For the second consecutive time, Italy will not be heading to the World Cup. This is no recent development: they’ve known since March’s loss to North Macedonia in qualifiers. However, a lot has changed since this occurred, particularly an important—and brutally honest—complaint from Italy coach Roberto Mancini directed at the lack of young players and local talent in the league.
Just look at the Champions League: when Juventus lost to Villarreal in the second leg of the Champions League, just two of the starters that day were under the age of 23. Neither Matthijs de Ligt nor Dušan Vlahović are Italian. Inter Milan’s second leg against Liverpool saw just one under 23 player, Italy international Alessandro Bastoni, start.
Thankfully for Mancini, the wheels of change are in motion. All across Italy, teams are dumping high-paid stars in favor of younger players. Particularly for Juventus: multiple veterans have been dumped from the squad, with the squad opting to rebuild with younger talent—and Paul Pogba.
In midfield, overpaid Welsh international Aaron Ramsey has been axed from the team, with fans excited to see Fabio Miretti and Nicolò Rovella potentially get chances. There’s one player in particular who can sneak in and steal a starting role: Nicolò Fagioli.
Fagioli’s Career Path
Nicolò Fagioli started his career with Piacenza, playing alongside current Italy and AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali. From there, he joined Cremonese’s academy where he stayed until the age of 14. Then he moved to Juventus where he still is today.
However, with only two appearances for Juventus’ senior team following a breakout season for the reserves, Fagioli opted to go out on loan last season. He ended up on loan with Cremonese, where he had featured in the academy several years ago. Fagioli starred for the Lombardy-based side, who earned promotion to Italy’s top flight for the first time in 26 years. (Cremonese will be joined by Lecce and Monza, winners of Italy’s complicated Serie B playoffs).
Fagioli has appeared in several international youth tournaments but has not yet featured for Italy at senior level.
Statistics and Comparisons
Last season saw Fagioli finish as Cremonese’s top creator, with seven assists. Overall, the midfielder created 42 chances, also chipping in with three goals of his own. On defense, he also proved to be an asset, with 24 interceptions and 28 tackles won per FBref.com.
The player I compare Fagioli to is SPAL midfielder Salvatore Esposito, a graduate of Inter Milan’s academy. Only 21—going on 22—Esposito was called up to Italy’s Nations League games in June and debuted against England. Yet, last season, Fagioli was arguably more impressive.
Fagioli scored as many goals (three), more assists (seven to three), and was more successful in most offensive categories. Esposito’s statistical passing is more accurate, but barely–just two percent higher. Defensively, Fagioli has won more tackles with a higher success rate, but trails in clearances and interceptions. There’s certainly a case for Fagioli to be an international if Esposito is.
Fagioli’s Strengths and Weaknesses
There’s a lot to like about Fagioli. His pace, dribbling, and control help him get the ball in dangerous positions. His passing and accuracy from range resulted in seven assists in the Serie B last season. Fagioli’s also a hard-working player, which allows him to win battles against more physical players. Oh, and he’s not afraid to take a shot from distance.
He’s not exactly physically imposing, which might result in problems against more aggressive opponents. However, his technical abilities mean he doesn’t necessarily need to be overly physical. He also had cardiac issues (an irregular heartbeat) in the past, which likely won’t be an issue but still is slightly concerning.
Reportedly, Juventus is planning to hold on to Fagioli this season and get him some game time. For Fagioli, this is a chance to prove that he can play at an elite level. For Juventus, this is a low-risk, high-reward scenario. However, if he hasn’t played much by January, it might be time to consider a move, permanent or on loan. He’s too good to sit on the reserves.
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