Thursday February 17 2011
The Florentine Aldair

Ignore last night's performance against Inter. James Horncastle feels Fiorentina have uncovered a star in Michele Camporese.

Nello Baglini had a right to look back on his career and smile. After all, he would forever be remembered as the man who saved Fiorentina from financial oblivion. The printing magnate had been elected President of the club in 1965 and inherited a debt worth 800m lire. It was enough to scare off even the wealthiest of football patrons, but not Baglini.

The manifesto on which he had campaigned was simple: "I'll reinforce the team and balance the books." In reality, he told the Coach at the time, Beppe Chiappella, something slightly different. "We'll only buy one important player for next season," Baglini said. "As for the rest, you'll have to make do with youngsters from the academy."

And so the Fiorentina yé-yé was born, a mop-haired group of kids who played football much like the pop stars of the era played guitar. The crowds at the Comunale were as hysterical as those at Serge Gainsbourg concerts. Indeed, four years after Baglini's arrival at the club, Fiorentina improbably won their second Scudetto.

Aside from Giancarlo De Sisti, the one big signing the President had promised, and Amarildo, the explosive Brazilian striker, Fiorentina were a team remarkable for their youth and ability to produce or spot talent. If we flash forward to 2002, the situation the club's current owners Andrea and Diego Della Valle found themselves in was actually much worse than that Baglini faced.

Fiorentina or Florentia Viola as they were then known lay in Serie C2 licking their wounds after the excesses of the Cecchi Gori era. The club needed completely rebuilding from the bottom up. It was year zero, not least at academy level.

Giovanni Galli, one of its former graduates was charged by the Della Valle family with re-establishing the Viola's ties with Tuscany's local sides such as Polisportiva Garzella in an effort to source and develop local talent for the future. The policy would take time to make its impact felt, but finally there is evidence that it is starting to bear fruit.

Michele Camporese joined Fiorentina aged 12. His father would drive from Marina, the family's hometown on the coast where Galli had grown up, to the nearby airport outside Pisa. Four days a week, he'd put his son on the bus to Florence with all the tourists for the 90-minute journey.

"He was very close to Pisa," recalled Ilario Saturni, a Fiorentina talent scout. "The family wasn't that convinced about letting Michele come to us. He was still young and there was a little concern on the parents' part." Tragically, they had already lost a daughter in an accident and were naturally more protective than most. Camporese, however, dearly wanted to become a professional footballer.

He would go to bed early, turn down offers to hang out at the beach in Versilia, study hard then insist that rather than pack up a sandwich for the journey to Florence, his mother Teresa quickly cook a plate of pasta al pomodoro.

Although he started out as a central midfielder [and a Juventus fan] Camporese had long been an admirer of Alessandro Nesta, tacking a poster to his bedroom wall. A change of position swiftly followed and it wasn't long before the coaching staff at the club realised that they had a defender of considerable potential on their hands.

Camporese represented Italy at practically every age group during his time in the academy and was part of the Fiorentina team that won the Scudetto at youth level under Renato Buso in 2008. Last season, he signed a five-year deal, but a place in the first team was anything but assured. The last defender to make the big leap from junior to senior status at the club was Emiliano Moretti in March 2001, though even he had initially started his career at Lodigiani.

However, Sinisa Mihajlovic offered hope. Shortly after his appointment he promised that "if the players are young and gifted, I will make them play."

Surprisingly, he threw Camporese in at the deep end, giving the 18-year-old his Serie A debut against Milan at San Siro in November. For 45 second half minutes he marked the League leaders' star striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "Michele never let himself get scared," Mihajlovic said. And though Fiorentina ended up losing 1-0, the goal had come before the interval. Camporese might as well have kept a clean sheet.

Injuries and suspensions to the Viola's more established defenders meant chances continued to come his way in a difficult season. Camporese played against Juventus in Turin the following week in the most intense game of the Fiorentina calendar and impressed with the precision he showed in anticipating the play. La Gazzetta dello Sport noted that, despite being relatively slow, he managed the clock and the ball very well with a degree of elegance.

Camporese also revealed personality and leadership skills, telling reporters: "We have to get to 40 points in hurry. It's useless to talk about anything else. We need more character and nastiness. But we'll get out of this situation. We are doing well at home." While it's maybe still too early to tell, it would appear he is the latest in a new generation of Italian centre-backs together with Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Ranocchia.

Camporese's pivotal goal against Palermo on Sunday, the first of his professional career, left Mihajlovic with a smile on his face, not least because it helped bring about Fiorentina's first away win of the season. Arianna, the boss's patient wife, was clearly relieved. "I really suffer when he loses because I know that the mute phase is coming…," she said. "He already speaks little. If Fiorentina then lose, a big freeze descends on the house. He becomes a fish…"

Mihajlovic now considers Camporese a fixture alongside Alessandro Gamberini in defence. "He has shown great maturity. It's surprising," the Serb said. "In terms of serenity he reminds me of Aldair."

Though last night's 2-1 defeat to Inter was a chastening experience for Camporese, it was the first time he had put a foot wrong since breaking into the first team. One bad performance in which he scored an own-goal and shared guilt for another should be set in the context of seven other good displays.

Now more than ever in recent memory Italy needs to nurture, protect and to put faith in its young players. That's the example Cesare Prandelli set in Dortmund last week when he fielded a youthful and relatively inexperienced Italy side against Germany.

You always need to break a few eggs to make an omelette and even if Samuel Eto'o and Giampaolo Pazzini gave Camporese a battering on Wednesday night, the future's bright for him. Indeed the future's purple.

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