Matías Fernández (AC Milan): It’s been a rough spell for Mati in Lombardy. He’s worked his way back to fitness after hamstring and ankle injuries this season, but hasn’t managed to make himself a regular player; in the 12 Serie A matches he’s been healthy this year, he’s made 5 appearances, all from the bench, and picked up a yellow card over 93 league minutes. With the Rossoneri midfield humming along just fine in his absence, what with the rise of unheralded names like Manuel Locatelli and Mario Pasalic. Although the option to buy him is just €1 million (well below his market value), it’s hard to see him staying in Milan, leaving his future murkier than ever.
Jaime Báez (Spezia): The 21-year-old Uruguayan attacker has dropped to the bench since the start of February. It’s hardly outside of the trend we’re starting to see in his career, which is in danger of becoming as frustrating as he is. Báez is outrageously talented, hardworking, and athletic. He just can’t ever quite put all those things together, which has frustrated every coach he’s worked with in Italy so far; he always begins the season as a starter, then is slowly demoted to a rarely-seen bench player. With his contract running out at the end of the year, he probably won’t be back as Corvino continues the dePrade-ization of the team.
Ricardo Bagadur (Benevento): The 21-year-old Croatian centerback still has just the 1 appearance for the Stregoni, and that a 7 minute cameo in the season opener. He’s struggled with injuries a bit this season, but his real problem is that Benevento sit 4th in Serie B and boat the best defensive record in the league, which means that manager Marco Baroni has precisely zero motivation to change his defense. It’s a shame for young Bagadur, as he showed considerable promise last season at Salernitana. While we certainly aren’t hoping for an injury to ex-Viola Michele Camporese to open a spot for him, that’s realistically what it’ll take for him to earn any time this season. Benevento has the option to buy him at the end of the season, but the Viola left a buy-back clause in there as well, so he could vanish for a year or two after this and return when he’s all the way ready.
Luca Lezzerini (Avellino): The 21-year-old goalkeeper left Fiorentina after a few unimpressive displays in hopes of establishing himself elsewhere. The move to Avellino seemed a perfect fit, as the Irpini had just sold number Pierluigi Frattali to Parma, leaving Atalanta loanee Boris Radunovic as the only obstacle between Lezze and the starter’s berth he so covets. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to unseat the young Serb and has instead been stuck on the bench. The Neroverdi will probably trigger his release clause, though, and give him a chance to win the job, so he’s probably ended his Viola career despite the buy-back clause in his contract.
Jacopo Petriccione (Ternana): The 22-year-old defensive midfielder (whose birthday was last week) continues to stack up the appearances for the struggling Rossoverdi, who’ve now lost 6 on the trot and sit in the basement of Serie B. It’s been rather up and down for Jacopo, too. He’s more elegant schemer than pure destroyer and would surely look better if he weren’t having to do the dirty work in the engine room quite as much, especially as his penchant for bookings remains a bit problematic. He’s started 17 of 25 matches for the Fère, notching a goal, 2 assists, and 8 yellow cards. And that goal was pretty slick.
With his waifish frame, he’s still probably a season or two away from being ready for the big time, but he’s a talented player and certainly one to keep an eye on.
Lorenzo Venuti (Benevento): The 21-year-old rightback has excelled as greatly as his teammate Bagadur has struggled. He’s one of the first names on the team sheet for Baroni, and has shown the versatility to shift to the left flank when necessary as well, or even move up to the right wing in a pinch. He’s started 23 of 25 matches for the Stregoni, accumulating just 2 bookings in 2,044 minutes. He also notched his first assist of the season with a neat low cross.
With the dearth of rightbacks in Florence, Venuti is probably the best chance for an academy prospect to fix a position that hasn’t had a satisfactory answer since the days of Tomas Ujfalusi. Nippy and clever, young Lorenzo is a bit of a throwback defender in that he generally focuses on neutralizing opposing wingers rather than getting forward. There’s still space for that in the modern game, and he should have a good long career.
Steve Beleck (Ümraniyespor—Turkey): The 24-year-old Cameroonian striker has unexpectedly burst into life, scoring in each of his last 3 matches. It was just about time, as those are his first 3 goals of the season; he’d previously played 1,228 minutes without scoring in Turkey’s second tier. The first was simply scrambling the ball over the line after a free kick. The second was a powerful header from a long cross in (also keep an eye out for a bad miss at 1:43 in the video). The third was an absolute belter from outside the box with a defender right on him.
With a contract that expires at the end of the season, it’s hard to say where Steve will end up. He was originally a Corvino player, but the shine is rather off him now and he probably doesn’t feature in the club’s long term plans. More than anything, though, we hope that he finds a place to call home and settles in. Poor dude likely needs that more than anything else.
Kevin Diks (Vitesse—Netherlands): The 20-year-old Dutch rightback has settled right back into life in the Eredivisie since rejoining his boyhood club. He’s now started 4 straight matches, including one at leftback, and while it’s taken him a bit to find his feet again, he’s certainly back on track. His pedigree at the youth international level and his obvious talent for the Viola Primavera indicate that he’s worth keeping around, and, he’ll be one of the most interesting players to watch at Moena next season, as he certainly has a bright future.
Gilberto (Vasco da Gama—Brazil): The 23-year-old Brazilian rightback (whose birthday is coming up on Tuesday) looks a lot more comfortable back in his home country, where he’s earned a spot as an automatic starter in the back line. He’ll get a chance to really get comfortable, as his loan runs until December of next year. It’s probably all for the best, as his petulance about his lack of minutes in Italy had become his defining characteristic. It’s a shame, frankly, as he’s an exciting sort of fullback, the type who’s at his best storming forward and making things happen. A full season of starter’s minutes may be what he needs to earn a spot back with Fiorentina next spring. If not, he’ll probably be farmed out for several years or sold at a discount, as his contract isn’t up until 2020. The best case scenario, though, is that he matures a bit and returns to contribute some forward-thinking movement from the back in Florence next year.
Giuseppe Rossi (Celta Vigo): The 30-year-old striker is the third option in the striking rotation for os Celtos behind John Guidetti and Iago Aspas. Across 25 appearances, he’s tallied 3 goals and an assist in 1,098 minutes, which isn’t particularly impressive. Celta has an option to pick him up for another year, but given his salary and his frustration at not starting (as spoken through his agent), it seems unlikely that he’ll be back next year. The MLS has been mooted as a possible destination, but Pepito obviously wants to stay in Europe. What with the dearth of strikers in Florence these days, he may get another shot in purple next season, but it’s more likely that he’ll head on down the road to a smaller club in Spain or Italy.
Andrés Schetino (Sevilla B): The 22-year-old Uruguayan defensive midfielder has fallen out of favor since mid-November. Originally a starter for the Rojiblancos in midfield (and occasionally even in central defense), he’s since dropped to the bench, managing just 33 minutes across 3 appearances since 19 November. It’s hard to say what’s gone wrong since then, except that he’s tumbled down the pecking order. Now it’s tough to say if Sevilla will exercise their right to redeem his contract at the end of the year, although the smart money says that they’ll go ahead and buy. He remains a very promising young player, but I’d be shocked if he ever ended up wearing the Viola shirt.