Serie A: 9 Young players to watch in 2011

by Marco Maioli

In a league often accused of not giving enough chances to the new promises of football, some of the most interesting players are, actually, quite young.

The 23 year old Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, playing for Napoli, is the current topscorer of Serie A; Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez (born in 1988) and Palermo’s Javier Pastore (1989) are now world-famous footballers likely to sign soon for top European teams very soon and AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato doesn’t need any introduction.

In the first six months of the season, several lesser-known youngsters have been able to prove themselves good enough to play in Serie A. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Josip Iličić

(Palermo, 23 years old)

Simply of one the best players in the league. Some months ago he was a reserve for a team, Interblock Ljubljana, that couldn’t avoid relegation to the Slovenian Second League. Signed by Maribor, he was so good in the early rounds of the Europa League that Palermo (after having eliminated Maribor) decided to buy him alongside his teammate Armin Bacinovic. Combining physical strength with amazing skills, Ilicic is a midfielder who can play as a left wing or as a trequartista. Having scored eight goals so far he is one of the most prolific midfielders in Serie A. His impact was so great that Palermo decided to go on signing Slovenians: Siniša Anđelković and Jasmin Kurtić arrived in the January transfer market.

Andrea Ranocchia

(Inter, 23) (pictured above)

Last year, his first season in Serie A was ended in January by a bad knee injury. However, having played less than 40 games in the top tier of Italian football, the tall centre-back is already a regular starter for Internazionale (who bought him from Genoa) and the national team, where together with Leonardo Bonucci (his former teammate at Bari) forms a strong partnership which is likely to guide Azzurri’s defence in the next years. He is thought likely to become the best Italian defender of his generation.

Radja Nainggolan

(Cagliari, 22)

This Belgian midfielder (as the name suggests, his father is Indonesian) was brought to Italy in 2004 by Piacenza. At Cagliari since January 2010, he is having a terrific season and has become a regular starter for the Sardinian side at the expense of a good player in Andrea Lazzari. Born as a defensive midfielder, he can play anywhere in a three-man midfield, offering both versatility and quality (and he knows how to score a good goal, too).

Alexander Merkel

Alexander Merkel(AC Milan, 19)

Having played for VfB Stuttgart since the age of 11, the blond midfielder came to Milan in 2008. In this season, his first in the senior team, he has already impressed many Rossoneri: some brilliant assists, a goal in Coppa Italia and a tactical intelligence surprising for a player his age. Likened by some to Napoli’s Marek Hamisk, Merkel can play as a trequartista, but Massimilano Allegri, AC Milan coach, believes that he will establish himself as a centre left or centre right midfielder. Considered one of the best German talents of his generation, he is eligible to play for Germany and Russia national sides. He has only one fault: doesn’t like pasta very much.

Michele Camporese

(Fiorentina, 19)

A product of Fiorentina’s academy, this young centre-back made his Serie A debut against AC Milan, finding little difficulty in marking Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Then, in his first game as a starter, he showed no fear in facing Juventus’ forwards. Strong in the air and good with the feet, he has been compared to giants like Alessandro Nesta and Gaetano Scirea, while for his attitude he has been likened to Rino Gattuso. In November he received his first call-up for Italy U-21.

Libor Kozak

(Lazio, 21)

After joining Lazio in 2008 from SFC Opava, he spent the 2009-10 season on loan at Brescia, in Serie B. In the summer of 2010 Lazio had decided to loan him to another Serie B side, Crotone, but having failed in signing Roque Santa Cruz decided to keep him. Kozak was considered, at best, as a bench sitter. Then he started, quite unexpectedly, to score: his first goal came in a 2-1 victory against Fiorentina in September.

In January he scored the winner against Sampdoria and his first brace allowed Lazio to beat Fiorentina 2-0: so it’s also thanks to Libor that Biancocelesti can now dream of qualifying for next year’s Champions League. Don’t expect him to dribble or to provide delicate assists: he is more of a Jan Koller type of player, a physically imposing centre-forward (6 ft 4 in tall) who is great in the air and knows how to challenge centre-backs.

Frederik Sørensen

(Juventus, 18)

At his previous club, Lyngby, Sorensen never made a first team appearance and on his arrival in Turin he joined the Juventus youth system. He had the opportunity to play with the senior team due to the lots of injuries that hit Bianconeri and, despite playing often out of position, he has been more than decent: a natural centre-back, he is currently used mainly as a right back. Unfamiliar to the new role, he plays as a very defensive right-back, although his assist for Matri’s goal against Inter suggests he’s learning fast how to become a complete full back.

Joel Obi

(Inter, 19)

At Inter since leaving Nigeria at the age of 14, Joel Obi made his Serie A debut during this season, proving to be one of the best youngsters at the club. Obi is a complete player, able to defend and attack, both a destroyer and a passer. He recently made his first international appearance with Nigeria in a friendly game against Sierra Leone, receving a standing ovation while being substituted. He usually plays on the left side of a three man midfield.

Adem Ljajić

(Fiorentina, 19)

The young Serbian signed for Fiorentina in January 2010; with the appointment of Sinisa Mihajlovic and in absence of Stevan Jovetic he has become part of the starting eleven. Good with both feet, fast and able in dribbling, he is an attacking midfielder who can play as a left winger or as a trequartista. According to his coach, he eats too much chocolate and spends too much time on computer.

Which other youngsters in Serie A do you consider stars of the future? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Marco Maioli is a new contributor to Just Football specialising in Italian football.

(pics via AC Milan and Internazionale official websites)

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2 Responses to “Serie A: 9 Young players to watch in 2011”

  1. Jonathan F
    March 1, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Great article Marco! I must say, Camporese, Nainggolan and Kozak are new to me so that’s some new faces to keep an eye on in Serie A.

    Ranocchia is definitely a talent but he was shaky against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week, giving the ball away countless times leaving Bayern to attack in advanced areas. Inexperience at the highest level maybe, or just nerves.

    Sorensen impressed me against Inter and as you say, great assist for the goal.

  2. Senchy_Juvefan
    March 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    you made good choise with this selection.with this players staying in italian Serie A ,league will be second best in Europe in a few years.