It seems that wherever you look, someone knows better. After two years in which he has seen very little action, the Internet is filled with column after column of people offering opinion on what is best for Luca Marrone. They look back over his two seasons under Antonio Conte at Juventus, and declare that in order for him to develop he should leave on loan, offering viable destinations like Fiorentina or Atalanta as places where he would thrive.
Yet many of these articles offer very little to back up their theory, outside of the fact that the 23 year old has ‘barely played’ since returning to Turin, and listing the midfielders ahead of him in what is steadily becoming the deepest squad the Bianconeri have had in at least a decade. As always, we at JuventiKnows attempt to bring a little more realism to the debate, and when it comes to the man known to Claudio Zuliani (and Google Translate) as Luke Brown, it is certainly no different.
Born in the Turin commune of Bosconero, he would join the youth ranks of la vecchia Signora when he was just six years old. Young Luca impressed the coaches as soon as the action became competitive. By 2007, he was already featuring regularly for the Primavera under Vincenzo Chiarenza, as well as representing Italy at both Under-17 and Under 19 levels. He would enjoy two good seasons there, culminating in the 2009 Viareggio Cup triumph in a team dominated by the goal scoring exploits of Ciro Immobile. However, Marrone would catch the eye of Juve legend, Ciro Ferrara.
At that time, the former defender was in charge of Juve’s Youth Sector, but by May of that year, he had replaced Claudio Ranieri on the bench. As the summer began, Ferrara made it clear he saw the young midfielder as part of the first team squad. Marrone was given plenty of playing time in the pre-season friendlies, and would make his debut on the opening day of Serie A as a 70th minute substitute for everyone’s least favourite Portuguese international, Tiago. Soon after, Marrone would also make his first appearance for Italy’s Under-21 side against Hungary, and establish himself as an integral member of the Azzurrini.
As we know, the season collapsed and his opportunities were limited, as the struggling Ferrara was sacked and Alberto Zaccheroni was brought in as a replacement. He would spend more time back with the Primavera as they again won the Viareggio Cup, with Marrone captaining the side and playing a key role throughout the prestigious tournament. That summer saw a huge overhaul of the club. Beppe Marotta quickly proved to have a better grasp of developing young players than his predecessor Alessio Secco, placing the now 20-year-old Marrone on loan at Siena.
He enjoyed a successful season in Serie B, as Antonio Conte brought the best from him as Robur won promotion to the top flight. Marrone became a regular, anchoring the midfield in the coach’s demanding 4-2-4 formation. Superb in his regista role, the player has thrived under the Bianconeri legend, making nineteen appearances and scoring his only goal in the last minute of a thrilling draw against Vicenza. He was fully prepared for his return home, telling La Stampa that he was “ready for Juve,” and going on to tell the reporter he was confident that “my time will come.”
That patience and belief would serve him well over the next two seasons, and he, much like the rest of us, would have been overjoyed to see his mentor appointed as Juventus coach that same summer. Conte would block a second loan move for the player, instead insisting that he remain to become part of the first team squad and praising the speed at which he had grasped the nuances of formations and tactical schemes during their spell in Tuscany together.
Appearances in the 2011-12 season would be scarce, largely due to the close nature of the title race. As Milan pushed the undefeated Bianconeri all the way in the Scudetto battle, Conte was reluctant to make changes to his lineup. Marrone’s greatest asset has always been his passing, but being seen as a reserve for Andrea Pirlo would also become a weakness, as the Bearded Genius was so consistently brilliant it made Conte afraid to rest him. He played all but one league game that season, yet young Luca still played well whenever he was called upon to deputise for Pirlo, making three starts and three substitute appearances in all competitions. He scored his first goal for the club on the final day of the season, and displayed his excellent distribution skills to complete 51 of the 58 passes he attempted (87.9%), while averaging one tackle and 0.3 interceptions per game.
When he’ll be able to play more regularly he’ll also gain consistency and will be the future of Juventus.
– Andrea Barzagli
The club turned down a number of loan and co-ownership bids for him that summer, also declining an offer from Bologna to purchase him outright. Speaking to the club’s official website in January – when yet another loan move was touted – and reaffirming his belief in the direction his career was headed, he said “We all believe that it is better for me to play 10 games for a big club like Juventus instead of thirty for another team.” He went on to add, “Staying here will help me to grow in terms of dealing with certain types of pressure.”
If that was to be true, then all parties should be happy, as by the end of the campaign he had played a much bigger role as the club successfully defended their crown. At the heart of his increased exposure was the amount of work he put in over the summer, working closely with Conte and Massimo Carrera in order to improve his skill set and add the ability to deputise for Leonardo Bonucci in the centre of defence. Due to Giorgio Chiellini’s lack of fitness, Marrone would feature in this new role on the opening day of the season as Juve – with Carrera coaching due to Conte’s suspension – strolled to a 2-0 victory over Parma.
By the season’s end, Conte had kept his promise, as the player made exactly ten league appearances, (eight of them as a starter) with the club notably winning nine and drawing one of those matches. With another three starts in the Coppa Italia and one against Celtic in the Champions League, it was clear to see he had made steady progress. In addition, he has continued to be a valued member of the Italian U-21 set up, earning his thirtieth cap at the European Championships this past weekend. His stats back that up, as he averaged almost fifty passes per game at a completion rate of 92% – putting him among the very best in the league – and made an average of 1.8 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game.
He was clearly comfortable in that new role, making all but one of his starts there, as time in midfield became limited due to the immediate impact of Paul Pogba. The presence of Kwadwo Asamoah meant Marrone dropped further down the pecking order in his natural position. Andrea Barzagli was clearly impressed with Marrone’s impact alongside him in defence as, when speaking to Sky Italia following January’s draw with Lazio, he said, “Luca possesses great quality. He’s good at man-marking and can withstand physical contact.” The Italian international went on to add, “He is very good as a central midfielder, but he also knows how to adapt well as a central defender. When he’ll be able to play more regularly he’ll also gain consistency and will be the future of Juventus.”
High praise indeed, and it is here that the argument to ship him off to the provinces falls down. While it is easy to clamour for a need to play, the difference between that first season and this second season must be noted. Our own rating of him here at JuventiKnows.com supports his improvement, where his average pagelle rating rose from 6.5 in 2011-12 to 6.9 in the most recent campaign. By leaving on loan he theoretically could play more, but would that really add to his ability?
Still only 23, he has made over forty professional appearances, far more than many players his age, and he has done so in a setting that is almost tailor made for him to succeed. Under the tutelage of former Azzurri midfielder Conte, and learning from players like Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and of course Pirlo, Marrone is getting the kind of education which cannot fail to improve him. Would he suddenly make a leap by leaving that setting? Among the clubs willing to offer him playing time, there is neither the type of coach or veteran players available in Turin to guide him as he learns his craft.
For the Azzurrini, he looks as accomplished as Marco Verratti, who has just finished his first season as a regular at Paris-Saint Germain. Indeed, stats site WhoScored.com rates the Juve man slightly better this term, giving him an average rating of 6.97 compared to Verratti’s 6.96. In the heart of the Juventus defence he rarely, if ever, looked out of place, and the belief the coach has in him will only grow the longer he remains with the club. If, in the course of one summer, Carrera and Conte can teach him to play in defence, imagine what he could learn this coming season. Imagine if Andrea Barzagli is right. Imagine if ‘Luke Brown’ really is the future of Juventus.