Caught up in all the hoopla surrounding the sale of AC Milan, Thursday afternoon saw two of Serie A’s brightest young stars put pen to paper on long-term contract renewals, suggesting the tide has shifted in Italy when it comes to football careers.
In the event you’ve been underestimating the quality of Italian football, first off, I’d like to say: shame on you. Football fans outside of the peninsula have overlooked the abundance of quality players plying their trade in Italy. So much that now, outsiders are scouring the internet for the scoop on their club’s latest summer targets, two of which appear to be off the market.
Juventus star Paulo Dybala and Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić demonstrated their intent to stay put amid major interest abroad on Thursday, renewing with their respective clubs until 30 June 2022. Dybala, fresh off a double in Tuesday’s impressive 3-0 victory over Barcelona, has long been a hot commodity around Europe, drawing stark comparisons to fellow countryman Lionel Messi. Size, attacking prowess and tantalizing ability, all qualities which make the comparisons to the Blaugrana star uncanny. Sharing the same nationality – among other things – it’s no surprise the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid fancy the 23-year old. While flattered to be mentioned in the same company as the legendary Argentine, the diminutive number 21 aspires to escape Messi’s spotlight, saying “I want to be me, not the new Messi.” Meanwhile, South of Turin lies Rome, the stomping grounds of an emerging star few knew much about prior to this season, but have been enthralled by all he has to offer in the middle of the park.
Milinković-Savić, a representative of the highly-praised Serbian side that won gold at the 2013 UEFA U-19 Championship, has enjoyed a breakout campaign in the ‘Capital.’ By virtue of the Biancocelesti’s stellar season under Simone Inzaghi which has them well within reach of a Champions League spot, the 22-year old midfielder’s taken centerstage, hogging all the attention for Le Quile. Scouted by Manchester United last weekend during Lazio’s clash with Napoli, the Serbian’s done more than enough to alert the continent of his divine skillset. But, Dybala and Milinković-Savić weren’t the only individuals to have signed new deals in recent months, implying that perhaps Serie A has shaken the unfair stereotype of being a “breeder” league.
In October, Inter captain Mauro Icardi received a significant wage raise to €4,5 million under the terms of his new deal, tying him to the nerazzurro until June 2022. Months later, Torino’s Andrea Belotti followed suit, all while owning a similar, astronomically high, €100 million release valid only to foreign clubs. Along with these extensions, plenty of young Serie A stars are expected to bypass summer moves, rejecting advances from top European clubs in favour of honing their craft in Italy. Franck Kessie (Atalanta) was subject to significant transfer buzz last January, tailed by the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and just about every major English outfit battling for Premier League supremacy. However, it appears, at least in the rumor mill, that the Ivorian is set to remain in the Italian top-flight, with Roma reportedly in line to secure his signature come June. In addition to the Atalanta man, Sampdoria striker Patrik Schick and Udinese’s Jakub Jankto quickly sprung into form this season, fueling foreign interest from the usual suspects. However, all signs point to stays in Italy. Inter approve of the Blucerchiati bomber, while Jankto extended to 2021, gesturing away Arsenal scouts who caught a live glimpse of him a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately for the rest of continental Europe, and to the delight of calcio fanatics, Schick and Jankto shall remain.
Investing heavily in rising stars has now become the norm, as clubs inherit initial risks to, in return, reap the reward of future gains. For a brief term, Italy took a backseat to England, Spain and Germany; countries for a promising career full of lofty wages, instant recognition and the spotlight to carve out a legacy. While those spots still have mass appeal, there is no denying the allure of Italy, as evidence clearly shows, it’s a hotbed for future stars of tomorrow.
You can follow my football ramblings and various workings on Twitter @Matt_Santangelo.