In his regular weekly column Inter fanatic Sam Olsen dives deep into the stories that matter to Inter’s fans looking to keep the spirit of discussion alive and well on the pages of Sempreinter.com.
On March 25th 2012 Inter Milan celebrated what was at the time championed as the breakout victory for the club’s resurgent academy and a clear vindication of the decision to place a renewed focus on talented youth. Two and a half years on however, none of the players involved in the NextGen success have so far become first team regulars. So where are the men of this great triumph and when will an academy trained player finally make the jump from promising youth to first team regular?
There is an interesting symmetry in the statistics when you compare the successes of the Inter first team and their junior counterparts; three Scudetti each in the 60’s, a Scudetto in the 88/89 season, then a drought until the early 00’s when suddenly the Primavera emerged as a renewed force only a few seasons before the senior team would emerge from their own slumber. Even the youth teams much touted NextGen series win came only two seasons after the seniors had wrapped up the main event in Madrid. This suggests that there is a boost for Inter’s senior side when they are backed up by a strong Primavera team. Perhaps it is the knowledge for the seniors that there are a mass of highly talented youngsters eyeing up their spots or perhaps it is sheer coincidence but the connection is tantalising.
Thus far however, none of the young men involved in the NextGen win have graduated to the senior side but have instead found themselves loaned out, sold on, or sitting on the fringes of the first team. Despite repeated assertion that Inter’s starlets will be given a good shot at success at their parent club, none have made the step up. It is a story that is common for Inter’s youth over the last ten years or so. A number of talented youngsters have appeared destined to make the grade only to fall short and depart. These include Davide Santon, once hailed by Jose Mourinho for keeping Cristiano Ronaldo in his pocket, Mario Balotelli whose behaviour made his stay at the club impossible, Mattias Destro, who was never given a shot despite dining on goals at youth level, Leonardo Bonucci who was sacrificed for bigger deals but is now flourishing at Juventus, Guilio Donati who was sold to Bayer Leverkusen despite a derth of decent fullbacks, Felice Natalino who tragically suffered a heart attack in 2013 and was forced to retire from football aged 21, and Davide Faraoni who finds himself now out of favour at Udinese. It is a long list of close calls and almost been’s but for one reason or another none have gone on to secure their position in Inter’s first team squad, despite the recent slump in quality.
But what of the NextGen heroes? Could one of them still find their way into the first team? We will look at those seen as most likely after that fateful victory:
Raffaele di Gennaro: Goalkeeper: Held in high regard by Inter di Gennaro finds himself on loan at Serie B side US Latina Calcio where he was sent off in his only appearance this season. Unlikely to appear at Inter as older Francesco Bardi is considered better.
Ibrahima Mbaye: Defender: Currently involved with Inter’s first team where he has appeared in four Serie A matches off the bench and played two full Europa League matches. Has not yet appeared comfortable at the highest level and the next few months will be important in whether he remains at Inter.
Lukas Spendlhofer: Defender: Has thrived since going on loan to Austrian side Sturm Graz, cementing his place as first choice defender. Has a sale clause in loan contract which may be triggered and will no doubt look toward the Bundesliga should he continue to improve
Joesph Duncan: Midfield A dominant force at youth levels and a promising 2013/14 season with Livorno in which he appeared in 29 Serie A matches offered promise of more to come but has thus far struggled to impose himself on loan at Sampdoria playing only 212 minutes over four games this season. The potential is there however.
Lorenzo Crisetig: A child prodigy Crisetig has seemingly been around forever and is the youngest player ever to represent the Italian U-21 team. Despite this Inter have been hesitant to give him first team experience instead loaning him out to several different clubs. Currently on loan at Cagliari where he has finally found his feet in Serie A, Crisetig is a deep lying playmaker who, with the right mentor, could be exactly the player Inter need.
Samuele Longo: Joining Crisetig at Cagliari is Samuele Longo, the man who scored the goal in the NextGen final. Longo has made seven appearances all from the bench but does not look like he will make the grade at Inter, particularly with several other strikers coming through. Cagliari has an option to purchase his rights following the loan.
Daniel Bessa: The Brazilian playmaker was hailed as one of the key players in Inters Primavera and the next great Brazilian playmaker but has failed so far to realise this talent. Bessa has suffered several injuries and a dramatic loss of form, although he is seeing regular game time this season at Bologna, who has an option to buy. If he can re-find his groove he may be one to watch but perhaps not at Inter.
From this group it appears the only ones we may see stake their claim for a regular Inter jersey are Irbahim Mbaye, Alfred Duncan and Lorenzo Crisetig, with the others failing impress following their triumph. Contrast that with their opponents in that final Ajax and an interesting picture emerges.
From that Ajax team goalkeeper Mickey van der Hart has started the last three matches for the Go Ahead Eagles in the Eredivisie, Joel Veltman is the starting centre back for Ajax, Mitchell Dijks is a starter for Willem II, Lesley de Sa is a regular for Go Ahead Eagles, Mats Rits is a starter in the Juniper League, Davy Klaassen is one of the stars at Ajax while Viktor Fischer has been in and around the Ajax first team for a couple of seasons until suffering an injury which has kept him sidelined since February. Several other players from that squad are either a tier below or in other leagues but most are playing competitively on a regular basis.
The difference is striking and clearly shows where the Inter, and the Italian game in general has been letting their players down. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the youth setup itself but what happens upon graduation that is creating the problem. So many of those top players at youth level are being lost in a maze of loan deals that see players lose any continuity and confidence, before eventually failing to make the step up. This transition phase, rather than the actual academy itself, is the area Thorir must turn his attention to if he is to start seeing players regularly coming through. At the moment the system is set up to identify the future stars, the super gifted players who turn up once or twice a generation. It must be changed to take in the tier below that as well.
So who then will be the one to finally break through this barrier and succeed in the senior squad? Joel Obi is close but doesn’t seem capable of that final step and will probably be sold. I personally believe Lorenzo Crisetig has all the tools to be a top central midfielder or deep lying playmaker at a team of Inter’s stature if he gets continuity and a good coach. Looking further ahead a number of new talents are emerging, chief among them record setting Frederico Bonazzoli, although he still has a long way to go being only 17. Others include young George Puskas, Gaston Camara, Cristiano Biraghi and Lorenzo Tassi, any one of whom could prove good enough to make the grade, although history shows that most will end up falling to the wayside, victims of a lack of support for players once they finish their education.
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