When on June 16 Kingsley Boateng steered Milan to the Allievi Nazionali national title by scoring the winner against Empoli, the victory was welcomed as a sign of the rebirth of the club’s youth sector. It was the second year in a row that the Rossoneri fledglings had impressed after last season’s triumphs in both Coppa Italia Primavera and Campionato Giovanissimi Nazionali.
Filippo Galli, director of the youth sector since 2009, pointed out the investments made by the club during the last two years which has seen the likes of youngsters Alexander Merkel and Rodney Strasser graduate to the first team. Indeed it was in the summer of 2009 that Milan appointed former Liverpool scout Mauro Pederzoli as the youth team’s Sporting Director. The club spent substantial sums on acquiring young prospects like forwards Gianmarco Zigoni and Giacomo Beretta, who have both made their first team debut, midfielders Simone Calvano (one of the best talents in this year’s Primavera team) and Edmund Hottor, “next Thiago Silva” Rodrigo Ely and a lot more.
This has been a radical change for the Diavolo who had dismantled most of their vivaio developmental teams, keeping only those that were made mandatory by the FIGC. It was around the same time the club came under huge criticism for signing mostly aged players and ignored some of the best youngsters around. In 2007, Brescia President Luigi Corioni asked Milan to buy half of the registration rights of Marek Hamsik for £3m, the offer was turned down and £4.5m were spent instead on Emerson. To understand how things have changed, one have to look no further than to the recent signing of El Shaarawy, a 19-year-old with virtually no Serie A experience.
But what Milan is doing, besides spending cash to secure the best teenage footballers, is to create a network of football schools, both in Italy and around the world, furnishing them with equipment and verifying the competence of their coaches. The schools affiliated with the club, 100 at the time of writing but set to reach the number of 150 before the end of 2011, will also serve as a scouting network in order to recruit potential stars at an early age.
To reach the aim, which is to produce players good enough to join the ranks of the first team, there is still work to be done. The Primavera team, after last year’s successful cup campaign, still needs to improve to compete at the highest level, as the dull performances at the last Viareggio Tournament or the defeat to Roma in the Campionato Primavera quarter finals have shown. Coach Giovanni Stroppa has just been removed and the next step will be that of adopting the same tactics used by the first team at every youth level.
When, back in 2008, Paolo Maldini heavily criticized the way the youth sector was run, Galli could not but agree with him. Three years later the feeling is that, even if it is not likely to see a new Baresi grow at Milanello, a new Boateng could be on his way to San Siro.