Having failed to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958, the Italian national team now face an uphill battle until the next major tournament in 2-years time. Monday night’s aggregate defeat to Sweden was a bitter pill to swallow for Italy fans, made ever more difficult by the news of legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s imminent retirement. Along with Buffon, centre-back Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele de Rossi are also set to hang up their boots, but it’s not all bad news for the Azzurri.
Italy have always found a way of rejuvenating their squad, and here is a list of young players that have the potential to help their country rise from the ashes, and become a superpower in world football once again.
Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan
Gianluigi Donnarumma broke into the starting line-up at Milan at just 16-years old, and has continued to build a reputation as one of the most promising goalkeepers in the world. The now 18-year-old has racked up 80 appearances for his domestic side, and 4 for the national team. It’s almost fitting that during the twilight years of Buffon’s career, and another giant Italian keeper should emerge. Donnarumma is both physically imposing and confident on the ball, he’s also a pretty decent penalty stopper, which could be a huge asset for future international tournaments.
Alessio Romagnoli – AC Milan
A product of Roma’s youth system, Alessio Romagnoli is a versatile centre-back who has been compared to the great Alessandro Nesta. The 22-year-old is fast becoming a regular starter for Milan (whom he joined in 2015) and has already made 5 appearances for the national team. Romagnoli has been praised for his aerial ability, decision making, confidence on the ball, and attacking threat, often drifting into advanced positions to put pressure on opposing players higher up the pitch. Italy have a fantastic history of producing competent defenders, and Romagnoli looks to be one of the next batch.
Claud Adjapong – Sassuolo
Despite making just 17 appearances for Sassuolo over the last couple of seasons, Claud Adjapong is already turning heads in Serie A. Adjapong broke into Sassuolo’s U19 team at the age of 16, where he scored 10 goals in 51 appearances – not bad for a full-back. One of the 19-year-old’s biggest strengths is his ability to read the game, often leading to a high number of interceptions per match. He is also extremely versatile, faring just as well as an out-and-out winger as in his regular defensive position.
Federico Bernardeschi – Juventus
Juventus are not known for taking risks on up and coming players, so when the Old Lady shelled out €40 million for Federico Bernardeschi this summer on a five-year deal, fans were expecting big things from the 23-year-old. Bernardeschi has already scored 2 goals in 9 appearances for Juve, and the winger looks set to become one of Serie A’s most entertaining players. Having already made 13 appearances for the national team, the technically gifted youngster could well become a future Azzurri great.
Moise Kean – Hellas Verona (on loan from Juventus)
Moise Kean is a relatively new name on the scene, but it already being tipped as a potential future star for Juventus. Currently on loan at Hellas Verona, the 17-year-old is gaining valuable first team experience, making 9 appearances for the Serie A side this season. Kean has all of the necessary tools to become a top forward – pace, power, accuracy, and perhaps most importantly a solid work ethic. Kean has featured at every youth level for the national side, and could find himself in the first team over the next few years.
Patrick Cutrone – AC Milan
Milan’s youth system has produced some remarkable talents recently, and Patrick Cutrone could be the best of the bunch. The 19-year-old striker has featured prominently for AC Milan in the Europa League this season, scoring 2 goals on 9 outings for the club. Cutrone possesses a powerful physique for his age, and is competent with both feet and his head. It’s unlikely that the youngster will break into Italy’s first team soon, particularly with the wealth of talent they have up front, but he is certainly one for the future.
Andrea Belotti – Torino
Andrea Belotti has hit fine form over the last couple of seasons, scoring 41 goals in 78 appearances for domestic side Torino. A strong, tactically astute striker, Belotti’s performances last season led to links with the likes of Chelsea, Monaco and Real Madrid. The 23-year-old is often compared to Italian great Gianluca Vialli for his athleticism, and eye for goal. Belotti has become a semi-regular member of the nation team since 2016, scoring 4 goals in 13 appearances for his country. He is currently second fiddle to the likes of Ciro Immobile and Manolo Gabbiadini, but that could all change over the next couple of years.