Empoli the example for Serie B, in more ways than one

The recent plans to introduce an Italian Under-21 side into Serie B have brought into focus the playing time that young Italians receive at club level. With many Azzurrini stars sitting on the benches of second tier clubs as opposed to getting minutes on the pitch, the youngsters are not developing as they should be. Fortunately for Cesare Prandelli, and Under-21 Coach Ciro Ferrara, Empoli are a club refusing to follow this trend.
Empoli had five players in the Italy U-21 squad for Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Russia, comfortably the most represented team, and it is testament to the regularity with which the club gives youngsters a chance. Fernando Forestieri, a 21-year-old with immense potential, has been a fixture in the side since he arrived in January, although this has limited Diego Fabbrini’s game time somewhat as they play in similar positions.
Out of the Empoli contingent in the squad, midfielder Roberto Soriano is the one who has been most used at club level. He has made enough starts to be considered a first-team regular, and is consequently one of the more capped players at U-21 level. Daniele Mori has started around one third of the team’s games this season, as has centre-back Lorenzo Tonelli, who was not in the squad for Wednesday’s friendly, but his frequent club level appearances are likely to lead to more call-ups.
So it is not unusual to see at least three of Ferrara’s young charges in the Tuscan’s XI – sometimes more when those who do not feature as regularly, such as Riccardo Saponara, are given a chance from the beginning. And that does not account for the fact their squad is a young one – an average age of only 24, with 10 of the players 21 years or under.
As delighted as Ferrara would be with Empoli’s efforts, the example they set to the rest of Serie B works both ways. If one of their youngsters impresses, a move to a bigger club is likely to occur, pleasing those at board level trying to run the club as a business.
Nevertheless, they currently sit in the middle of the Serie B table. Not in danger of relegation, but they are not going to trouble the automatic promotion spots either. There is an outside chance of reaching the promotion play-offs, but they have not shown the level of consistency required to make a late push, and therein lays the problem with so many youngsters in the one team.
There is going to be a certain level of naïvety, a degree of inconsistency from game to game, and they are not the ingredients of a team who will get out of Serie B. For that reason, Empoli in some ways justify the actions of the other Serie B clubs – sticking to more senior and experienced players. After all, their goal is promotion, not to supply the Italy U-21s with stars of the future.
With a greater proportion of Serie A TV money given to the smaller clubs now compared to the past, the desire to fulfil that objective will only get stronger, meaning Ferrara’s job is only going to get tougher in the build-up to the 2013 European Under-21 Championship.

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