Just two years ago the FIFA-commissioned Professional Football Players’ Observatory rated Italy as the worst major European league for giving youngsters a chance with just 13 per cent graduating into the first team.
A more recent survey by Tuttomercatoweb found that Napoli were the worst offenders following Coach Walter Mazzarri’s failure to introduce one player born after 1990. Meanwhile, in comparison Roma give debuts to seven youngsters last season including buys like Erik Lamela and youth team graduates like Federico Viviani.
Mazzarri seems to be a typical adherent of this policy of preferring older players to youth. So what is his excuse? Not the best from my point of view. After criticism for not playing highly promising youngsters like Federico Fernandez, Ignacio Fideleff and January signing Eduardo Vargas with more regularity, he replied:
“Look at how many youngsters Milan and Juventus use. You can’t finish third with kids. At theend of the day Fernandez has played a lot more than we imagined. After all, what was I supposed to do? Leave out Paolo Cannavaro,” he added straight-faced.
“You have to look at the objectives of a club before unleashing youngsters in Serie A. If you’re asking me to survive then all of the younger players can be used. However, if you want to finish in the top three then it becomes a lot more difficult.”
What he is saying is that Napoli has succeeded due to this policy of experience over youth.
The problem is of course the issue of a winning mentality. Clubs want to win and win immediately with precious little time to see whether a youngster works out or not. Thus in comes the expensive foreign import, in Napoli’s case the £11m Vargas. Yet can anyone tell me he is better or more experienced in Italy than Pescara’s highly-rated Napoli-owned Azzurrini star Lorenzo Insigne?
Can Napoli fans complain with a third spot, an exciting and unexpected Champions League campaign and a Coppa Italia in the bag? Perhaps we should not judge him too severely, but whether or not we do, his answers over criticism of his non-existent youth policy need to be looked at a little more critically.
First he prattles on about Milan and Juve not using kids, as if Napoli fans care what other teams do. But that is not the point as Milan have used kids, with the teenage trio Simone Ganz, Mattia De Sciglio and the superb 19-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy all wearing Rossoneri colours last season. Juventus have also introduced the exciting Luca Marrone, who was 21 at the time and got his debut Serie A goal.
Mazzarri stating that he has played Fernandez more than expected is strange. The defender is a highly respected Argentinean international and should have been a regular starter anyway. A perfect example of Mazzarri’s bizarre choices concerning younger players was seen in the 2-2 draw with Catania.
Napoli were winning then Fernandez, who was in that game and magnificent at defending set-pieces, came off for Cannavaro before Catania hit back to score twice, from corners as it turned out. And to casually ask should he then leave out Canna for Fernandez was just too prosaic for words. What’s wrong with leaving out one of the two other central defenders Salvatore Aronica or Hugo Campagnaro? It doesn’t sound as dramatic of course. “What drop our Captain?!” he might as well have emphasised. A bad choice Walter and it shows his mindset that a youngster is first to be subbed, despite playing brilliantly.
Another example of Mazzarri’s erratic endorsements was seen when Napoli were beating Cagliari 4-1 and he brought on Edinson Cavani. Perhaps it would have made more sense introduce Vargas and it would have been easier for him, so the chance of a goal would have given his confidence a boost. The Chilean youngster has only made one start in six, with five of them when the Partenopei were losing or drawing late in the game. What chance has the lad got to show any composure when the team is under pressure when he comes on?
One last example of Mazzarri’s mistaken mandates. "The game has now provided me with food for thought," he said after Vargas’ debut January against Siena, as the Argentine struggled and was subbed for the second half. "I was wrong to play Vargas so soon (after his arrival); I got caught up in the euphoria. A Coach at my level should know when it is the right time to field players."
Say no more Walter.
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.