A product of the Torino youth system, Antonio Barreca captained the club’s primavera to the finals of the Campionato Primavera in 2013 before breaking into the first team that same season. Initially sent out on loan to gain regular first team football first with Ascoli, he became an integral part of Cagliari’s Serie B championship winning squad last season.
Primarily a left-back but equally as comfortable in a more advanced position, Barreca has great physical and technical assets. His speed, coupled with great anticipation, enables him to both halt opposition attacks and initiate counters quickly. Excellent crossing and short passing compliment his high work rate perfectly, making him a regular in the Torino defence so far this season.
Comfortable in a back four or wide in a four or five-man midfield, his versatility could bring him to the attentions of his old Toro boss and current Italy head coach Giampiero Ventura in the not too distant future.
Big things were expected of Bryan Cristante when he initially burst onto the calcio scene with Milan. The then-16-year-old made his debut for the Rossoneri in the Champions League in December 2011, becoming their youngest ever player. Two years on from that he would make his Serie A debut, replacing Kaka in what many viewed as a symbolic passing of the torch.
Several months later he received his first start against Atalanta, and capped off a promising display with a tremendous goal, rifling the ball into the net via the post from outside the box. It looked like a star had been born.
However things didn’t quite go to plan. Nine months later he was sold to Benfica, but he never really settled with the Portugese giants before being loaned back to Italy. He spent the remainder of last season with Palermo and this season with Pescara, where he is slowly winning back the plaudits he earned three years ago. Still only 21 but seemingly around for a long time, the hope is that he can push on and fulfil his talent.
What an amazing 16 months it has been for Amadou Diawara. Plucked from relative obscurity by famed talent-spotter Pantaleo Corvino whilst playing in San Marino, the 19-year-old Guinean signed for Bologna in the summer of 2015 and produced a breakthrough season, playing 34 times for Roberto Donadoni. Blessed with remarkable composure and dynamism, the youngster’s performances defied his age.
Last summer he was snapped up by Napoli in a bid to further strengthen the Partenopei’s squad as they battled on three fronts. And, after biding his time, he has played so well that he is on the verge of becoming an automatic starter. A mixture of Yaya Toure and Paul Pogba, big things can be expected of the Napoli midfielder in the forthcoming years; he’s well on his way to stardom.
The quintessential modern full-back, Lorenzo Dickmann is just as adept playing in the opposition’s half as he is defending in his own. A product of the Novara youth system, the versatile 20-year-old has already made 80 first team appearances and has been capped at under-20 level by Italy.
Dickmann has great speed and is also tactically astute enough to know when to use this trait in an attacking sense, while his sound reading of the game enables him to defend as well as attack. Rather than last ditch tackles, he uses his craft to intercept attempted passes and then use his pace to launch counter-attacks.
Having debuted in Serie B and experienced the rigors of Lega Pro, Dickmann will be keen to experience top-flight football to continue his impressive development. Last season, the man from Milan experienced the pain of losing in the Serie B play-offs with Novara and, despite recently signing a new contract with the Biancoazzurri it remains to be seen if he will reach Serie A with his current club.
At just 20 years of age Godfred Donsah, who was once dubbed ‘the new Michael Essien’, has already amassed close to 50 top-flight appearances. The Ghanaian’s performances whilst at Cagliari during the 2014-15 season caught the attentions of such clubs as Chelsea, Juventus and Manchester City despite the Sardinians eventually being relegated, though a move to Bologna ultimately followed.
Capable of playing deeper in a midfield three, as a conventional central midfielder in a two or even as an emergency right-back, Donsah’s tireless effort is backed up by excellent technical ability. Rarely caught out of position, he displays a tactical intelligence that belies his tender years. This nous gives him the ability to play deeper but still affect the game in more advanced areas of the pitch with his short accurate passing.
An injury-hit start to this season hampered the youngster after a positive 2015-16 campaign and possibly cost him a place in Ghana’s AFCON squad. But, with his work ethic and undoubted talent, it will not be long before that first senior international appearance arrives.
In his debut season on the peninsula with Udinese, Seko Fofana is quickly winning the plaudits with some dominant displays. Signed by the Friuli last summer from Bastia, the former Manchester City youth player has adapted well to life in Italy. A midfielder in a similar mould to Grande 50 companions Amadou Diawara and Franck Kessie, Fofana is a blend of power and technical prowess.
An example of what he brings to the table was seen in the December fixture away to Atalanta where, receiving the ball on the periphery of the opposition penalty area, the midfielder curled the ball beautifully with his right instep into the far corner in a surprise 3-1 victory over Gian Piero Gasperini’s high flyers.
The 21-year-old has already netted four goals from midfield, more than his last two seasons combined. One imagines that it is only a matter of time before one of the bigger clubs in the league begin to sniff around the Frenchman. But, for his future development, he would be well advised to stay in northeast Italy for at least another season.
Moise Kean made headlines in November when he became the youngest player in Juventus’ history to make not only his Serie A debut but also his Champions League entrance. In the process he became the first player born in the 2000s to play in both competitions.
Born in Vercelli to Ivorian parents, Kean has been talked about as a future star for some time. His scoring record at youth level is astonishing and he has already played for the Italian under-15 and under-17 sides.
Possessed with a dominating physique and blistering pace, he resembles Mario Balotelli in many ways, not least his hairstyle, and videos of him easily brushing off challenges from defenders with consummate ease on YouTube are aplenty.
Kean’s brother could be seen in tears following Moise’s league debut against Pescara, when he replaced Mario Mandzukic for the last six minutes. Juventini in the stadium were almost willing every player to pass the ball to Kean, to see what the much-hyped youngster could do.
Injuries to other attackers worked in his favour, but now Marko Pjaca and Paulo Dybala have returned to the squad his chances will be temporarily limited. Furthermore, the Bianconeri don’t exactly have the best record with bleeding through young players, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio aside, in the last ten years. Additionally, with Mino Raiola as his agent Kean’s future will be interesting to say the least.
Country: Ivory Coast
Blessed with outstanding power and speed, Franck Kessie has all the tools to be a world class midfielder in the modern game. The Ivorian has been one of the revelations of the season with Atalanta, and has reportedly been subject to a bid from Chelsea.
After spending last season on loan at Cesena, where he bagged four goals from 38 games in Serie B, Kessie has become a central cog in Atalanta’s unexpected success this term. He’s scored six goals and can be seen all over the pitch, breaking up opposition attacks and orchestrating Atalanta’s.
Recently turning 20, one would expect he won’t be playing for the Bergamo outfit beyond next summer, but he will be sure to make Atalanta a hefty profit. He’s already played ten games for the Ivory Coast and has the potential to be an African Player of the Year nominee in future.
Leonardo Morosini is the archetypal attacking midfielder with an eye for a goal. A former Inter youth player, he became part of the Brescia academy when his family moved there in 2009. Four years later he made his debut for the club and went on to make a massive impact, with 70 appearances and a goals tally of 14 grabbing the attentions of Serie A’s bigger teams. Eventually a move to Genoa materialised in January despite reported interest from his former club Inter.
Morosini’s speed of thought is matched by quick feet, and his vision combined with superb dribbling skills make him a defenders nightmare. With the ability to play deeper in a midfield three or further up the pitch as a second striker, his tactical flexibility and eye for finding pockets of space allows him to use his passing to bring team-mates into the game.
Now a Serie A player and capped at under-21 level by Italy, the future looks bright for Morosini. Four goals and two assists in a struggling Brescia side in the first half of this season underlines his quality and the step-up to top-level football should not be a problem for him.
Hailed as one of the most technically gifted players to emerge from the peninsula for a while, Stefano Sensi has drawn comparisons with fellow Italian playmakers Andrea Pirlo and Marco Verratti, although the diminutive midfielder likens himself to Spanish legend Xavi. Sensi honed his skills while playing for San Marino on loan from Cesena before making the jump to first-team duties last season. Cesena went on to make the Serie B play-offs and Sensi won the Samsung Italia award for best young player.
Great mobility, vision and ability to distribute with either foot make Sensi a real attacking threat. Playing in front of the defence in a fluid 4-3-3 at Sassuolo, his passing range and eye for a defence-splitting ball cause opponents plenty of problems. Defensively, Sensi has a great interpretation of space and where danger can arrive from, though with his slight frame he lacks the required physicality for hard-hitting tackles.
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Words by Emmet Gates @E_I_M_G and Mark Neale @neale_mark
Emmet is a freelance football writer based in Italy. As well as The Gentleman Ultra, he has written for FourFourTwo, These Football Times and InBedWithMaradona.
Mark is an Italian and Dutch football enthusiast. He writes for The Gentleman Ultra and created @sempre_bari, the account for all things FC Bari in English.