La leva calcistica delle classi '91-'93

On Wednesday, Erik Lamela and Fabio Borini were supposed to make their international debuts. Only Borini did, as Lamela remained on the bench throughout. It was a surprise to many that he didn't get at least twenty minutes or so, but his time will come soon enough regardless. That both players have taken this big step while yet to play any part in a continental competition—a logical part of the evolution of a player—is noteworthy, and testimony to the impressive season the pair is having. Even more impressive then, that due to injuries, they've been far from ever-present: Lamela has played 2/3 of all minutes this season, while Borini just about misses the ½ mark. Quality, if not quantity.
       When was the last time a—let alone two—young player made his debut for a national team on the back of performances for Roma? (It's entirely possible that it was Daniele De Rossi, back in 1989 or whenever it was. Or Aquilani. It was long ago, is the point.) True, Lamela is a preordained talent (as search history shows, because I promise that my talent for spotting talent is very ordinary indeed). On the other hand, anyone who says they thought they'd see Borini playing for Italy about nine months after being released from Chelsea like an old newspaper subscription, well they're just flat out lying.
       Credit to Luis Enrique for this. Their call-ups is proof that you can, now, make it in Rome as well rather than jockeying for a position in an elephant cemetery. (The combined average age for Roma and Lazio before this season must have been roughly jurassic). But as happy as I am for what their call-ups mean for them and Roma, the real test is shuttling in the talent already at the club. After a promising summer in that regard, I am left a bit disappointed not more players than Viviani has been allowed to jump the border between senior team and primavera, but remain hopeful that the next stage of the process includes more natural resources.

For several years, AS Roma has ran a very successful youth sector. The work of Bruno Conti, Alberto De Rossi (without ever forgetting the hard work by coaches of the even younger teams, who shouldn't be overlooked) has revived a failing program and reinstated Roma as stalwarts in all competitions, as well as the natural choice for most players from the region hoping to make it. (Bruno Conti's quote that he's "never heard a kid say they'd prefer to go play for Lazio" distracts from his own work in making that choice as natural as it now is.) The primavera team plays attractive and offensive football while molding players in most styles and forms, even if the last few years seems to have a small bias for midfielders. All while consistently using players up to two years younger than their opponents, a school of thought which runs like a thin red line throughout the sector. The belief is that youth teams should create players, not win silverware. Doing so is an afterthought, never the most important object.
       (The one real objection I would mount against Roma's primavera—except for the paragraph below which is more about what happens after the primavera anyway—is the trend to not only rely on, but actively seek out and sign big and strong attackers. It's entirely possible that Tallo, who's the current embodiment of the trend, will become a good player in the future. But I remain skeptical, after having seen entirely too many next big things, who dominated ages 16-20  disappear as their physical advantage is eradicated when the jump to senior football is made. Previous embodiment of the type include Daniele Corvia and Stefano Okaka.)
       The missing link has always been the transition from primavera to senior football. Not that the transition isn't daunting enough on its own or needs any further encouragement, but Roma has turned mishandling the process into an art form. For years, the club has been notoriously lousy at providing its players feasible means to self-realization. With all the planning and forethought of my hunger pains-fueled search parties for groceries, it's not wonder things had gotten bad. Players have been sent out on loan or co-ownership, seemingly without as much a statement of intent by the loaning club to play them, or analysis from Roma whether it is credible that it'll happen. Some players have been sent to teams with coaches who'd seldom, if ever, used that type of player or youth at all. Wingers sent to fiercely narrow three man-midfield teams, etcetera.

Slowly, that is now changing. The latest class to graduate is still eligible to play for the primavera team, but many have already established themselves throughout serie B. From the team that played 2011's primavera cup final (when this happened, possibly my favorite video from a football game), Antei and Florenzi are since a month back joined by Caprari in that league. Caprari is perhaps the best example of all of the importance Roma places in providing the right setting for the players, as he will for at least half a year be coached by Zdenek Zeman. Caprari, theoretically, fits perfectly into a Zeman trident, although it is hard to ignore that barring unforeseen developments, the coming few months will provide few opportunities as he's behind the competition in both fitness and game experience. The loan should ideally have happened in the summer, but let's forget the fact that we're coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that we showed up at all.
       Since graduating from the primavera a year prior to the 2011 final, Alessandro Crescenzi has clocked up 60 games in serie B, while Adrian Stoian continues to astound. Every fact sheet I've seen has him down at 65 kilos, which just doesn't feel right to me, as if they're distributed very oddly. Also, at 65 kilos you shouldn't be able to dribble like this in serie B and get away with it, nor be able to get this kind of power on your shots. As a midfielder, Florenzi scores a goal every third game at the age of 20. Before Messi and Ronaldo destroyed all perspective on what constitutes normal—or even good—numbers, we'd recognize that as a very promising production rate. Especially in a league in which 20 year olds often come to have their careers fall into a black hole, not be decisive. The generation set to join them has enough talent for hopes of a couple of them joining the team being reasonable. Giammario Piscitella made his debut a few weeks ago against Inter, and earned a song all of his own within minutes. The only thing more improbable than that was him toying with Inter, first once then twice as he set up Bojan's goal. Meanwhile, Valerio Verre has already dabbled in continental competition, making his debut in the Europa League at age seventeen. Seriously. Add to them Amato Ciciretti, a small, stocky regista so good I might just forget about David Pizarro sooner rather than later. Well not really, but it's a figure of speech. Let's move on before this gets weird. Yet the most established of them all is the aforementioned Viviani, whose inclusion in the first team we can count on already.

Last Friday the ceremony to rename the pitch on which the primavera team trains after Agostino Di Bartolomei was held. It was beautiful. Franco Baldini was there, as was Totti and De Rossi. And Di Bartolomei's family, all while Francesco De Gregori's song dedicated to the old captain played over the loudspeakers. In it, De Gregori tells a tale of a boy, Nino, and doing so essentially provides a blueprint for what a player needs. In fact, it's as much a blueprint of a player as it is of a good man. He's not afraid to take and miss a penalty, because it's hardly on these details you judge someone. Instead, you spot a player on his courage, his altruism and fantasy.
       When appointed, Luis Enrique changed the practice habits of the club to allow the primavera team to train next to the senior team. To see that the dream was achievable, that they're not that far away. Together with De Gregori's words, the hope is that these young players now have everything in place to succeed.