Owen NeilsonComment


Owen NeilsonComment

Owen Neilson goes behind the numbers of Inter - and Italy's - problem with youth.

Brescia kept pace with Padova at the top of Serie B after inflicting Juve Stabia’s third defeat in four games, marking a torrid start for the newly promoted club. Le Vespe, or The Wasps, were undone by a Robert Fescezin winner nine minutes from time, after failing to capitalize on a dominant first half performance.

Piero Braglia showed a 3-4-3 formation was workable as his side overran Brescia in midfield, outnumbering the Biancoazzurri’s isolated central three with quick counter-attacks, but crucially they couldn’t find the goal. Young defender Alessio De Bode, loaned from Genoa in the summer had the best chance for the home side, hitting the crossbar with a header, before Brescia coach Giuseppe Scienza tweaked his formation, bringing Polish 20 year-old Bartosz Salamon in to solidify the midfield.

Nullified, Braglia made substitutions including teenager Cristiano Biraghi, on loan from Inter, but couldn’t stop Hungarian Fescezin stealing all three points. Biraghi played at right midfield, though Rafa Benítez gave him a full ninety minutes at left-back in last season’s 3-0 Champions League loss to Werder Bremen. Though, it’s worth noting in his other three appearances this season he’s played left midfield and the left side of the attacking three.

Another Inter youth product, Simone Benedetti, now on loan at minnows Gubbio, was on the wrong end of a 3-1 loss to Reggina; the Rossoblu’s fourth consecutive defeat.  The central defender carded two appearances under Benítez on Inter’s bench last season.

Two 19-year old Inter players. Both at clubs back in Serie B for the first time in more than sixty years, and both facing a long hard season of punishment.

In theory, for all their suffering in the trenches, the experience gained could see a quick return to their parent club and if not somewhere in Serie A. They are Inter Milan after all: with 18 Scudetti,7 Coppa Italia and 3 European Cups, it stands to reason the youth academy should produce some of the league’s best young players. And surely the Nerazzurri are in need of quality defenders after the woeful 4-3 defeat to Palermo, and who better than an Italian? However, the statistics tell a different story.

Between 2004/5 – 2009/10 Inter loaned out more than thirty Italian youth players, aged 18-21. As of today, only seven of them have made any meaningful contribution to top division clubs throughout their career; meaningful being judged generously as more than twenty appearances in Serie A. By age; Paolo Dellafiore (104)  Riccardo Meggiorini (62), Giovanni Pasquale (207) Marco Andreolli (43) Leonardo Bonucci (91) Mario Balotelli (59) Davide Santon (51). Of those 617 appearances 154 were for Inter (23%), with Santon, Pasquale and Balotelli accounting for 145. Santon is currently the youngest at 20 years old, Dellafiore the oldest at 26. Three of the seven have appeared for Italy, Balotelli with 5 caps, Bonucci has 12.

Perhaps it’s not just Inter. If we compare the same period for Juventus and Milan, and a similar number of Italian youth players loaned between the ages of 18-21 and their career contributions, the figures are as follows.

Juventus; Antonio Mirante (129) Raffaele Palladino (142) Antonio Nocerino(150) Claudio Marchisio (136) Andrea Masiello (78) Michele Paolucci (85) Paolo De Ceglie (89) Domenico Criscito (124) Sebastian Giovinco (103) Davide Lanzafame (54). Of those 1090 appearances 314 (28%) were for Juventus, though some were in Serie B. The oldest player is Antonio Mirante at 28, the youngest Lanzafame at 24. Of those ten, five have played for Italy winning a total of 44 caps. Alessandro Del Piero is omitted because he played 8 games for Padova 1991-1993, and 5 years in Padova youth team 1988-1993.  

And Milan? Alessandro Matri (143) Ignazio Abate (109) Lino Marzoratti (72) Davide Di Gennaro (37) Luca Antonelli (57) Alberto Paloschi (37).  455 appearances with 70 (15%) for Milan seems low, but I must caveat this stat with Marco Borriello (45) Paolo Maldini (112) Cristian Brocchi (64) and Alessandro Costacurta (32) who all played in this 6 year period, making the total 323 for Milan youth players appearing in the first team. Ironically two of the highest appearances for Inter started out at Milanello, keeper Francesco Toldo (51) and Francesco Coco (26), both also played for the Azzurri.

So what purpose does the youth academy serve if not to develop talent for the team? Balotelli was sold in 2010 for €22million, Santon this summer for €6million. Pasquale, Andreolli and Meggiorini were transferred in co-ownership deals that became permanent as well as the vast majority of the young ‘talent’ that leaves Inter’s doors.

It’s clear Juventus and Milan have been better at reaping what they sow in recent times, and also contributing to the league, but Inter did win five Scudetti in those six years. Of course, referring to non-Italians, the club was founded after a split with rivals Milan in 1908 over the right to field foreign players and thus became Internazionale. It is only staying true to its roots.

Unfortunately their roots, embedded as they are in owner and President Massimo Moratti’s policy of acquiring expensive talent, have been doused with a UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) pesticide. 0 Italians started the Champions League final in 2010 and only 4 are likely to feature this season, Andrea Ranocchia, Andrea Poli, Giampaolo Pazzini and Thiago Motta. Not that there’s a problem with foreign players, just too many expensive ones that lead the club into fiscal debt.

Last week Moratti told the Inter website, "We don't know yet when and if they will actually be applied, but to give you an idea, at the moment we wouldn't be within the limit. And I do believe they will go ahead with it so you can't pretend it's not happening.”

Strangely, Inter Chief Executive Ernesto Paolillo seemed he was pretending as he saluted clearly defined penalties for clubs breaking the FFP rules, which come into full effect in the 2013-14 season.

Across the city, AC Milan released a video to its website entitled ‘Italian DNA’ stating, “More than 50% made in Italy. You can see this season’s Milan side is unmistakably Italian, out of 29 players 17 hold Italian passports. The clubs’ national identity is obviously something that’s held dear. Even prior to the transfer window the essential DNA of the club was clearly linked to the nation.”

So where does that leave our plucky heroes, Benedetti and Biraghi – and future loanees? Dreams of the San Siro crushed; listless years playing out of position getting hammered every weekend in Serie B, or worse, the Lega Pro? Quite possibly, however it seems Inter are making moves to improve the quality of their juniors. Last season 20 year-old striker Mattia Destro moved to Genoa on loan as part of the deal to bring Ranocchia to the Nerazzurri. Destro was a notable success story in comparison to the majority, playing 16 games and has been loaned to Serie A’s Siena for 2011/12.

And if Moratti and Paolillo were looking for inspiration he’s working just down the hall. Perhaps the last great Inter thoroughbred is current assistant coach Giuseppe Baresi, who was also head of the youth sector from 2001-2008. With 392 league appearances between 1977-1992, 2 Scudetti and 2 Coppa Italia’s to his name there’s living proof it can be done.

Investing in the primavera as the FFP rules are gradually enforced over the coming years should at least yield a more saleable quality of player and make Serie B a better nursery, if not create more Inter legends like Baresi. 

Owen can be found on Twitter @Owenneilson, and at his blog