The meteoric rise of Paul Pogba, from a youth team player at Manchester United struggling for recognition to a first team regular at Juventus, has become a great example for young, talented players who feel they may get a better chance if they move abroad.
Pogba's move sparked a lot of controversy and divided opinion, with most claiming he was after for wealth and fame. However Pogba has proved a success story and his performances at Juventus have been breathtaking to say the least.
It is understandable that Juventus are keen to offer the midfield star a long term bumper five-year deal to keep him in Serie A to fend off potential interest from Real Madrid, Manchester City and United.
Pogba’s success has served Juventus well in their bid to snap up rebellious talents from rival clubs with a promise of regular football. Recent signings of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid and Kingsley Coman from PSG seem to follow in the footsteps of the recent success of Pogba, all in the hope of having a similar impact.
Is this the promised youth policy at Juventus?
However shrewd this approach may seem, what’s hugely questionable is whether this is the youth policy that the likes of Andrea Agnelli and Beppe Marotta promised in their takeover of the club.
They claimed they would follow in the footsteps of the famous La Masia academy in Barcelona. However none of their academy prospects have made a telling impact or risen to a first team regular.
Morata ditched the golden seats of Santiago Bernabeu for the Old lady and after scoring his debut goal at the weekend said that: “I wanted to feel free on a psychological level and to try a new adventure. That is why am here.”
Coman on the other hand will also feel he has a chance to blossom, especially after earning a man of the match for his exploits in August against Chievo. Though these two youngsters are really promising talents, it remains to be seen what heights of success they can hit, especially with Pogba raising the bar high.
Juventus have also recently been linked to a host of young talents from Memphis Depay at PSV Eindhoven and Adnan Januzaj. They were also on the brink of signing Juan Manuel Iturbe before AS Roma stole him under their noses.
Part of the motive behind this strategy may be that Juventus can no longer compete with the financial might of most Europe giants in transfers of established players while most Bianconeri fans may argue that they instead are seeking to refresh an ageing squad with young talent.
The likes of Andrea Pirlo (35), Gianlugi Buffon (36),Giorgio Chiellini (30), Andrea Barzagli (33), Lichsteiner (30), Patrice Evra (33), Pepe (31) and Carlos Tevez( 30) are not getting younger. However no homegrown replacements are available and they may have to source for foreign talents to ensure the high standards remain.
However questions are abound on the nurturing of homegrown talents. Currently the two most illustrious clubs in Serie A; Juventus and AS Roma, boast a high number of foreign imports in recent seasons. Their success is hinged on foreign stars like Miralem Pjanic, Gervinho, Adem Llajic, Tevez, Arturo Vidal, Pogba etc.
Only the previously established Italian players have benefited from the success with the young players struggling to make any impact.
Homegrown players are finding it harder to ply their trade in these huge clubs and hence have sought playing time in lower leagues. The likes of Simon Zaza at Sassuolo and last season’s revelation Ciro Immobile have found it harder to break into their parent clubs.
What Serie A needs is a stringent policy to curb the importation of foreign talent from Argentina and South American countries to the detriment of young Italian talent.
The Italian FA needs to ensure that each club runs a youth team that plays competitive football like the under 21 league in England. This will give a chance to youngsters to speed up their development and nurture future stars. For now the future is not bright for the Italian national team if teams cannot put faith in their young players.
Time to follow the German blueprint?
That aforementioned foreign talent may be coming to Serie A may enhance the league standards in the long run but it’s not beyond the unthinkable that Serie A could achieve what the Bundesliga has done greatly with strict youth development programs.
Talent does not seem to be drying up in the German well and much of this can be put down to the structure of German academies enforced after the Euro 2000 debacle. The results of this restructuring, with teams forced to operate centrally regulated academies before being licensed to play, was key to the Germans World Cup triumph this year .
Although there is a structured youth development program in Italy, the rate at which these youth players scale up the ranks to first team is low especially in the elite teams in Serie A. This needs to be addressed as also the poor state of the facilities in Italy are also contributing factor.
With Italy falling behind Portugal in the recent UEFA team coefficient, a lot needs to be done to take Italy back to the glory days of 2006. However, such an approach by Juventus may yield mixed results and may be unsustainable in the long-term.
Investment in youth at club level needs to be taken more seriously.