With the Scudetto sewn up for another year, arguments of christening the title No. 29 or 31 slowly dying down and the chorus of summer mercato ranting and exploration gaining volume by the hour, it's a perfect opportunity to offer an analysis of the various youth investments still on our books. Some of which will be near to household names, others merely a word you may have seen a few times but taken little notice of.
The most brilliant aim of our youth sector and acquisition of young talent is to produce players strong enough technically, physically and mentally to join the senior squad. However, it must be said that only a slim few manage this feat, with the vast majority of our youth players more likely to ultimately find their senior careers spent in other colours than bianconeri (NB. I suppose they could well end up at Ascoli!).
It's a business focused upon improving the value of players in order to make a profit when we sell them or use them as a make-weight in another deal, as well as hoping to nurture a few stars all the way into our senior squad. It is also an area where we have invested rather heavily the last two seasons and will likely continue to do so this summer mercato.
So whose proto-stars have shone the brightest of our current crop of kids and young men? Can we expect any of them to be seen in our senior squad next term?
Nicolas Leali GK - (20)
It's an easy choice as to where to begin, for Nicola Leali, the young goalkeeper signed last summer from Brescia for €4.5 million, has been so phenomenal this season between the sticks for Serie B minnows Lanciano that it would be no surprise to see him lining up against our senior squad next year in the top flight. It's a tough call — an impossible call really — for any young or old shot stopper to make it into our own senior squad presently. Blessed as we are with Santo Buffon, who surely ranks as one of the finest of his trade in history, and standing behind him is Marco Storari, arguably the best back-up in Europe. So it will take something very special indeed to make us take much notice of another gloved lunatic dead-set on a career as the final defense of the rearguard of a football team.
Leali is that special that we should all take note. Placing him in the second tier with Lanciano, promoted the season before, was a master stroke by Beppe Marotta/Antonio Conte/Fabio Paratici and whoever else has a say in such matters. He has made 36 appearances as Lanciano's first choice keeper regularly stunning the crowds with amazing acrobatic saves, berserker bravery and a wonderful sense of positioning. Time and time again he has come to his side's rescue, doing as much if not more than any of his team-mates to leave Lanciano a good chance of survival with one game left to play.
His only weakness appears to be his inexperience, but what can one expect of a 20 year old other than inexperience? He has recently made the step up from the Italy Under-20 squad to the U-21s and no doubt will soon make his debut.
Its been a stunning season for the youngster whose vocal command of his area is reminiscent of a certain Great Dane...perhaps I am going too far, but for sure, Leali is looking incredible value and a potential replacement for Buffon in the long term future.
Richmond Boakye - CF (20)
Juventus paid €4 million to Genoa for a 50 percent stake in the Ghanaian striker in the close season of 2012, after noticing his fine form for Sassuolo. He looked powerful and lively during his brief stint in our pre 12/13 campaign friendlies yet it was hardly a surprise to see him loaned, once again, to Sassuolo. His development has continued smoothly, with the 11 goals and 7 assists from 21 starts (31 appearances) contributing superbly to his team's promotion charge, which looks all but signed and sealed, most likely as champions. His ability to produce a lighting fast turn of pace and direction, solid physical strength and cannonball of a shot makes him more than a handful for defenders far more experienced in the professional game. At 20 years of age, Richmond's future looks bright. On top of his success domestically, the African has gained promotion to the Black Stars squad, scoring twice in his four friendly appearances thus far. He traveled with the squad to South Africa for the ACON tournament, but niggling injuries and a heavier reliance on more established attackers combined to preclude his involvement in the tournament. Nevertheless, the experience would have surely added richness to his game, given his rubbing of shoulders with the likes of global stars Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari and our very own Kwadwo Asamoah.
As with Kwadwo, its taken some time for Richmond to regain his pre-ACON form once back on Italian soil, with his chances of action further diminished by the exceptional progress of a certain Domenico Berardi (whom Juve may well purchase this summer) and also Leonardo Pavoletti. Regardless, the upwards trajectory of Richmond's career is set to continue. As to where he will be playing next term — it's anyone's guess.
The 50 percent stake valued at €4 million last year has surely increased. Were Juve to attempt to buy him outright, Genoa would surely expect at least €6 million. Subsequent to their worrying flirtations with relegation and reluctance to deploy Juve co-owned Ciro Immobile in his most natural role for much of the season, I highly doubt that Boakye will be playing for il Grifone next term. There were strong rumours of interest from Udinese in January and coupled with our own capricious glances in the direction of Luis Muriel, it wouldn't surprise me to see a deal done there. The best bet may well be to leave him at Sassuolo, roll the Richmond dice in the top flight and see what comes up.
Manolo Gabbiadini - CF (21)
Whilst on the subject of promising strikers of whom Juve own 50 percent of, I will quickly mention Manolo Gabbiadini. His time on loan at Bologna has proved promising, but far from awe inspiring. Often played out of position due to Stefano Pioli's preference for Alberto Gilardino as the prima punta, Manolo has performed well enough to maintain his promise. Whether his present achievements on the pitch warrant a chance in the Juventus senior team is debatable. He has guile, a deft touch and good pace, but essentially I believe he needs another season at a fellow Serie A club before he can be considered for our first team squad. It seems increasingly likely — to the chagrin of many juventini, but not me — that we will be signing his team-mate Alessandro Diamanti, in which case, it would make sense for Bologna to demand another season-long loan of the young forward, perhaps offering us an assurance that he would have improved chances of playing more regularly, and as a centre forward as opposed to on the flanks.
Stefano Beltrame - SS/CF (19)
Our primavera squad is brimming with quality, as our final league position, solid showing in the NextGen tournament and coppa italia success confirms. Of the group whom will be farmed out to senior sides due to age restrictions and their impressive form, it's the 19-year-old second striker Beltrame, who is drawing the most attention from would be suitors.
Dovetailing majestically throughout the campaign alongside Stefano Padovan, the fleet-footed Beltrame has earned rave reviews for his bravery, determination, skill on the ball and shooting technique. And much of the success of Padovan's glorious haul of 16 goals from 16 games in the league stems from the intelligent approach work of his strike partner. After starring regularly for the Italy U-19 team, Beltrame has progressed to the U-20 squad, making his debut as a second-half substitute in the regrettable 2-0 home defeat to The Hun.
Catania have shown a strong interest, as have other teams, but with Francesco Lodi allegedly attracting the steely gaze of Marotta (and why not, eh??? Given the lack of vice-Pirlo options presently in our squad), a move to the Sicilian side could prove handy for all concerned. It would be magnificent to see him, as well as Padovan move to Serie A clubs straight from the primavera. At the same time, perhaps Serie B is a more logical step for the dynamic duo.
Gabriel Appelt - DM/CM (19)
The Brazilian regista's first season in the professional game in Italy has proven somewhat hit and miss. His form for Serie B newcomers Pro Vercelli has been consistent, as indicated by his 25 outings (24 starts). The flip side of the archangel coin is that despite his best efforts, his side have been sent back from whence they came -lega pro level - after just one season in the second tier. Best to look at the positives, and taking into account his absence from the side from mid November to early March due to a hairline fracture, it must be seen as a creditable achievement to have collected the highest amount of games of all the midfielders on Pro Vercelli's books. It would be a welcome surprise to see a Serie A team take a chance on him, but the likelihood is another co-ownership arrangement with a Serie B team for the next season.
Ouasim Buoy - AM/CM - (19)
As with Gabriel, the Dutchman's season was rudely interrupted by injury, but in the 17 games Ouasim in which he managed to sneak into the first XI, one goal and five assists is a fair return. A rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament ended his season early, but the clever touches and ability to create goalscoring chances in the final third were very encouraging prior to the wreckage that became of his leg. With his Brescia side sitting a solitary point shy of the play-offs, its a distinct possibility that he could well find himself involved in the top flight sooner than expected, but it remains to be seen whether he has done enough to warrant an extension to the loan. Impressive when available, but the nature of his injury means that he will be out of action until at the earliest May/June, potentially much longer. We all remember how long it took Fabio Quagliarella to recover from a similar rupture. Such a shame, given the dearth of creative midfielder in Juve's ranks.
Albert Masi - CB (20)
Elegant and composed on the ball, solid in the tackle both on the turf and in the realm of aerial combat, Alberto Masi is shaping up to be a shrewd acquisition by the Beppe/Paratici team. Signed for an incredibly reasonable €2 million after starring in Pro Vercelli's promotion winning 2011-12 season, the ball playing enforcer was allowed to stay at the club for the first half of the current campaign. After the Christmas break, he was found a stronger outfit in Ternana where he moved again on loan. It took a while for Alberto to earn a starting role in the back-line but once he did, Ternana embarked on a run of seven games with only one goal conceded. Damn impressive at any level, and as one of the two centre-backs, Masi's presence clearly proved pivotal. Steady progress has been made, as witnessed by his débuts for both the Italy U-21s and U-20s in the last eight months. A chance may appear for his inclusion in a Serie A team as a co-ownership, but with his Ternana side finishing comfortably mid-table, a second season of continued development at the Umbrian club would be perfectly acceptable.
Honourable mentions must also be swiftly given to Fausto Rossi, Carlos Pinsoglio, Frederik Sorensen, Manuel Giandonato and Raman Chibsah — all of whom have seen regular action for their respective clubs.
Out of the primavera offerings, we should all look forward to maintaining a keen eye on the fortunes of Rugani, Magnusson, Branescu, Bonatini, Kabashi, Untersee, Schiavone, Pepic, Cevallos, Mattiello, Ceria, Untersee, Garcia and Ruggiero. Many of which will be found loan or co-ownership deals as they make the step up to senior football.
To finish with, I must demand that Vajebah Sakor be given due attention. The Norwegian central midfielder signed in late January only recently turned 17, yet has already become a commonly used weapon for Baroni. Incredibly impressive given the two-to-three-year advantage of experience and physique which the opponents and most other squad members have over him. Captain of the U-17 Norway outfit, experienced in the Nextgen series with Rosenborg, I expect him to dominate the midfield of our U19 next season. Definitely one to watch.
And with the above finally ironed out well enough to straighten out the major creases, I must now prepare for the welcome return to my arms of my Savage Queen at Heathrow in the morning and then...the beginning of a lengthy jaunt through the foreign climes of France, Belgium, Spain, Morocco, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. It is my firm intention to pick up where I have just left off upon my return to my war-desk in late August, and then to begin a regular focus upon the youth area of our beloved Juve shared with the vibrant BWRAO posse. Until which, I wish Danny and the community an engaging mercato period and the best of luck in all that matters most...