Lost In Translation - Inter's Youth Academy
"Young people are an asset and the club together with the coach will decide how best to manage them. The assessment of when and how to do it is an important and delicate thing because you can take a risk and rush the evolution of a young man But I think the president has already given a signal." - Stramaccioni
And that signal was hiring young Stramaccioni as the head coach of Inter earlier this year. Before this appointment, Stramaccioni was the coach of Inter's U19 primavera side, which had just won the inaugural "NextGen Series", a youth equivalent of the Champions League. He had no coaching experience at senior level, and had only been coaching at U19 level at Inter for less than a season. Making Stramaccioni the head coach was definitely a signal by the Inter President, a signal for the dawn of a new era with a focus on youth development.
Translating Youth Talent
Clearly this has been an area where Inter have proven to be quite incompetent in the past. For many years, Inter relied on Moratti's millions buying the talent that the squad needed. The focus always has been on mega deals, like the world record transfer fee deals which brought stars like Ronaldo and Vieri to Inter. Over the last decade and a half, there have hardly been a handful of players from Inter's primavera who have made it to the senior team.
This is not a case of Inter having a weak Primavera (U19) side. Quite the opposite. Apart from winning the NextGen Series, in the last decade or so, Inter Primavera has won the Scudetto 3 times and finished runner's up thrice. At youth level, Inter have been doing exceedingly well. The problem is of translating this youth talent to benefit the senior team, and thats where Inter have failed miserably.
The few youth talents who did break into the senior team, like Pirlo for example, were because they were special talents. And even then, Inter were unable to convert them into future regulars. Even Pirlo, who was heralded as the "new Zidane" when playing for Inter's primavera and the Azzurrini, miserably failed to translate his talent on the pitch for the senior Inter side, and was promptly shipped off to City rivals Milan for a small fee. Milan, with a much better track record in converting youth potential, managed to develop Pirlo into a world class playmaker.
Pirlo's is not an isolated case. If you look at the most recent Italy National team, 4 other such players stand out. Balotelli, Santon, Bonucci and Destro were all Inter youth players, and now all of them are plying their trade elsewhere. The cases of Bonucci and Destro are quite typical of how Inter waste their youth talent. Bonucci was loaned out to Trevisio & Pisa, where he gave clear indication of his talent. He was at 21 already valued at 3m, with just 3 Inter starts in Serie A. and then he was sold to Genoa, along with 3 other youth players, as a sweetener to the deal which brought Milito and Motta to Inter.
Destro was given even less of a chance to prove his mettle, not even a single Serie A appearance. For Inter primavera, Destro was devastating with a very prolific scoring record. He looked and played the part of a classic Italian striker of the future. Inspite of that, he was pushed off to Genoa (along with half rights to Longo, another gifted Primavera striker) as a sweetener to the deal which brought Ranocchia to Inter. And why was Ranocchia so important? Because in that one year, he had developed into one of Serie A's best defensive partnerships at Bari with... wait for it... Bonucci (who signed for Juventus for 15.5m, and won the Scudetto with them). Life is not without a sense of irony. At a time when Inter were desperately looking for a new striker last summer after wasting millions on "proven" star purchases like Forlan and Pazzini, Destro was bought by rivals Roma in a deal worth 15m, a sum now beyond Inter's means.
Its a classic Inter "LOL" moment.
The Missing Link
Coming back to the present, in the last 12 months, the focus has shifted at Inter. Thanks to UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, Inter can no longer rely on Moratti millions. Inter Primavera's win at NextGen earlier this year was no coincidence. There has been a sizable investment in Inter's academy, with talents like Alborno, Tassi, Spendlhofer, Bessa, etc bought with the intention to develop them into senior team regulars. The appointment of youth coach Stramaccioni as the senior team coach was another step in this direction. The intent was clear, Stramaccioni was probably the best candidate to convert some of his NextGen champions into Serie A stars.
However, Inter still lack the competence to grow these kids from primavera stars into the senior team. Its a big jump from a quality and physical aspect of the game. Indeed, there is a stage of development missing between the Primavera and Serie A, where the youth can further develop their skills without the added pressure. The only strategy that Inter seems to have to make up for this "missing link" is to give these kids experience via loan/co-ownership deals, like Inter are already doing with some of their NextGen stars like Longo, Crisetig, Alborno, Benedetti, etc.
But this startegy is not without its risks, and has historically had a very low rate of success. Most of these players end up becoming squad players for smaller teams, for these teams are more interested in developing players they own. This not only ends up negating the very reason of sending them away (experience) but also ends up destroying the confidence of a young talent.
One way of making a success out of this startegy, is perhaps following the recent example set by rival clubs like Juventus and Roma. This is by inserting clauses into the loan / co-ownership agreements with smaller teams that encourage (or even force) them to start their youngsters. Of course, this would mean dealing with Serie B or even Serie C clubs, but these lower divisions of Italian football have for long proven to be excellent grounds for youth development.
But apart from this, are there any other strategies possible to make up for this "missing link" in an young player's development?
The Spanish Way
One successful model that we can see in Europe is in Spain, where top teams have B-sides playing in the lower leagues. This helps them to grow some of their youth talents in their own club philosophy and infrastructure, which clearly can work wonders as Barca have demonstrated in recent times. Clearly the main advantage here is that you can control the development your own talent, without the fear/pressure of results. But the ball in this case rests with the FIGC, and knowing their decision making history, it could take years before this proposal sees the light of day. So this option is currently out of Inter's hands.
The Udinese Experiment
Another interesting model is.... continued at Lost In Translation - The Story of Inter's Youth Academy
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Would love to hear comments...
I'm almost 100% sure Pirlo came from Brescia's youth academy and was already to old to play for our primavera. Benedetti also has never played a next gen game.
Solid article though. I'd love to see us buy a Serie B club or a German/Spanish b league team.
We have a youth academy?
I get slightly worried when a guy called "Marco Branca" asks this question...
Originally Posted by Marco Branca
A very interesting article, I will comment further on it when I'm done reading it.
However, since you brought up the name of Stramaccioni in the long term project of our youth, one has to wonder...
Was he the "destined" manager to lead the Primavera line into the first team in the first place? We all remember the circumstances that led to his appointment as a first team manager, but when you look back and this came to me when I was looking at Uni's avatar...
Wasn't Rafa the one our management chose to lead this program? This brings up another question, if the rumors and calcio daily journals were true about Angelomario Moratti being the one who suggested Rafa as the heir to Jose. Does this mean that the Moratti son has a footballing vision more than his father? I presume he made the suggestion because of a knowledge of Rafa's role in the youth academies in Valencia and Liverpool...
imho, rafa was brought in to continue mourinhos success. we basically expected just a direct follow on of mourinho - and it wasnt a new youth project or anything. which is why, of course, we only gave him basically biabany and castellazzi?
strama is a new attempt at things - representing giving up on attempting to expect us to be at the same levels of mourinho and nstead appreciating the fact that we need to have a new project from scratch, delivering (whether successful so far or not) with youth, new ideas, and savings
Originally Posted by ScottishInterista
Good spot, I guess there were a couple of errors on my part. Pirlo was from the Brescia youth academy, but he did join Inter at 19 and was eligible to play for our Primavera. I just don't remember whether he did, if I remember correctly, he was used sporadically in the senior team that season and then loaned out.
Originally Posted by thatdude
I agree, Benetiz was a last attempt to extend the glory cycle which brought us 5 scudetti and a CL. This new project with Strama's appointment is the first clear indication that our management has given up on extending that cycle, and understand that a new one must be developed. With our financial situation as it is, this has to start from scratch, and as I analysed in this article, youth will have to play a much bigger role for this to be successful. Else we may end up with a mediocre side for a very long time.
Originally Posted by browha
Thanks. I think one of the reasons why Strama was hired was because he knew the primavera players, and hence looked best placed to translate some of the Nextgen talents into the senior squad. Obviously, the gap in quality between primavera and Serie A is so large that this would take time... it would take those nextgen talents 2-3 years to develop enough to play for the Inter senior team. So I am not a bit surprised that there has been little impact yet on this, apart from perhaps young Benassi. But what we do with these young talents during these 2-3 years of development is crucial - we could end up with not even 1 player from Nextgen making it, or we could end up with 3-4 (which would be fantastic). That's the problem I have tried to address in the article, looking at all the options on how to develop these kids the best way.
Originally Posted by Y&h