Spain has a lot to answer for. The machine that is their national team has led to every other country scrutinising their approach to developing young players and, combined with the 2010 World Cup debacle, has caused much inward reflection in Italy.
Serie A clubs have come under fire from all angles for not giving youth a chance – the latest to get in on the act a certain Donato Di Campli, the agent of one Marco Verratti. He took a swipe at Italian clubs last week when it became apparent none were planning on making a move for his client. “Italian clubs are guilty of short-sightedness. It is clear that young players find it difficult to establish themselves in Italian football, whether it’s Lorenzo Insigne at Napoli or Verratti.”
This particular remark was made in frustration that no Italian club, quite rightly, was willing to pay the minimum €12m that Pescara are asking for the player. That’s €12m for a 19-year-old who has not played a single minute of top-level football – meaning Serie A clubs would be paying for potential, for hype, taking an expensive gamble on a player that might not cut it.
The irony, of course, is that if Di Campli took the sensible option of advising Verratti to turn down PSG’s offer then his client would get 38 chances to establish himself in Serie A next season. But it is more convenient to blame Italian football for the probable transfer to France, rather than admit that the primary motivation is €2m per season in wages and the large chunk of cash Di Campli himself is likely to receive from the move.
Nevertheless, he opened that age-old topic of debate as to whether Serie A is hindering the development of young players. It has not traditionally been a League awash with teenage Italians playing regularly, but those that do are generally pretty special and have gone on to prove as such with the national team.
There can be no denying that young players are not getting playing time as easily as they were 10-15 years ago, when the Italian U-21 team was dominant. The general principle, however, is the same – if you are a genuinely special player, you will rise to the top no matter what.
Think of it as a more stringent filter on mediocre youngsters. Those getting minutes nowadays are worth watching, worth talking about, whereas those who are not are either not good enough or not ready. If they are not ready they get loaned out, usually to Serie B clubs, as in the case of Insigne. Napoli now deem him ready for a chance in Serie A and look set to give him some time on the pitch this season.
Even those who are on the books of Serie A clubs as teenagers and get released still make it if they are good enough, despite the criticism said clubs receive for having not given these players a chance in the first place. Inter have become notorious for having a good youth system, but for all the wrong reasons, with numerous players having started life at the club before making it elsewhere – Leonardo Bonucci is a perfect example of this and Mattia Destro looks set to become another.
The individuals that this ‘system’ does hurt are those in the middle, the ones between the youngsters who will reach the top regardless of what happens and the guys who are patently not good enough. These are the youngsters that require something of a gamble that clubs do not want to take, where it is 50-50 as to whether regular game time sees them blossom into a useful club-level flower or develop into a weed. But as the entire argument for youth development is with the national team in mind, and with these players unlikely to be of ability where they can make a difference for Italy, this group falling through the cracks is not the big drama it is made out to be.
It is not conventional, it is not the way other countries operate, but it has worked for decades. And judging by Euro 2012, it is still working now, irrespective of what a frustrated agent would like to have us believe.