As Juve’s season comes to a close, a raft of results have seen two teams from the Settore Giovanile sweep into the playoff rounds with games to spare, while the third still holds a faint hope of making it. Adam Digby wraps up the latest matches after taking time to analyse new youth signing Nicola Leali, who will join the club this summer from Brescia.
NICOLA LEALI Profile
Spend any amount of time talking about Juve’s summer transfer plans and, especially among fans of the club, the belief is that what Beppe Marotta and Antonio Conte need to find is a truly top-class attacking player to round out the squad and provide the attacking impetus which has, on occasion, been blatantly absent this term. Any such player must possess the quality desired by supporters as the club returns to the Champions League, the work ethic demanded by the Coach – see Eljero Elia for further information – and fall within the economic criteria set by the Director General.
While such a search is set to be extremely difficult the club has already begun work on other minor changes within the squad and at least one signing has already been made with another, also from Serie B, set to follow soon. Speaking to the TuttoJuve website, Brescia Sporting Director Andrea Iaconi confirmed a switch for star goalkeeper Nicola Leali, saying “the deal is finalised for him, in July it will come into effect and he’ll be a Juventus player”.
Bianconeri and Rondinelle seem to enjoy quite a functional relationship. Iaconi himself described his working relationship with Marotta as “really great, with no problems” and the pair had already finalised one transfer after Italy U-21 international Fausto Rossi joined the Brescia on loan back in the January window. In addition to the allegedly completed move, the Bianconeri are also believed to be close to agreeing terms on a similar switch for Pescara midfielder Marco Verratti, proving that neither Conte nor Marotta are averse to scouring this level for talented players.
Though it would still be premature at this stage to discuss the possible impact of the midfielder (who has greatly impressed under Zdenek Zeman), the impending arrival of Leali makes assessing him a much more pressing matter. Prodigious talents in Italy are often referred to as ‘predestinato’, a self-explanatory term for a player always destined to be great. If that wasn’t the case with Leali, born in the small town of Castiglione delle Stiviere – just 16 miles from Brescia – then he is almost certainly a product of his environment and could not have asked for an education more conducive to becoming a glovesman of the highest quality.
At his first club, in nearby Cavriana, Leali was fortunate to be coached by none other than the former Inter and Palermo keeper Sergio Girardi, giving him the best possible start as his career took its first tentative steps. Signed by Brescia shortly before his 10th birthday, the shot-stopper moved to one of their satellite clubs where they could keep a closer eye on him, calling him back two years later before he eventually made his debut for the Primavera (U-20) side at just 16 years of age. His rapid progress continued and by late October 2010 Coach Giuseppe Iachini felt confident enough to give him a spot on the bench for the first time.
Unlike Gigi Buffon – with whom certain websites (more prone to hyperbole than this one) often ludicrously compare Leali to – there would be no fairytale debut for the 17 year-old and he would be forced to wait until the penultimate day of the season to set foot on a Serie A field for the first time. Week 37 and the trip to Cesena saw him given his only start of the campaign and, much like Brescia’s season, it would be ultimately disappointing. Beaten by a 60th minute strike from future team-mate Emanuele Giaccherini, Leali would prove unable to prevent what would become the club’s 20th defeat of a campaign which saw them relegated back to Serie B after just one season.
Leali has made 14 starts in the Cadetti this season, conceding 18 goals and keeping 4 clean sheets while his Italy U-19 journey has continued apace. He has worn the Azzurrini shirt 7 times in 2011-12, taking his total number of caps to 10 as his development on the international stage (he has also represented his country at U-16, U-17, and U-18 levels) progresses under coach Alberigo Evani.
The goalkeeper’s playing style has clearly evolved over the past two seasons and he has become far more assured and confident than many his age. Another director at Brescia, the former Juventus Coach Gigi Maifredi, told Corriere dello Sport that Leali is “goalkeeping royalty”. “He has had an extraordinary upbringing” said Maifredi, going on to state his belief that the coming years “will see that [Leali] will make Italian football history“.
Bold words indeed but Leali’s sense of positioning, reflexes and – when failed by either – his agility to scramble and recover, are incredible for a player of his age and relative experience. Equally surprising is the youngster’s command of both his area during games and the defenders ahead of him on set pieces, which the player himself has credited to the presence of 33 year-old Michele Arcari in the Brescia squad.
In joining Juventus that level of training and tutelage will, under the watchful eye of goalkeeping coach Claudio Filippi, only see Leali’s ability shine even more. One imagines either he or Romanian stopper Laurenţiu Brănescu will leave on loan while the other replaces Alex Manninger – whose own contract expires this summer – as the third choice goalkeeper for Juve’s senior team. The choice may even be split over the course of the season, perhaps with each taking six months in each role. While neither deserves to be called ‘the next Buffon’ just yet, backing up the real Superman will prove an invaluable tool to Nicola Leali who stands as another potential star of the future in Bianconero.
Echoing their achievements, the Primavera ended their own regular season with a 4-1 win away at Parma thanks to goals from Leonardo Spinazzola, Yussif Chibsah, Stefano Padovan and Ouasim Bouy. In yet another heavily rotated line-up it was very apt those were the four scorers as they have been undoubtedly the team’s best players since the Viareggio Tournament win back in February.
As Juve head into the playoffs looking to add the league title to that Cup win, they do so knowing major rivals AS Roma lie in wait along with Lazio, AC Milan, Inter and Torino. Eight other teams enter the preliminary rounds and will take the final two places in the last stages which will be held in June. Next week’s Youth Sector Round Up will analyse the performance of the players, looking back at this season’s highlights and assessing who may be ready to make the leap into the first team in the future.
21′ Spinazzola, 28′ Chibsah, 65′ Padovan, 84′ pen. Bouy
Belfasti (46′ Untersee), Magnússon, Rubin, Carfora
Spinazzola (57′ De Silvestro), Lanini (76′ Emmanuello), Beltrame
(BENCH: Gagliardini, Liviero, Schiavone, Libertazzi)
|Primavera – “Group A”||PTS||GP||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD|
|”Group B”||PTS||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||”Group C”||PTS||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD|
In bocca al lupo ragazzi!