Friday October 19 2012
Absolute Azzurrini

After securing qualification for the 2013 European Championship, the Italian Under-21s are on a high. Dylan Fahy explains how the set-up has found its place under Devis Mangia.  

“Un gol alla Del Piero” is what they call it, but this time it was a certain Lorenzo Insigne that curled a breathtaking shot into the top corner of Sweden ‘keeper Karl-Johan Johnsson’s net instead of the legendary Juventus captain on Tuesday evening. The Napoli striker’s sublime effort only typifies the quality Italy Under-21 Coach Devis Mangia has at his disposal ahead of next year’s European Championships, in an exciting time for the peninsula’s promising youngsters.  

The arrival of the former Palermo tactician in July signaled a new chapter for the Azzurrini. Upon replacing alacklustreCiro Ferrara on the sidelines, close collaboration with Cesare Prandelli and the senior team was always going to be the major key to success. “We will follow Prandelli’s style, I am only moulding these young men for the biggest stage,” insisted Mangia during his official unveiling at Coverciano.

An alarmingly low level of exceptional youngsters making the grade over the past several years forced the FIGC to seek reform for the benefit of both the national team and the domestic game. The underage categories were losing sight of their primary objective – delivering players to the senior set-up that could easily adapt to the style of football being played and the level it was expected to be played at every time. Prandelli even suggested creating an Italy Under-21 team that would compete in Serie B, an idea that ultimately never made it past the drawing board.

A lack of playing time at the highest level was the real reason behind the decline, as young players simply could not get a look in at top Italian clubs. “Serie A managers are afraid to use youth as it is seen as too big a risk,” insisted former Milan boss Arrigo Sacchi in June when championing Samuele Longo’s cause at Inter. “A Coach at the top of the Italian League feels he cannot risk youth because if they do not come good and results go sour, as a consequence they could easily lose their job.”

The past year has unearthed a new generation of top Italian talent, however. Serie B champions Pescara brought to light the likes of Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti. Milan have consistently started Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio, while Roma have now got their hands on Mattia Destro and Alessandro Florenzi is the anchor of their midfield. Juventus have Luca Marrone captaining Mangia’s side, although in Turin he is used more as a centre-back than a midfielder.

Fortunately for Italy’s new up-and-comers, there is a different reason behind tacticians giving them a chance. Financial issues have forced many clubs to centre the heart of their team around youth, as expensive alternatives are no longer an option. Milan and Roma in particular are among the clubs that have drastically reduced their average age over the past few months.

Mangia and Prandelli have benefited from Serie A’s newfound dependency on youngsters. The play-off against Sweden was the perfect example of how the pair can work in harmony. Despite the likes of El Shaarawy, Verratti and Destro carrying the Azzurrini through the group stage, all three were whisked away by Prandelli this week for World Cup qualifiers against Armenia and Denmark.  

While Italy were shaky at the back against the Scandinavians on Tuesday evening, the loss of their star players mattered little in truth. In place of the trio stepped in the equally capable Insigne, Immobile and Florenzi to guide the side to the tournament to be hosted in Israel next year. All three could easily be in the senior team themselves, and as such they played like they had a point to prove. In an exciting time for Italy’s youngsters, it is up to Prandelli and Mangia to work the system that gets the best out of them.    

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Have your say...
The Confederations Cup will be the perfect opportunity to try the stars for the future. Prandelli will know what his regulars can do so blooding the likes of Florenzi, De Sceglio, Marrone, Immobile, Insigne etc will also give him insight as to how they'll perform on the World stage & hopefully give him food for thought for 2014.
on the 22nd October, 2012 at 12:23am
@Daniel Giambrone; It’s a difficult one. I would largely agree with “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” however, whether a player is "ready" is something else entirely and the pressure of playing at the highest level can be too much for many. Santon is the most obvious recent example, absolutely fantastic yet being labelled as Maldini’s heir was too much whilst on an international level, watching Willems for Holland at the Euro was painful. The talent was there but it was too premature.
on the 21st October, 2012 at 3:34pm
Tanel, point taken re:Tassi.

But doesn't it bother you that we/Italian clubs, wait so long before giving young players a chance?

All other nations have far more faith in their youth players, and are not afraid to field players that are 16. In these countries, (Spain, Germany, Holland, etc), they classify a "youngster", as a player between the ages of 16-19. Whereas, in Italy, a youngster is a player between 21-25.
on the 20th October, 2012 at 12:38pm
I agree with Dylan In an exciting time for Italy’s youngsters, it is up to Prandelli and Mangia to work the system that gets the best out of them: I see the best system that can gets the best out of them is 4-3-3 and not 4-3-1-2. Also, in an exciting time for Italy’s youngsters, it is a must that Serie A Coaches & Clubs play them guys regularly! otherwise it will waste of time & effort.
on the 20th October, 2012 at 10:31am

No one is arguing that they are on the same level. But what is a FACT is that Inter now contribute more Italy youth internationals (U-16 to U-21) than any other club. The top level talent - playing regularly on the first team level - isn't there yet, you're correct, but the prospects listed are (GENERALLY) younger than people like Insigne, Verratti, etc.

2 years time, Inter will be producing youngsters for fun.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 10:19pm
Ranocchia has been great so far this season. Like the player everyone expected him to be during his stints at Bari and Genoa. If he can keep it up, it's only a matter of time before he's a regular for the Azzurri.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 6:26pm
I Will Garantee you almost every team has talented kids in their primavera. A very very small number will ever turn out to be top players. It's not the writers fault Inter has no youth product in the spotlight right now. Longo is your best bet at the moment. And he still has a lot to prove.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 4:53pm
Quite frankly there is no current Inter youth products competing at a high level except Longo in Spain. Verratti, immobile, Insigne, florenzi, el sharaway, marone, destro (yea I know he's "from inter academy") Gabbiadini ect are all playing in a high level league regularly. Many of them sharpened their sword in serie B first and now are ready. Inter primavera players and no where near this level. Maybe in a few years. I can't Ben believe you're comparing primavera players to regulars in serie a.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 4:49pm
Also Dan, you speak of Tassi getting chance in first team. He is not even starting for Primavera yet. Give him some time.

Bessa, indeed, has to get a chance or a loan move once he is back from injury, which should happen maybe within next few weeks. He was the big standout player in Primavera level last season, even if Longo took the final plaudits.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 1:28pm
Sam, before claiming for Ranocchia to not be good enough. Have you seen him play this season? If you watched Inter vs Fiorentina for example, then Ranocchia was aceing it and "the saviour" Roncaglia struggling a bit.

Ranocchia has been easily amongst the top 3 DC-s so far this season in Serie A, if not the best.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 1:26pm
Anonymous, you are right, Inter have some incredible youngsters! I particularly like Tassi & Bessa-will he represent Italy or Brazil? I hope that Strama gives them an opportunity soon, as Inter are terrible with their ball retention ATM.

Sam, your assessment of our CB's is spot on! Chiellini is amazing, but Barzagli doesn't look like the same player from last season. I too want to see Ogbonna given a chance, and also Roncaglia.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 12:47pm
Can we have an article on Leali. He is a hue talent who all pray will be even better than Buffon. Thoughts anyone?
on the 19th October, 2012 at 11:08am
Santon and De Sciglio and maybe Acerbi are possibilities for the future. The 2013 euros will be a great opportunity for us to win our 6th title at under 21 level and for Insigne, Immobile, Florenzi, Marrone etc to grow and improve further hopefully ready for 2014 world cup a year later. Although what will be interesting is to see who Prandelli takes to confederation cup in 2013 with euro 2013 for the under 21s around the same time. Exciting times ahead.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 10:56am
We are certainly blessed with the quality we have and have coming through. The key now is managing the players and amkign the right choices at the right times. Prandelli needs to call Roncaglia. Roncaglia, Chiellini and Ogbonna are the best defenders we have. Barzagli is a squad player, a good reserve to have. Bonucci, Ranocchia, Astori etc just arent good enough. My defensive choices would be Roncaglia, Chiellini, Ogbonna, Barzagli, Abate, Balzaretti, Cassani, Criscito.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 10:52am
We have got to find a formation/system that will put as much attacking talent on the pitch as possible. 4-3-3 is very interesting.... 2014 team for the WC Final
Marchisio,De Rossi,Verratti
Balo, Destro, Insigne.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 10:47am
I love it. An article on Italian youth, and not a single mention of Inter except criticism?

What about Longo, Bardi, Caldirola, Donati, Bianchetti? All are now in the Italy U21 squad... Or Italy U16, U18, all of which have 4 or more players from Inter contributing.

Not to mention the Primavera scudetto, the NextGen...

Poor article, typical milan-juve bias.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 10:41am
Ferrara was one of the coaches who got the ball rolling. He was a quality U/21 coach but he wanted to coach in Serie A again.

Even though I like Mangia as a coach, his players are getting regular time at senior level unlike other . Lack of finances have forced clubs to trust youth but the 2010 World Cup was the real factor. Trusting experienced players means nothing when they haven't got the fitness.

Italy has always had great players but the Azzurrini really look like force now.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 9:35am
totally agree with RossoneriFido
on the 19th October, 2012 at 9:32am
I've been wanting to see a blog on the U21 & I have to agree with Daniel Giambrone, Ferrara was doing a great job until he was appointed Samp boss. It's interesting reading the collaboration btwn Mangia & Prandelli, you'd think the U21s style would mirror the seniors when in fact they couldn't be more diferent. If Prandelli is having an imput into the U21 set up then that excites me because it tells me that soon these starlets will break through to the senior team & a new exciting era will start
on the 19th October, 2012 at 9:29am
Im reluctant to say the Serie A financial troubles is the main reason for Under 21 success, remember in the late 90's- 2000's Serie A was the money machine in Europe, yet they still produced a generation that would win a World Cup in 2006.

The talent coming through is very exciting, but the concern id have is the lack of top level Italian defenders being produced. Only Chiellini in recent years has proven himself. Bonucci, Ranocchia and Ogbonna all have potential, but none have been consistent.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 9:06am
Get your facts right! Ferrara was doing a great job for the under-21's! He started this great cycle with his brand of football, and exciting player selections. It was Casiraghi who disappointed! Mangia is doing well, but in many respects, this team still carries Ferrara's signature.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 8:49am
Prandelli needs to slowly convert his system to a 4-3-3 because Insigne - El Shaarawy - Giovinco are more of wingers rather than strikers, and at the CF he can field Balotelli & Destro for back up. His 4-3-1-2 is good but not good enough.
on the 19th October, 2012 at 8:30am

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