FUN FACT: The entire population of Empoli is not enough to fill the stands at the San Siro. Their disproportionate success in national football stems from the strength of their youth system that has seen stars such as Antonio Di Natale and Luca Toni pass through its ranks.
This year will be their first Serie A season since 2008 and their eighth in history. Last time, they had earnt themselves Europa League football and were not equal to the task of fighting relegation and seeing off international competition. However, that season was notable for the youth players that Empoli had temporarily enlisted; a quick look through the squad roster brings out the names Claudio Marchisio, Ignazio Abate, Sebastian Giovinco…
THE FUTURE OF ITALY: So keep a keen eye on this year’s lot, which includes Riccardo Saponara from Milan and Luigi Sepe from Napoli, both of whom have been touted as stars of the future.
Saponara has already been blooded in the top flight with seven appearances for Milan last year, but was originally an Empoli man. Sporting director Carli was delighted with the loan, saying “we are in love with Riccardo“.Meanwhile, Sepe has donned the gloves for Serie B side Virtus Lanciano, conceding 40 goals in the same number of games.
Milan fans might also recognise the name Simone Verdi, in a co-ownership deal with Torino, who has been with Empoli for the past season as a winger. He provided six goals and seven assists last season in blue and played regularly, leaving fans praying for a loan renewal. Their wish may well be granted – there is currently no space in the Milan shirt, so “Verdinho” could join up with Saponara as the rossonero prodigals.
REUNITED: Finally, two young Uruguayans, born in the same city, may be reunited next season as Diego Laxalt (21) and Rodrigo Aguirre (19) near loan deals with the Tuscans. Laxalt spent last season with Bologna where he scored twice and is now in demand from Lille and Almeria as well as Empoli, who will compete for the Inter winger’s signature. Aguirre, a striker, has already been confirmed as a loan signing from Udinese.
CO-OWNERSHIPS: Centre-back Daniele Rugani is half-and-half Empoli-and-Juventus but has already impressed in the Empoli shirt, earning an azzurini (Italy U21s) callup. He is likely to stay another year on loan in Tuscany before being bought out by the bianconeri.
During the co-ownership deadline, Carli got busy with a pretty good hit rate – Mario Rui, Lorenzo Tempesti, Leonardo Bianchi, Simone Della Latta and Vincent Laurini were all bought out, whilst the only significant loss was Sampdoria’s acquisition of Vasco Regini.
STAFF SHAKEUP: Pietro Accardi too will be missing from the Empoli back line, but not from the club entirely – at the age of 31 he has hung up his boots and will become part of the dressing room staff.