-round full-back; capable of defending as part of a back four as well as joining in attacks. His crossing needs some work, but generally he shows enough potential to warrant interest from the likes of Inter.
Star (22, Striker, Inter Milan & Argentina)
Make or Break (21, Inverted Winger, Roma & Argentina)
A short, stocky wide player with an insatiable desire to drive inside with purpose from the right on to his favoured left foot, Iturbe has been compared to Lionel Messi at times throughout his career. During his loan spell at Hellas Verona last season, those comparisons seemed to have a bit more weight. However, he hasn’t yet set the heather on fire following his €22 million move to Roma last summer.
His form has been microcosmic of his team’s, with flashes of genuine class tempered by inconsistency and a lack of end product. Iturbe’s ability and performance have not yet aligned at the Stadio Olimpico and it remains to be seen whether he stays and stars at Roma or moves on to fulfil his promise.
Make or Break (20, Regista/Central Midfielder/Trequartista, Inter Milan & Croatia)
As shown in the description above, the key question regarding Kovacic is this: exactly what is his best position? At first it seemed natural for Inter to build their midfield around such a majestic young technician, though more recently it has felt as if they are trying to crowbar him into the lineup.
Kovacic has yet to really prove himself consistently in any one role. Perhaps the chopping and changing of managers, along with the resultant switching of formations, has hampered his progress in that respect. Now though, under Roberto Mancini’s auspices, Kovacic must confirm his status or face the exit door.
Regular (20, Centre-back, Cesena & Slovenia)
Krajnc made his international debut for Slovenia in March on the back of some solid form with Cesena in Serie A. In the battle against relegation back to Serie B, from whence Cesena came just last year, Krajnc has adapted relatively well. Passionate and a combative tackler, he could be set to return from his loan to Genoa in the summer, although speculation has linked him with moves to the likes of AC Milan and Lazio.
Regular (22, Goalkeeper, Cesena & Italy)
A sound shot-stopper with good distribution, Leali has been dubbed the heir to Gianlugi Buffon by some. The comparison doesn’t just reflect Leali’s ability, but also the fact that he is currently on Juventus’ books. On loan at Cesena this season, his progression as a ‘keeper has been steady yet not as spectacular as the likes of Mattia Perin and Simone Scuffet. There’s no doubt he’s one for the future, but exactly how far he can go depends on what he achieves in the two years that remain until Buffon’s current contract runs out.
Rising Star (21, Striker, Hellas Verona & Uruguay)
Paul Pogba led France to the 2013 Under-20 World Cup victory, winning the competition’s Golden Ball award in the process. The Silver Ball went to Lopez. His four goals were vital as Uruguay reached the final, where they lost on penalties to France. Having failed to catch a break at Roma, Lopez joined Udinese before leaving on loan for Hellas Verona last summer. Fast and full of verve, the bucktoothed forward could be Udinese’s long-term replacement for Luis Muriel.
Prospect (17, Central Midfielder, Genoa & Italy)
Genoa already had a talented left-footed central midfielder in Andrea Bertolacci when they introduced Mandragora to the wider world. A product of the club’s youth academy, Mandragora was thrown into deep water for his debut; a home game against Juventus last October. Generally he kept things simple; showing remarkable calm given the occasion and refusing to be flustered by the lack of space in midfield. He has since reverted to the bench, making just one more start, but he’s already shown enough to convince that he is a player worth keeping an eye out for in future.
Prospect (16, Trequartista, AC Milan & Italy)
Everyone knows who Mastour is, but few truly know what he is. His ascendance to the Milan first-team was stunningly quick; at 15 years old he sat on the bench four times during Clarence Seedorf’s time as coach last year. Since then knee injuries have temporarily halted his momentum and, despite a huge social media following and a reputation for freestyle skills, there are whispers that Mastour may not be all he is cracked up to be. Such talk is perhaps cruel given his tender age, and indeed the Milan youth coaches seem to rate him highly.
Mastour is part of a new era; he is extremely well known despite having barely made a mark on competitive football. That puts huge pressure on young shoulders and Milan, who are developing a reputation for selling their best youth prospects, might not be the best club to help him deal with it.
Regular (21, Striker, Torino & Venezuela)
An energetic and nippy striker, Martinez can be an awkward opponent to defend against. He was signed by Torino having had a good season on loan at Thun in Switzerland but has yet to find regular scoring form. The reasons for that are due predominantly to flaws in his all-round game. While mobile, Martinez lacks the tactical intelligence to hold his runs and beat an offside trap. His positioning could do with some work but with his pace he nonetheless brings something different to an old Torino forward line.
Regular (18, Central Midfielder, Parma & Argentina)
Juventus were champions-in-waiting when they visited financially crippled Parma in April. It was seen as a comfortable three points for the Bianconeri, but Mauri; the only real bright spark in a destitute campaign for Parma, scored a well-taken goal to seal an unexpected victory for Serie A’s bottom club. That goal will likely prove the defining point of Mauri’s strong debut season. A combative, gritty midfielder with a penchant for battle, the Argentine also has the capacity to create. He stayed with Parma despite interest from elsewhere in the past but, at his age, he could benefit from leaving in the summer to become part of a winning side.
Rising Star (22, Striker, Carpi & Nigeria)
Mbakogu has been crucial to Carpi’s incredible rise this season, with his 15 goals thus far helping steer the club to the Serie B title. The powerful Nigerian’s pace, movement and finishing touch will arguably be even more important next season as the club adjusts to Serie A competition for the first time in its history.
Star (22, Striker, Juventus & Spain)
Rising Star (19, Trequartista, Brescia & Italy)
Morosini is a vivacious playmaker with an eye for the audacious. Yet another young talent to ply his trade with Brescia in the basement of Serie B, Morosini’s only full campaign with the first-team has hinted at great things. Perhaps needs to up his game physically to cope with the demands of regular competitive football, though that should come with time.
Make or Break (20, Full-back, Cagliari & Italy)
Murru has experienced a decline as fast as his rise to prominence. Having broken through in 2012/13, he soon became Cagliari’s first choice left-back, only to be superseded by Danilo Avelar this season. With just six league games to his name this campaign the attack-minded Italian under-21 international is being quickly forgotten about as Cagliari slide towards relegation.
Make or Break (20, Inverted Winger/Striker, Genoa & France)
Niang hadn’t put the ball in the net for some time when he joined Genoa on loan from Milan in January. To be fair, the Frenchman had never been a prolific scorer, but one goal in 30 months was threadbare. However, Niang has come alive in Genova, playing on the left-hand side of the front three in Gian Piero Gasperini’s 4-3-3 formation. Five goals in 12 games is testimony to the success of the move.
He’s making a case to be part of Milan’s long-term strategy, though his future there will ultimately be dependent upon the opinions of whoever is in charge of the Rossoneri come next season.
Regular (22, Central Midfielder, Lazio & Nigeria)
Blaise Matuidi ended Onazi’s 2014 World Cup early with a terrible challenge that left the Nigerian international with a bad shinbone injury. Although the injury ruled Onazi out for the start of this season, his inability to regain his place with Lazio has been down to other factors outside of his control, namely the form of new signing Marco Parolo and the advancement of Danilo Cataldi. Onazi is hugely experienced for his age but is no longer a frequent starter and could well be ushered on in the summer as a result.
Rising Star (21, Winger, Frosinone & Italy)
Paganini honed his dribbling ability in Lega Pro where he came through the ranks at Frosinone. Helping them to promotion in his first full season, he is on course to aid them to consecutive promotions, with the club lying second in Serie B. Paganini is an inventive winger who is just as happy cutting inside as he is motoring directly down the flanks.
Star (22, Goalkeeper, Genoa & Italy)
Widely tipped as the natural heir to Gianluigi Buffon at international level, Perin is a commanding influence with charisma beyond his years. Aggressive in coming out for one-on-ones, Perin’s strong palms and quick reflexes have made him a crucial part of Genoa’s defence over the last two seasons. Now the established number one, he is also one of the best young goalkeepers in the world. He’s been linked with a move but recently committed his future to Genoa, where he has a contract until 2017. Coincidentally, Buffon’s current contract with Juventus expires that same year.
Star (22, Central Midfielder, Juventus & France)
Prospect (19, Striker, Inter Milan & Romania)
Control and clinicality. These appear to be Puscas’ core traits based on what footage is available of him playing for Inter’s primavera. This season he has notched 16 goals in 11 games at that level, prompting coach Roberto Mancini to promote him to first-team duty. As a young Romanian forward making a breakthrough with Inter, some may inevitably compare him to Adrian Mutu, though the two are not alike. Puscas’ game revolves around finishing whereas Mutu was a more creative presence.
Star (20, Centre-back, Sampdoria & Italy)
Romagnoli was a blue-chip prospect when coming through the ranks at Roma and was finally given regular exposure under Rudi Garcia’s tutelage last season. He has only blossomed further while on loan at Sampdoria this campaign. Assigned a regular berth at the heart of Sinisa Mihajlovic’s backline, Romagnoli has displayed defensive resolve along with sound distribution. Come next season he could be the perfect central defensive partner for Kostas Manolas in Rome, though Samp president Massimo Ferrero has stated that going back to the capital would be “a stupid decision”.
Star (20, Centre-back, Empoli & Italy)
Rising Star (18, Central Midfielder, Vicenza & Italy)
Sbrissa emerged last season as Vicenza were promoted from Lega Pro. A slight but energetic midfielder, he has established himself as a regular first-team player this season, helping his club not just to settle in Serie B, but thrive in it. As it stands it is well within the realms of possibility that Vicenza may be promoted via play-off for a second successive year. Regardless, it is likely that Sbrissa will be playing Serie A football soon; Juventus and Palermo have both shown interest in the gifted youngster.
Rising Star (18, Goalkeeper, Udinese & Italy)
In the first quarter of 2014, Scuffet was considered to be in the running for a seat on the Azzurri’s plane to Brazil. After an astonishing few performances for Udinese, he had even convinced Gianluigi Buffon that he was worth a spot in Italy’s World Cup squad. Buffon said at the time, “Considering what he is doing I’d say he deserves it”. By December, Scuffet was purported to be considering a loan move to Crotone. He never went to Brazil, and he has since lost his place in Udinese’s starting lineup. He’s nonetheless still young and, with good instinct and agility, will likely be Mattia Perin’s long-term rival for Italy’s number one berth.
Regular (22, Central Midfielder, Juventus & Italy)
Brought back to Juventus halfway through this season after an impressive six-month loan spell with Genoa, Sturaro has instantly become an important team member. Like many of his peers in the Juventus midfield machine, he combines rugged dynamism with technical proficiency. With his club chasing a potentially tiring treble his presence has been a positive addition, bringing an extra set of legs for the purposes of running, pressing and passing.
Make or Break (21, Winger/Trequartista, AC Milan & Spain)
Over the course of his short career thus far, Suso has developed a reputation for being somewhat mercurial. He has always been defined as a technically strong prospect but has yet to gain the full trust of a manager. Never quite embraced at Liverpool; fined and dropped for sleeping in at Almeria; now Suso is failing to get time on the pitch with Milan, whom he joined in January. Ironically, upon signing he chose the number eight shirt previously worn by Riccardo Saponara, who left Milan in January for more playing time on loan at Empoli. Suso could go down the same route if he does not begin to prove his worth soon.
Prospect (18, Winger, Roma & Italy)
Verde left a marked impression on his first start for Roma away to Cagliari in February. As half-time approached his nonchalant chipped pass played in Adem Ljajic, who proceeded to strike Roma into the lead. Late on in the game Verde broke away down the left-hand side and whipped in a half-volleyed cross for Leandro Paredes to score what was essentially the match-winning goal.
A couple of assists was an excellent way for Verde to ingratiate himself to the Roma faithful in the absence of Gervinho, who was away on AFCON 2015 duty. The youngster is short but, with a strong frame, explosive pace and an imposing dribbling style, he’s the latest big thing to come out of the Giallorossi’s youth academy. With Francesco Totti’s influence on the wane, Verde could have a more important role next season.
Regular (22, Full-back, Udinese & Switzerland)
Udinese have a tendency for scouting and developing young talent from all over the world. Widmer is one of the latest to emerge from this player factory that has overseen the progression of the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Kwadwo Asamoah and Samir Handanovic. It’s an impressive roll call and, more so by the week, Widmer does not look out of place on it. He is the prototypical modern full-back; fast, fit and adventurous. His forward raids down the right flank do much to suggest that, in Widmer, Switzerland have a ready-made future replacement for the 31-year old Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Make or Break (20, Winger/Trequartista, Empoli & Poland)
A slick, agile attacking presence, Zielinski was given a good amount of press coverage upon his breaking into the Udinese first-team. Since then his productivity has failed to improve and, while he still shows flashes of the trickery that so beguiled in his formative stages, he now needs to start adding goals and/or assists to his play. A loan spell with Empoli has failed to see a marked development in this area, meaning that Zielinski’s status as a top prospect is one running on borrowed time.