Football Italiano’s Young Player of the Year 2008/09
Italian youngster Salvatore Bocchetti collects the Young Player of the Year title after an impressive season in Genoa’s back-line. The competition was a close-run thing with Mauro Zarate, Alexandre Pato and Simon Kjaer all notable runners-up.
Chris Sloley: Mauro Zarate – Argentine Zarate, now 22, was nigh-on invisible during his short stint in the Midlands at the tail end of Birmingham’s demise from the Premier League in 2007/08 but he must like the Italian weather because he has been a breathe of fresh air in the Aquile ranks this term. Ousting the likes of Mario Balotelli and Alexandre Pato in a well-stocked category of youth talent on the peninsula, the diminutive Zarate has proven a knack for the spectacular despite scoring only 13 league goals this campaign. Expect Maradona to include the Coppa Italia winner in the international set-up over the summer months.
David Swan: Salvatore Bocchetti – Bocchetti has had a terrific year playing in Genoa’s defence, and so gets my vote. It is not easy playing in a side that utilises a very open (and risky) 3-4-3 formation both at home and away, yet Bocchetti has put in some strong displays as one of the three centre-backs this season. Marcello Lippi has recognised his talent, giving him a call-up the Azzurri squad. He will not be spending the summer in Italy, as he is off to Sweden with the Azzurrini for the U21 European Championship, where he will have an opportunity to illustrate his talents on a bigger stage.
James Pearson: Alexandre Pato – He only played half a season in Italy last year and showed many glimpses of the talent that has justified the media frenzy surrounding him, but this season Alexandre Pato has grown into a more complete striker showing consistency and fantastic goal-scoring – proven against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico. His goals may have slowed down in the second half of the season as Inzaghi took over but he has more than justified his selection as Young Player of the Year, especially as he has managed to hold down a regular place in a team that loves older players. Furthermore, his form has been recognised internationally with subsequent call-ups following his debut last year.
Jasmer Gill-Towner: Salvatore Bocchetti – Bocchetti came to Genoa from Frosinone expected to provide backup for the first team squad. Instead he has played his way into both an assured spot in the Genoa starting XI and into the plans of Marcello Lippi, who called him up for the games against Montenegro and the Republic of Ireland, as he is a key reason that Genoa will be in Europe next season. If Bocchetti can keep this up, he would appear to become the natural replacement for Fabio Cannavaro, with similar pace and timing, particularly in the air, and it seems great things await him.
John Baines: Mauro Zarate – ‘Maurito’ has not only been the best young player this season, he has been one of the most dynamic and exciting forward players period. Zarate scored 13 times in Serie A – a fantastic return in a debut season – but many of them have been wonderful strikes, and important ones at that. Two goals on his debut, one against Milan and of course against Roma in the Derby della Capitale. Most importantly the Zaratekid’s performances have led to tangible success, with his instrumental performances landing Lazio the Coppa Italia – their first silverware in five years – scoring in the semi-finals and the final.
Mike Carre: Simon Kjaer – Not sure how many people would agree with this choice but every time I’ve seen the Palermo youngster I’ve been massively impressed. If reports are to be believed, the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid feel the same, with both sides apparently interested in the young Dane. He’s really burst on to the scene this season and made himself a real mainstay in the Sicilian’s backline since his debut in late October. He’s tall, strong and athletic with a solid and capable head for defending. His reading of the game is also extremely astute for such a young and inexperienced man and I fully believe he’ll be on his way to bigger and better things in the years to come.
Mina Rzouki: Alexandre Pato – With audacious talent displayed by the youngsters in the league, Pato deserves the honour as he almost always scores, has sensational dribbling skills and a dazzling finish. His maturity and gentleman-like behaviour off the pitch ensures he has the edge. The elegant Brazilian learnt the Italian style of play slowly and ensured that he developed his skills to suit it. His task is especially difficult as he has faced stiff competition with an all-star squad carrying the pressure of a celebrated Milan history. Any youngster that can manage to outshine his teammates in a club like Milan has to be the best.
Rishi Verma: Simon Kjaer – Bought from FC Midtjylland during the summer, the 20-year-old Dane took no time in adjusting to the technical demands of Serie A football, and exceeded all expectations by having an outstanding debut season. Kjaer’s form not only made him a regular fixture in the starting line-up, but also merited a call-up to the full Danish national team in February. His reading of the game and outstanding composure in the heart of the Palermo defence made his club forget the experienced Andrea Barzagli, and one wouldn’t bet against him joining one of Europe’s top clubs – Juventus, Milan and Liverpool are known admirers.
Chris Davies: Salvatore Bocchetti – A key component despite his tender years in a Genoa team that pushed hard for Champions League football falling just short. After a full season cutting his professional teeth at Frosinone in Serie B last season, Bocchetti made the move to Genoa and established himself in the team playing alongside experienced former international defender Matteo Ferrari helping the Rossoblu to qualify for next season’s Europa League. Has already been called up by Azzurri Coach Marcello Lippi to the full squad and after a good showing at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, big things are expected of this talented youngster. Expect the big guns to come calling in the not-so-distant future.