Despite owning a stake in many of Italy’s finest youngsters, Juventus have yet to bring one of these highly regarded talents into their own side.
A product of the Turin club’s own youth sector, and the top scorer in Serie A last term, Ciro Immobile was sold on to Borussia Dortmund last summer as the Bianconeri instead opted to bring in Álvaro Morata – previously profiled here – from Real Madrid. It was a similar story in January, with Manolo Gabbiadini moving from Sampdoria to Napoli despite the Bianconeri having co-owned him since 2012.
With the current management team only in place for five years however, it clearly takes time to develop both the level of talent and the culture to support it, and Juve certainly seem better equipped to do both compared to many of their rivals.
Seeing the likes of Morata, Kingsley Coman and of course Paul Pogba come of age in the famous black and white stripes bodes well for the future, and it can only be a matter of time before others follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps Simone Zaza – currently at Sassuolo – could be the first, the striker impressing once again in his second Serie A campaign with the Neroverde.
Domenico Berardi is also co-owned by Juventus, and has stolen much of the spotlight from his team-mate thanks a return of 23 goals and twelve assists in his first 50 top flight appearances. Yet despite being somewhat overshadowed by the meteoric rise of his 20-year-old team-mate, Zaza too has made quite an impact since helping his current club to promotion two seasons ago.
Born in the tiny town of Policoro in the deep south of the peninsula, his career has taken the same well-trodden path that many Italian players have been forced to follow, first playing with local sides Stella Azzurra and Valdera, before being signed by Atalanta in 2006. Aged just fifteen, the move was a smart one for Zaza, the Bergamo club long having a reputation as one of the best academy set ups in the country.
Slowly progressing through the various age groups, his initial breakthrough came in late 2009 when Gigi Delneri handed him his first team debut, and the youngster would make three appearances for the Orobici before the end of the campaign.
The coach would move on that summer and his replacement – none other than Antonio Conte – failed to hand the striker any further appearances. That, allied with the major interest showed in him by another man with Juventus connections would spell the end of Zaza’s time in Bergamo, and the following summer he would be on the move once again.
Fabio Paratici, the right-hand man of current Bianconeri Director General Beppe Marotta, was fulfilling the same role with Sampdoria at the time, and was enamored with what he had seen from the forward, bringing him to the Genoa-based club for no fee.
The two men - along with Delneri - moved to Turin before Zaza arrived at the Blucerchiati, but he began to represent their Primavera and once again made a handful Serie A appearances. An ill-suited loan to Juve Stabia hindered his progress, just as similar moves have stalled the careers of countless other promising Italians, but a subsequent move to Viareggio soon saw him back on track. Netting 11 goals in 18 appearances in the third tier was followed by a spell with Serie B side Ascoli, where he scored 18 times in 35 matches.
Paris Saint-Germain – buoyed by the success of Marco Verratti – showed an interest in him that summer, and were rumoured to have tabled a €7 million bid for his services. That never came to fruition however, and Paratici would intervene once more, again his presence having a positive impact on the player’s fledgling career. A co-ownership deal saw Juventus invest €2.5 million in Zaza, who would join a newly-promoted and largely unfancied Sassuolo side, who had won the Serie B title and earned their first ever trip to the top flight.
Under the tutelage of Eusebio Di Francesco, the club’s vibrant attacking players would thrive, winning over observers and neutral supporters with a thrilling style which saw them involved in some of last year’s most entertaining matches.
Making 24 starts, Zaza would play a full part in helping secure their survival, netting nine goals and adding a single assist in a season which saw him finally announce his arrival to a wider audience.
He works hard defensively, his averages of 0.7 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per game this term failing to display the effort he puts forth in closing down his opponents. Zaza has come to remind many of a young Christian Vieri, a player remarkably un-Italian in style and one who – when at his very best – played with a determination unsurpassed by his peers. Like the former Inter man, he is unafraid of physical battles, but has a delicate touch which stands in stark contrast to his bustling manner on the pitch.
Stats site WhoScored.com highlights his aerial ability, showing he wins an average of 3.2 duels per appearance, trailing only much taller strikers in that department. His style of play often belies the fact he stands a mere 1.87m (6’ 1½) tall and he uses his muscular frame well in this regard, often forcing his way into an advantageous position. He still has much room for improvement, perhaps relying a little too much on his left foot, and completes a staggeringly poor 66% of his passes.
He has clearly spent time working on the accuracy of his shooting as, having found the target with just 37% of his 87 attempts last term, he has improved that mark to 63% this season, netting nine goals thus far.
His early season play saw him earn a place in the Italy side, winning a penalty on his debut to help the Azzurri to a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands before scoring his maiden international goal against Norway a few days later. His form – plus the struggles of Fernando Llorente – saw him strongly linked with a January move to Juventus and, although it eventually failed to materialise, the transfer talk clearly took its toll on Zaza
“I really struggled during those moments. I didn’t want to know what was happening,” he told La Presse last week. “I was isolated from it and tried to focus only on doing well for Sassuolo, but whether you want to or not, these things get into your brain.”
Any deal will now wait for the summer, with Giovanni Carnevali discussing his future in an interview with TuttoSport this weekend, as Juventus ensured they retained an option on the player for the following two summers.
The Sasssuolo CEO says it is “not certain” that Zaza will move to Turin, adding that the striker “is followed by many foreign clubs, including Tottenham.” Yet with a clause to secure the player set at €15 million this year or €18 million twelve months later, it seems Simone Zaza is destined to pull on those famous black and white stripes sooner or later.
Fabio Paratici wouldn’t have it any other way.
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