Plenty of money was spent during the January transfer window, with established players like Coutinho, Van Dijk, Sanchez, Aubameyang and Laporte all making moves, but in many ways the most eye catching deal of all was a record breaking transfer involving a 16 year-old with fewer than 10 top flight appearances.

Pietro Pellegri left Genoa to join French Champions Monaco for a fee believed to be around 20 million Euros, becoming the most expensive 16 year-old of all time.

The powerful striker first made headlines in December 2016 when he became the joint youngest player to feature in Serie A at the age of 15 years and 280 days. Pellegri scored his first senior goal at the end of that season, becoming the first player born in the 21st Century to score in Serie A.

Leaving his hometown club at such a tender age is a gamble, but Monaco have a fine track record with young forwards and Pellegri will be hoping the move can take his game to the next level in the way it did for fellow youngsters Anthony Martial and Kylian Mbappé who both used their time in the Principality to announce themselves on the World stage.

Physically imposing for his age, Pellegri has earned comparisons to his idol Zlatan Ibrahimović with the way he can bully defenders with his strength and power, and the youngster will be able to learn from one of the best goalscorers around with Radamel Falcao as his captain and teammate.

Fellow Italian Marco Verratti moved to Ligue 1 at an early age and has since established himself as a star at Paris Saint-Germain and a key member of the Italian National Team. Pellegri will be hoping his move to the Stade Louis II can have a similar transformative effect on his career.







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This summer several Premier League rivals are set to go head-to head for the Czech Republic’s latest talent. 21 year-old Patrik Schick has attracted interest from Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs among others. The striker has impressed for Sampdoria in his debut season scoring 8 goals in 24 appearances despite only starting in 6 of those games.

Schick joined Sampdoria from Sparta Prague last summer for 4M Euro after spending a season on loan at Bohemians 1905. He was one of several promising young additions to join the Genoese club but his signing went under the radar.

During loan spell at Bohemians 1905, the forward made 27 appearances scoring 7 goals.

The Czech international has made a fantastic start to life in Serie A under the tutelage of manager Marco Giampaolo. The manager prefers to play 4-3-1-2 with Fabio Quagliarella and Luis Muriel up front. Due to this Schick has become Sampdoria’s very own super-sub.

Schick prefers to play the centre froward role but often drops deep to take possession and link up with the midfield to build attacks. He is what the Italians call a seconda punta. The Czech international also drifts out wide to the right before cutting in on his preferred left foot attacking the full backs. Given his size and stature he is quite nimble with electric pace and he is a fantastic dribbler. Due to this you could easily mistake the 6″2 forward as a winger.

Marco Giampaolo when asked why Schick comes off the bench so often, joked “I keep him on the bench, otherwise they’ll sell him! I want him here next season.” Unfortunately money talks in modern football and the financial power of the Premier League clubs will be too much of a temptation for both Sampdoria and Schick in the summer.


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With Phillip Lahm set to retire this summer, and Dani Alves nearing the end of his career, there is a dearth of world class right-backs around European football. Juventus already have a potential successor to Alves on their books in Pol Lirola, and the early signs are he could become the next great right-back in European football.

Lirola reportedly turned down moves to Manchester City and Barcelona in favour of joining Juventus from Espanyol in the summer of 2015, and that decision has paid off with the Catalan gaining top level first team experience in Serie A and the Europa League during the first season of a two-year loan spell with Sassuolo.

‘I grew up with the legend of Lahm, but I see more of myself in Dani Alves’ said the 19 year-old, and it’s easy to see why with Lirola’s attacking instincts and all action style a key feature of his game . I Neroverdi have a number of good young players on their books, with Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Pellegrini both in the thinking of Azzurri manager Gian Piero Ventura, and Lirola has thrived in the environment created by manager Eusebio Di Francesco.

Lirola is expected to return to Juventus in the summer of 2018 after a second season gaining more experience in Modena. If he keeps improving, he is likely to become a member of the Bianconeri first team squad, and Juve fans will be hoping he can eventually develop into a player capable of emulating his hero Dani Alves.






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To those from the outside looking in, Atalanta appear as one of Italian football’s lesser known clubs. Calcio is renowned for culture, history and tradition, but various issues within the sport, most notably match fixing and the general consensus of a defensive style making for less than entertaining spectacles, does not promise much for the future. La Dea (the Goddess) may just change that perception.

Watching Serie A and the Italian national team closely over the last few years shows that the stereotypes used to describe them are not only derogatory, but not true. Antonio Conte’s Azzurri side were unexpectedly expressive at the European Championships in the summer, in the image of the excitable and vibrant coach who is now having a similar impact on a Chelsea side who looked in a state of flux some months ago. Playing three defenders and wing-backs was once seen as a conservative approach, but it is all change now. That system has always been incredibly popular in Italy and is helping change attitudes. Conte led the way when in charge of Juventus, whose primary focus is always to attack, and other teams share that ideology – including Atalanta.

Something of a positive image that came from the perception of calcio was the ability of so many teams to maintain ‘evergreen’ players. Right through Serie A, the lifespan of a footballer would be stretched beyond the average in the likes of England or Germany. Francesco Totti is still going strong at 40 years old with Roma, while Udinese’s former talisman Antonio Di Natale only hung up his boots earlier this year, aged 39, having scored over 200 goals across a remarkable career. It was a phenomenon that ran much deeper, though, with Milan dedicating their state of the art training complex to helping numerous players – including Paolo Maldini – prolong their time on the pitch.

Critiques of Calcio would suggest it is stuck in the past, but again, this is an opinion with very little substance. A host of exciting young players are coming through, and not just at the biggest clubs either. Manuel Locatelli is showing their could be light at the end of a dark few years for Milan, but Torino’s striker sensation Andrea Belotti, Fiorentina’s Federico Bernadeschi and Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi are just the tip of a very fruitful iceberg for Italy. Atalanta, though, are a club looking forward more than most, with one of the best youth systems in the country providing the backbone for not only a successful future, but an impressive present, too.

Dubbed ‘the La Masia of Italy’ in homage to similarities to Barcelona’s famous academy that has been central to arguably the most dominant era ever in club football, Atalanta’s is based on similar principles. When table-toppers Juventus welcomed the blue and blacks to Turin two weeks ago, they faced a side on the precipice of something huge, with their fast-flowing, attacking formation dwarfing most who stood in their way, with a host of players promoted from within at their very heart.

In the end, Juve won 3-1 as they continued to flex their muscles. But coming into the game, Atalanta were fifth in the league and on a seven-game winning streak having scored 16 goals in the process. Roma and Inter were among their victims, but the most impressive aspect of their form was how effective, and open, Atalanta were in their play. Goals came from all over the pitch, but they always looked in control of the games, because their whole system is so well thought out.

Franck Kessie, Andrea Conti, Roberto Gagliardini and Mattia Caldara are making the most headlines in the current squad but, much like Barcelona and any other successful academy, their production line goes back a long way. Christian Doni, Riccardo Montolivo, who has gone on to become a centrepiece at both Fiorentina and Milan and Simone Zaza, a striker who has made strides with Juve and is currently in the Premier League on loan at West Ham United, are just three players who began in Bergamo, where Atalanta are based.

Of the latest crop, defenders Conti and Caldara, along with midfield counterpart Gagliardini, are part of what will surely be a bright future on an international front for Italy. It is Kessie, though, who perhaps best encapsulates what Atalanta are about. The 19-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder is a powerful presence despite only being six feet tall, and his versatility, having played in defence at times this season, is complimented by the fact he is the club’s top scorer with five goals. Such a statistic not only demonstrates his talents, but also the attacking philosophy and team spirit within the ranks.

Italian football has a unique atmosphere. Most people associate it with defensive solidarity, late-developing players and in recent times, the negativity attached to matcg-fixing and corruption. Atalanta are going against the grain and heading up an exciting new era for Calcio, as well as playing a prominent role over the years. They may not be Serie A’s best-known club, but their time is coming.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worded for a number of publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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World football has been split in two by a rather strange schism, one which is should fall apart at the seams but has developed into an argument with two very definite sides. It appears that those who watch the game must decide whether they want to see success, or be entertained, with both apparently inconceivable.

Money has tainted the beautiful game’s image in many ways, most potently the demand for results, but it will never be completely compatible with business. By the same token, there would be something very wrong if football mirrored theatre. The growth of this division has been so great that a myth has etched its way to the very core of the sport. It is widely accepted that chasing victory means leaving entertainment behind and playing very directly, starving creative players of the limelight, while a pleasing style of football, full of pace, technique and ability, usually results in an empty trophy cabinet.

Johan Cruyff, Holland, Ajax and arguably Barcelona’s most memorable representative, was both an advocate and proof that neither extreme was true. The Dutchman, who tragically died earlier this year, became something of a public voice for the art of ‘total football’, a style based around ball possession devised in his playing days which he honed and utilised in his managerial career with both his hometown club, Ajax Amsterdam, and the Blaugrana.

That philosophy became ingrained in the clubs, forming an identity for both, and their countries of origin, too. Few teams have produced success to rival either at different times in their respective histories, showing just what can be achieved when football is played in the ‘correct’ manner.

His ideas became bigger and have lasted ever since. Cruyff’s coaching career took him from Ajax to Barcelona in 1988 and he stayed at the Camp Nou until 1996. His impact on the Catalan giants is still making waves today, in both levels of success and style of play, while Ajax have also stayed true, but failed to maintain their European superclub status. In truth, they haven’t hit the heights since lifting the Champions League a year before Cruyff departed Barcelona and cut ties with the game he did so much for.

Back in 1995, Louis van Gaal was in charge at the Amsterdam Arena and, while he and Cruyff didn’t particularly see eye to eye, they shared similar ideas on how football should be played. Ajax’s youth academy, much like that at Barcelona, has become famous for the number of quality players produced over the years, something the consistent teachings of Cruyff had a huge impact on. That team, which included the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert, has gone down in history, partly because of its own greatness, but also because they have come nowhere near repeating their success since.

It was a goal by the 18-year-old Kluivert, a substitute on the night, that won the final, beating AC Milan in Vienna. It should have been the beginning of something great, a dynasty the type of which they enjoyed years before, but football was changing and the financial aspect was beginning to take hold. Clubs from more illustrious countries threatened to pick apart the team like vultures over the ensuing seasons. Nothing could be done to stop it.

Italian football was at it’s peak back then, so it was no surprise to see the spine of Van Gaal’s young squad make the switch to Serie A. Kluivert was snapped up by Milan, as was Davids, while Van Der Sar joined Juventus and Seedorf signed for Sampdoria.

Kluivert and Davids never found their feet at the San Siro, they would do so elsewhere, the striker in Catalonia and the distinctive midfielder at Juve, while Seedorf would later spend over a decade with the Rossoneri, becoming the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs after triumphs in 2003 and 2007 and Real Madrid in 1998.

Looking through the history books, it would be hard to call Barcelona a bigger club than Ajax, despite their differing fortunes of late. But one club has been able to build on the philosophy laid in place by Cruyff better than the other as time has moved on. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes, who lifted the Champions League trophy with Barça in 2009 and 2011, under another Cruyff disciple Pep Guardiola, all enjoyed the best years of their careers together.

Whether Ajax would have achieved more had they kept the likes of Kluivert and Seedorf for longer will forever remain a question unanswered, but what can be said is they had the makings of a special team, the like of which unlikely to be seen again for a long time in Amsterdam. Total football merged with a winning mentality, proving it isn’t always a choice of either or.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish ad Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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It may not be the most glamorous position on the field, with strikers and attacking midfielders often stealing the glory, but no good side is complete without a top-class goalkeeper.

Here are five of the best young emerging keepers in Europe…

Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan

When given his senior debut by Sinisa Mihajlovic last season, Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper in the history of Serie A at the age of 16 years and eight months.

Almost immediately, a new superstar of calcio was born. The teenage quickly established himself as the Rossoneri’s first choice between the posts, keeping the vastly experienced Christian Abbiati out of the team.

Standing at 6ft 5ins tall and blessed with remarkable reflexes for such a large young man, Donnarumma has all of the physical gifts to excel as a top-level goalkeeper.

But perhaps the now-17-year-old’s most valuable attribute is his temperament. Ever since making his Serie A bow back in October 2015, Donnarumma has carried himself with the poise and unawed demeanour of a seasoned veteran.

The Milan stopper, who wears the number 99 to reflect the year of his birth, demonstrated his value to the team in the closing stages of their season opener against Torino at the San Siro. Milan were hanging on to a slender 3-2 lead when the away side were awarded a penalty in stoppage time. It was the first time in his fledgling career that Donnarumma had faced a spot kick. But with the coolness of a much more experienced keeper, he made a superb diving save to deny Andrea Belotti and seal the three points for his team.

In just 41 appearances for Milan, Donnarumma has already kept 15 clean sheets. So far this season, he is averaging 2.91 saves per game and has a 100 percent success rate when coming to claim crosses.

This is the kind of form that led to him becoming the Azzurri’s youngster ever goalkeeper when making his debut in a friendly against France in August.

Alban Lafont – Toulouse

In France, 17-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont has been earning rave reviews.

The teenager became the youngest keeper in Ligue 1 history when he made his first-team debut at the age of 16 years and 10 months last November. At 6ft 4ins, Lafont has all of the physical tools to thrive in his position despite his tender years, and has represented France at under-18 level.

Born in Burkina Faso, Lafont moved to France when he was nine. It wasn’t long before the young man’s athletic gifts were noticed and, after receiving a host of offers from clubs all over the country, he elected to join Toulouse’s youth academy.

With the team shipping goals and struggling at the bottom of the table, Lafont’s introduction to the first team coincided with Toulouse’s turnaround. His debut came in a 2-0 win over high flying Nice; it was Les Pitchouns’ first clean sheet of the campaign.

In the 14 games before his debut, Toulouse had conceded 29 goals; the subsequent 24 matches with Lafont between the sticks they allowed 27 goals. And this season he has been in equally superlative form, with his performance in the 2-0 win over champions PSG in September particularly impressive.

Former Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet believes the key to Lafont’s success is his maturity: “He is a smart goalkeeper who reads the game well. It is possible to feel that. He brings a lot of confidence despite his young age.” It also helps that he is playing behind his good friend Issa Diop. The 19-year-old centre-back was a team-mate of Lafont’s at youth level and the pair have now both become key players for Toulouse.

Jordan Pickford – Sunderland

There are few reasons for optimism for Sunderland fans at the moment. Davis Moyes’s team are bottom of the Premier League having taken just two points from their first 10 games.

But the emergence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is providing a small ray of hope in these dark times for the Black Cats.

The 22-year-old England under 21-international has spent the last four years gathering first-team experience through a series of loan spells in the lower divisions.

Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End have all benefited from the burgeoning talent of Pickford in recent seasons.

The youngster made his Sunderland debut in December 2015 in an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal. When he made his maiden Premier League appearance against Tottenham Hotspur nine days later, it meant that he had appeared in all of the top four divisions in England by the age of 21.

An injury to regular first-choice keeper Vito Mannone handed Pickford the chance to impress at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. Although Sunderland continue to struggle, the number 13’s stock has risen.

Were it not for Pickford’s average of 3.38 saves per game and 100 percent claim success this season, Sunderland could be in an even worse position.

Joël Drommel – FC Twente

FC Twente’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Joël Drommel made his first-team debut against the mighty Ajax in a 2-2 draw December of last year.

The youngster, who is a product of Twente’s own youth academy, went on to make 15 appearances for the Dutch club last season.

This term, Drommel has been back-up to the more experienced Nick Marsman, but there is no rush for the talented stopper to be thrust into regular senior action as he only turns 20 this month.

Much like Donnarumma and Lafont, Drommel cuts an imposing figure for one so young, standing at 6ft 4ins. His decision-making ability and reliability when collecting crosses marks the youngster out as having a level of maturity beyond his years.

Though yet to appear for the Netherlands at under-21 level, the Bussum-born teenager was called up to the Jong Oranje squad last season.

Raúl Gudiño – FC Porto

Mexican goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño signed for FC Porto from Guadalajara in his homeland for $1.5 million in the summer of 2015, following a successful 10-month loan spell with the Dragões.

Gudiño is yet to make his first-team debut for Porto, but he does have Primeira Liga experience thanks to spending last season on loan with União da Madeira.

The 6ft 5ins 20-year-old is renowned for his lightning-quick reflexes and shot stopping ability.

Gudiño was named the CONCACAF Young Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 for his performances with Mexico at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and has appeared five times for EL Tricolor at under-23 level.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


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To sum up the strength of Italian football towards the end of the 20th century, you need only look at the team that helped Parma dismantle French outfit Olympique Marseille in the 1999 UEFA Cup final. On the night, a 3-0 win at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium cemented their dominance. These were calcio’s glory years, Serie A was the place to be and European titles were never far away.

What made that night so special for il Gialloblu (the yellow and blues) was the talent they had at their disposal, encapsulating the depth in quality not only in their squad, but also Italian football in general. Players like Gianluigi Buffon, who still stands today as the most expensive goalkeeper of all time, Lillian Thuram, a World Cup winner not a year earlier, Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo, the opening goalscorer, could all claim to be world class, but they were playing for a club who had never won the scudetto.

Seventeen years on from their crowning glory, Parma could not be further from adding to that success. Financial issues have crippled the club throughout the ensuing seasons. In 2015, though, things took a worse turn than ever before and one of the most nostalgic clubs around swallowed their toughest pill yet, filing for bankruptcy and subsequently being forced to rebuild in the amateur leagues.

Italian football is no stranger to demoralising crises, financial or otherwise, giving hope of a return for Parma one day. Napoli and Fiorentina each found themselves in the same boat and clawed their way back from the abyss, while the mighty Juventus showed no one is above the law after being relegated and deducted points following the 2006 match fixing scandal.

But Parma’s situation was viewed on another level of tragedy by a generation of football fans who remember a joyous era with great romance. It wasn’t just the UEFA Cup win which brings fond smiles, that same year, they won the Coppa Italia and two years prior they came closer than ever to a Serie A title. It was a decade that bared much fruit for the club, with a European Cup Winners’ Cup and UEFA Super Cup double in 1993 as well as other close encounters.

Teamwork and effort go hand in hand with talent when it comes to winning. There have been notable cases of David beating Goliath in recent times, thanks in no small part to Leicester City’s Premier League title win in 2015/16, but what set Parma apart were the names on their teamsheet. Although they couldn’t quite go all the way, the spine of that side mean the team is etched in history, proving in some cases the players can make the game.

Reputations were forged at the Stadio Municipale, and at that time in Italy, it was impossible to predict the outcome of a title race. By 2001, Roma had won Serie A with Gabriel Batistuta, arguably the best striker in the world at that time, as their talisman, while across the capital, Lazio triumphed the previous year having swooped for Crespo, in a then world record transfer, and Juan Sebastian Veron from Parma. Neither side had enjoyed many celebrations like that before.

As so often happens, that great team had to break up. To complete the separation, Buffon and Thuram moved to Juventus for a combined £55million following the sale of Zinedine Zidane to Real Madrid that summer, while Cannavaro switched to the San Siro and Inter in 2002.

Few clubs can match Parma’s alumni over the past thirty years or so, with the likes of Diego Fuser, captain for the 1999 triumph, Colombian maverick Faustino Asprilla and Brazilian striker Adriano, who found true fame at Inter, all passing through. Dino Baggio, Gianfranco Zola, Fernando Couto, Hristo Stoichkov and Carlo Ancelotti, who played for and managed the club, should also not be forgotten.

Many of these players are better known for stints elsewhere, but that isn’t always a good thing. In England, for example, Juan Veron is seen as little more than a basket case who couldn’t get up to speed with the English game at Manchester United or Chelsea, when in fact he was a cultured and intelligent central midfielder who had honed his tactical skills in Italy with Sampdoria as well as Lazio and of course Parma.

Football is a sport with an ever-changing environment, with different ways of thinking developing the game year on year. High tempo is the modern way, but it was the defensive solidarity of the game in Italy that set the country apart in the 1990s. It became abundantly clear Parma would eventually lose the spine of that remarkable squad, but as Serie A struggles to keep up with LaLiga and the Premier League, theirs is a side which defined an era and will always have a special place in the heart of football purists.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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Who could have imagined this awful start? Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio are a little club in Serie A, based in the little city of Bergamo, in Lombardy, Italy, not so far from Milan. Even though this city only has around 120.000 inhabitants, it is has established itself within Serie A over the last 6 years, whilst only suffering relegation to Serie B on just 3 occasions in the last 15 years. As an emerging club, it has only finished within the top 10 on three occasions, whilst being on the cusp of qualifying for the Europa League.

Atalanta have started the Serie A season in a very bad way, with just 1 win and 3 defeats from the first 4 games. However there has been some positives to take for Atalanta, and that is in the form of a young player who is making a massive impact: Franck Kessié.

At 20 years-old, this Ivorian midfielder started his career at Stella Club d’Adjamé, a little club in the Ivory Coast. He developed some good qualities playing as a centre-back, but in 2015/2016 he transferred to Cesena in Italy, and started playing as a central midfielder.

He possesses a good heading ability even though he’s only 1.82 mt tall. He has impressed with his physical abilities so far this season, primarily in his tackling, marking, acceleration, strength and pace. He has got wonderful ball control and this is why he started playing in midfield.

However, his most impressive qualities are the mental ones: he’s brave, determined, has good concentration and has the right personality to face the most important challenges and encourage his team in the worst situations, just as he did during the recent fixture against Lazio.

He has to improve his shooting and passing skills, but with this mental approach we’re sure he will. Already this season he has scored 4 goals in 4 appearances, leaving his team mates astonished by his coolness and finishing.

In 2013 he played for the U-17 Ivorian team and scored 2 goals in 5 appearances and he has been a regular in the senior national team for the last few fixtures.

Only recently, his coach Gian Piero Gasperini has said that he will be the new penalty taker for his team because of his coolness and determination. His role models are Essien and Yaya Touré, and he’s very similar to how they were in the earlier stages of their respective careers.

Napoli, Roma, Juventus and Fiorentina are the teams that are most interested in a transfer for this young player. Some teams have purchased an option to buy him at the end of the season, but his ultimate dream is to join Manchester United.

If he secures a transfer to a bigger club and maintains the same approach, it would be a safe bet that Kessié has a very bright future ahead of him!

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luiz Nazario Da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.


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It has been three years since Napoli made a huge double-edged statement in a bid to climb back to Italian football’s peak, and again they find themselves at a crossroads.

In the summer of 2013, Rafael Benitez, fresh from success against the tide at Chelsea, and Gonzalo Higuain, looking for regular first team football after a frustrating spell at Real Madrid, arrived in the hope of taking a real challenge to intense rivals Juventus for the scudetto. It never really materialised.

By that point, the Bianconeri had won two successive titles and reasserted themselves at the top after a turbulent decade, mostly centring around the calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Three years on, Napoli, themselves no strangers to off field issues having been declared bankrupt in 2004, are without both Benitez and Higuain and the rebuilding starts again.

Success proved illusive for Benitez before he departed for Real Madrid last year, finishing third and fifth in his two seasons at the Stadio San Paolo, while Higuain came into his own under new boss Maurizio Sarri, netting 36 goals as the Partenopei ran closer than ever, clinching second place.

They may not have the numbers to compete with the likes of Juve, Milan and Inter, but Napoli are a club brimming with history. Their aim, since the glory days of Diego Maradona in the 1980s and early 90s, has always been to get back there, and at times it has looked like they may do, under both Sarri and the man who preceded Benitez, Walter Mazzarri.

But their foes in Turin have proven too strong on many an occasion, and in truth it looks unlikely to change any time soon. Football in Italy has a unique feel, but in Naples fans are not afraid to take extreme measures to show the love for their club. If all is well, the atmosphere is amazing, if not then hostility is ramped up, but either way it is a spectacle to behold.

When Juventus poached Higuain from their grasp, paying a £75million buyout clause in his contract in the closed season, Napoli were stunned, forced to pick over the bones of a shattering blow, while still attempting to continue Sarri’s good work over the coming years.

This is a club for the people, with fans who love a talisman, and that is part of the reason Higuain will never be forgiven. Maradona, Higuain and Edinson Cavani, amongst others, have shouldered the responsibility of bringing success to this most unique of football clubs, but they have changed tactic as they continue to push for as third league title in their history.

Luring Higuain was in direct response to the sale of Cavani, for over £50million, to Paris-Saint Germain. The Argentine provided a guarantee of success given his experience, but his replacement, Arkadiusz Milik, a 22-year-old Polish striker from Ajax, cannot make the same promises. His arrival has very much been part of a theme, too.

Younger players with potential have been recruited to work under Sarri, meaning Napoli are looking further into the future than ever before. Amadou Diawara, Marko Rog and Piotr Zielinski, three other examples, are unlikely to hit the ground running, but the trio of exciting midfielders will go far, given time.

Diawara, a central midfielder signed from Bologna, was chased by a host of European clubs, but forced through a move to Napoli. The 19-year-old Guinean’s growth in Italy has been rapid, enjoying a single stellar campaign in Serie A. His pace, strength and power are typical of a player of his ilk, but his technical abilities set him apart and he should thrive in years to come.

Most impressive about these signings is the versatility between them. Rog is more creative and has an eye for goal. Though he has only signed on loan from Dinamo Zagreb initially, Napoli will be obligated to make the deal permanent for €12.5million come the end of the season. Should he fulfil his potential, that fee will prove a steal, and Rog, 21, could possibly take the mantle as chief playmaker from long–serving midfielder Marek Hamsik.

Liverpool were keen on 22-year-old Polish international winger Zielinski, reportedly failing to lure him from Udinese early in the summer before a deal was struck to keep him in Italy as the transfer deadline ticked closer. Extremely talented with tricks and pace in abundance, at 5 ft 11 he is powerful and strong, offering something different to Dries Maertens out wide. Despite only playing a handful of times in Udine, Zielinski really came into his own on loan at Sarri’s former club Empoli last season, scoring five goals in 35 Serie A games.

Gonzalo Higuain’s exit may cast a dark shadow for Napoli, and their title challenge may be over before it starts in the eyes of some, but with four excellent young players in Milik, Diawara, Rog and Zielinski all moving to the club, something exciting may just be brewing in southern Italy over the coming years.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXIT football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo

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Serie A has, in recent times, become an increasingly multinational league. For the first time in the league’s history, the 2015-16 season saw a match without Italian players in the starting lineups when Inter Milan took on Udinese in April. It comes as no surprise then that, despite the growth of this summer’s European Championships to accommodate 24 teams, over half of the nations involved will feature a player based in Italy.

Here we take a look at six Serie A players who are set to break out on the international stage for the first time at Euro 2016.

Federico Bernardeschi (Italy)

For the first six months of last season, Fiorentina were not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams to watch in Serie A, but were considered contenders for the Scudetto. Under Paulo Sousa’s auspices the Viola played beautiful passing football based on strong combination play and, while their title hopes ultimately proved optimistic, hope for the future was ensured through the individual displays of Federico Bernardeschi.

The 22-year-old showcased extraordinary tactical intelligence and versatility, playing in attacking midfield, on the wing and at both left and right wing-back, all while dazzling with his flitting dribbling skills. A fluid runner on the ball with a refined left foot, Bernardeschi made his Italy debut earlier this year and, in an Azzurri side bereft of top class strike options, his cutting movement and creativity could prove crucial to unlocking opposition defences.

Oscar Hiljemark (Sweden)

After failing to make much of an impact in Dutch football with PSV Eindhoven, Oscar Hiljemark joined Sicilian side Palermo for the relatively small fee of £1.88 million last summer. He arrived having just captained Sweden to 2015 European Under-21 Championship victory and wasted no time establishing himself with the Rosanero.

The 23-year-old central midfielder showed a good engine and a willingness to drive forward and support attacks, scoring four goals and assisting five while appearing in every single one of Palermo’s 38 Serie A fixtures. That form prompted Sweden manager Erik Hamren to recall the player into the national team fold, where he has retained his place for Euro 2016. In a team that relies heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s link-up play, Hiljemark’s runs behind opposition lines could come in handy.

Elseid Hysaj (Albania)

It’s fair to say that most spectators expect Albania to be one of this summer’s primary whipping boys, with Gianni De Biasi’s side drawn in a tough group alongside hosts France, as well as Switzerland and Romania. However, the quality of the Albanian squad is not to be dismissed out of hand; they have some highly gifted players in their ranks, and Elseid Hysaj is arguably the best of the lot.

The 22-year-old arrived at Napoli last summer as he followed coach Maurizio Sarri from Empoli. And, early in the campaign, it became clear that he would be occupying the team’s right-back position ahead of the more experienced Cristian Maggio. A solid defensive full-back and a direct runner in the attacking phase, Hysaj has since emerged as one of the best young players in the league, and his performances this summer could go a long way to deciding whether Albania’s defence holds up to the rigorous scrutiny of a major international finals.

Ciprian Tatarusanu (Romania)

When Norberto Neto departed for Juventus last summer, Fiorentina already had a more than adequate goalkeeping replacement lined up in Ciprian Tatarusanu. The towering 6’6” Romanian had alternated with Neto the previous season and took no time adjusting to being a first team regular in 2015-16. With good reactions and strong shot-stopping combined with a composed presence on the ball, he was a perfect fit for Paulo Sousa’s style of play, building out from the back.

The 30-year-old has never been to an international tournament before, but he is integral to Romania’s chances of surprising at Euro 2016; he kept seven clean sheets in qualification and was named his country’s footballer of the year in 2015. Building on a good season at club level, Tatarusanu could use this summer as a stepping stone to bigger things late in his career.

Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia)

Sassuolo’s sixth-place Serie A finish and subsequent qualification for next season’s Europa League was one of the main storylines in a thrilling 2015-16 campaign, and Sime Vrsaljko was one of the main protagonists in its development. The Croatian right-back was in superb form for the Neroverdi, encompassing all that is expected of the modern full-back.

Wearing his team’s number 11 shirt, his attacking surges, overlapping and underlapping, dribbling and crossing were key components in Sassuolo’s attacking play, and as a result the likes of Napoli and Liverpool have been linked with the 24-year-old. With captain Darijo Srna set to start at right-back for Croatia this summer, Vrsaljko will have to bide his time or take up the left-back role, but either way it’s hard to imagine him not making a mark on this summer’s tournament.

Piotr Zielinski (Poland)

After breaking into Udinese’s first team as a teenager several years ago, Piotr Zielinski seemed to struggle under the weight of expectation that comes with being a highly rated, and sought after, prospect. That was until the 2015-16 season, where he shone at Empoli under the watchful eye of Swiss coach Marco Giampaolo.

Playing on the right of a diamond midfield, the 22-year-old’s energy, dynamism and creativity were vital to his team’s ability to build good possession and progress the ball into attacking areas. His form with the Tuscan club deservedly led to a recall into the Poland national team who, under Adam Nawalka, qualified for Euro 2016 from a tough group featuring Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. The Poles are seen as one of the dark horses for this summer’s tournament, and Zielinski could be their breakout star.

About the author – Blair Newman

Blair a freelance football writer with experience of working for some well-known publications, including FourFourTwo, Squawka and Bleacher Report. His main passions are Italian football and football tactics, and he also takes a keen interest in the major European leagues and international football in general.

twitter: @TheBlairNewman


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Reschedule everything that you have planned for this weekend as we have five domestic cup finals to look forward to. England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are all giving us a very good reason to settle down in front of the TV and enjoy some fantastic games.

FA Cup Final – Crystal Palace v Manchester United

Let’s make our first stop at Wembley, in London for the FA Cup Final, the world’s oldest football cup. The match is a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. United won the Cup 1-0 after a replay.

Manchester United have won the FA Cup on eleven previous occasions and they are only one win away from equaling Arsenal’s record. United last played in the final in 2007, where they lost 1-0 after extra time to Chelsea. Their last victory in the competition was in 2004, a 3-0 win against Milwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This is Louis van Gaal’s final chance to get his hand on some silverware after a much maligned campaign. It’s also worth mentioning that the only trophy that United have won since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure as manager, is the 2013 Community Shield.

Crystal Palace have only reached the FA Cup final once. This is in the aforementioned final which they lost after a replay. Palace have never won any major trophies and therefore the FA Cup presents an opportunity for their players to go down in the club’s history. It will also give the Londoners a route into Europe for the first time in their history.

Coup de France Final – Marseille v PSG

Our next stop takes us to the French capital and Saint-Denis where bitter rivals PSG and Marseille clash in the Coup de France. The two sides last met in the final in 2006 where the Parisians ran out 2-1 winners.

This will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last game for PSG and he will be aiming to lift one final trophy as the curtain comes down on his trophy laden career in the French capital. The Swede will looking to fire Laurent Blanc’s side to a second straight domestic treble which would send PSG level with Marseille as 10 time winners of the Coup de France.

Marseille haven’t won this competition for 27 years and this game presents the perfect opportunity for them to salvage their season. The club finished in 13th place, their lowest league position since 2000/01, and a win against their bitter rivals would put this disappointment behind them.

DFB-Pokal Final – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

We now cross the border into Germany and head to Berlin for the DFB-Pokal Final, where heavyweights Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund clash. There is huge motivation for both sides, not least because of the rivalry that has existed between them in recent years. Between them, Bayern and Dortmund have won the last six Bundesliga titles and the DFB-Pokal in three of the last four seasons. On many of those occasions they have gone head-to-head for the silverware.

This will also be Pep Guardiola’s final game in charge of the Bavarians before his move to Manchester City. Guardiola has guided Bayern to DFB-Pokal glory before and that was at the expense to Dortmund in 2014 when they won the domestic dobule. The Spaniard will be hoping to win one final piece of silverware and also Bayern’s 18th DFB-Pokal.

Dortmund will be hoping for a case of third time lucky as they lost both the 2014 and 2015 finals. This season they have been reinvigorated under Thomas Tuchel and in contrast to the two previous seasons, have pushed Bayern in the title race to the final two games of the season. They are now once again a domestic threat to Bayern and will be hoping to win their fourth DFB-Pokal title.

Coppa Italia Final – AC Milan v Juventus

We now travel south to the Italian peninsula and to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the 68th Coppa Italia Final, between Milan and Juventus. Whilst Juventus will be chasing a domestic double, Milan will be looking to salvage some pride after a disappointing season.

Milan have not won any silverware since the 2011 Supercoppa Italiana following their Serie A title in 2010-11, under the guidance of Massimiliano Allegri (who incidentally is now the manager of Juventus). Since then Milan have been in transition whilst Juventus have gone from strength-to-strength.

After winning their fifth consecutive Serie A title, Juventus are now aiming to win back-to-back doubles and their 11th Coppa Italia. The Bianconeri won last season’s Coppa Italia, which ended a 20 year wait since they last won the tournament. If they win it once again, they will join Inter (2005-2006 and 2010-2011) and Roma (2007-2008) as the only teams to win back-to-back cups in the 21st century.

Copa del Rey Final – Barcelona v Sevilla

Last but not least, we head to Spain and to the Vicente Calderón in Madrid for the Copa del Rey Final, where Sevilla face reigning champions, Barcelona. The last time these two teams met in a final, was the 2015 European Super Cup, which Barcelona won 5-4 after extra time.

Barcelona have previously played in 37 Copa del Rey finals, winning on a record 27 occasions. They are currently the reigning champions, having defeated Athletic Club in 2015. As well as looking to win back-to-back cups, they are also aiming to claim another domestic double after winning the league for the sixth time in eight years.

Sevilla are entering the game after winning the Europa League for the third successive year. This will be their seventh final, with their most recent appearance being in 2010, when they defeated Atlético Madrid 2-0. Sevilla have the chance to win both the Copa del Rey and Europa League double for the second time in their history, having achieved this feat in 2006/07.



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Juventus’ unrepentant dominance of Italian football continued this season as the Turin giants stormed to their fifth straight Scudetto. Despite only picking up 15 points from their first 11 league games, Juve won the title at a canter and have only conceded six Serie A goals in 2016, a sensational defensive achievement.

The concern for Italian football is this, their 2015/16 Scudetto may well be the closest they have been pushed since the first of the five – when AC Milan were still considered genuine title challengers. As much as Juventus should be applauded for this, the fact they have changed managers, lost players and failed to compete significantly in Europe reflects badly on the rest of Serie A. When Allegri replaced Conte it was considered as the chance for Napoli, Roma and Internazionale to push the door open. Unfortunately, the door was only left ajar briefly and the Turin giants have resumed their monopolisation of the Scudetto. Losing Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez has not even dampened Juventus’ assault on Italian football.

Juventus’ Champions League final appearance last season was a sign that Allegri might finally be converting their Serie A dominance into European success, but a succession of tough draws have meant that this five year winning streak is yet to be rewarded with the ultimate prize in European football. Italian football is not what it was in the 90s, players do not clamour for a move to the top clubs and the corruption scandal is still hanging over the country’s game. As good as Juve are, the fact that they have faced no regular, head-to-head competitor over this period of time is a damning reflection of the weakness of the league.

Whilst the national team continues to fluctuate in their performances, Serie A is slipping out of contention and is firmly behind the Bundesliga, Premier League and La Liga when it comes to the European footballing hierarchy. It speaks volumes that a side as unstoppably dominant as Juventus are struggling to keep their stars; with Dybala and Paul Pogba both consistently linked with moves to other clubs of the European elite.

You have to trawl back to 2011/12 to find the last time a team other than Juventus made the quarter-finals of the Champions League – when AC Milan were eliminated by Barcelona. Two Italian sides made the Europa League semis in 2014/15, but both were defeated. Their European struggles show how far Italian football has slipped off the pace and this is just being extenuated by the dominance of the Old Lady. Players who may already be sceptical of a move to Serie A are just going to be further deterred when they realise that even a move to Napoli or Roma does not mean you will even come close to the title.

Under Antonio Conte records regularly tumbled for Juve. In 2011-12 they became the first Serie A side to complete a league season unbeaten whilst their 2013-14 Scudetto saw them accumulate the most points ever, 102. Success for a club on such a scale is usually met with plaudits, met with adulation and even European dominance. Seldom are their rivals questioned, or the league brought in to question. There is no reason to change anything just to stop one team winning, but such a prolonged period of significant trophy-collecting is going to rapidly damage Italian football as a whole. Their rivals clearly must take some blame. Both Inter and AC Milan have stumbled into the ‘sleeping giant’ category, as Napoli have seen their brilliant squad of 2011-13 picked apart and age rapidly, even the prolific Gonzalo Higuain can’t carry Partenopei towards a substantial title challenge.

It might take a disappointing Euros this summer – after their group elimination in at the 2014 Brazil World Cup – to awaken Italian football. There is not always a correlation between a strong national league and a formidable national team, but it often helps. The current Juventus squad only features a smattering of Italians, it is a matter of time until we see the impact this has on Antonio Conte’s fate at Euro 2016.

Five consecutive Scudettos is astonishing, it is the sort of achievement that would have made a team go down in the history books. However, the failings in Europe and weaknesses of Juve’s opponents somewhat undermine their domestic achievements. It may take a mass exodus of the Old Lady’s stars to reignite Serie A.

About the author- Sam Cox

Sam is a writer who is a regular with Football FanCast and has featured on uMAXit, Collossus bets and Late Tackle.

twitter: @10InTheHole


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