We’ve looked at the guys who only the most pedantic and esoterically-minded Fiorentina fans would know. Now, let’s get down to the ones whose brilliance is, at this point, a matter of public record on various Football Manager fan sites. Time to finish this series off with a bang.
5. Abdou Diakhate
The skinny: The first time we saw Abdou Diakhate, he was an unheralded 16-year-old beating the stuffing out of everyone at Moena two years ago. I still remember genuinely laughing out loud at him because he looked so much older than 16, both in terms of footballing ability and intelligence and in sheer physicality; he was simply brushing men twice his age off the ball like you would with flies. While he hasn’t hit the heights we predicted back then, he’s balled out for the Primavera ever since, compiling 27 goals and 13 assists in 95 appearances. Still just 18, he’s a busy midfielder who always looks to present a passing option for the defense and moves the ball forward neatly and unfussily. He has the guile to go with his impressive strength, too, and can dribble his way out of any trouble he can’t simply bull through. He’s one who could break into the first team with a good performance at Moena next year, but for now, it seems likely he’ll spend the season frightening other Primavera players.
Goals for next year: Just keep bashing up the kids, then stake a spot either in Florence or in some lucky team’s first XI on loan in 2018
4. Jan Mlakar
The skinny: You don’t see a lot of clubs pay a million euros for a 16-year-old, but most 16-year-olds aren’t Jan Mlakar. He’s settled right into the Primavera over the past two years and has matured into one of Slovenia’s most salivated-over prospects. He’s not one a freakish athlete, but rather a brilliant one. He possesses adequate pace, good strength, and solid but not amazing technique on the ball. What sets him apart is the mental side of his game: he’s always in space, either in the box or in behind the defense, and he’s a devastatingly efficient finisher. Quite simply, if you give him an open shot anywhere within 25 yards or so, you can pretty much guarantee that the opposing goalkeeper will be picking the ball out of the net shortly thereafter. He scored 34 goals, to go with 5 assists, in 59 appearances with the Primavera, and now he gets a chance to strut his stuff with Serie B newcomers Venezia as an 18-year-old who’ll probably wind up as the first choice striker before midseason.
Goals for next year: Score a buttload of goals in Serie B and perhaps develop more of an all-around game, then come back to Fiorentina and challenge for the playing time you deserve as the heir to such brilliant Viola finishers as Adrian Mutu and Giuseppe Rossi
3. Gaetano Castrovilli
The skinny: If you love calcio, then you love the fantasista, the number 10, the player who exudes that little bit of magic with every step he takes. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re in love with Castrovilli, who already bears the burden of being nicknamed the “new Cassano” due to their mutual roots at Bari and their extraordinary technique and vision on the pitch. That’s where the comparison ends, though, because Castrovilli, while on the languid side, isn’t afraid to get involved on the defensive side of things and grind; he’s dropped into central midfield for the Primavera, rather than his natural attacking role, which demonstrates a versatility and dedication that Fantantonio has never possessed. What he has is acceleration, composure, vision, dribbling, and set piece delivery, and he looks a steal for the €1.4 million that the Viola paid Bari for his rights. Having produced 8 goals and 10 assists in 22 appearances for the Primavera last term, he’ll feature heavily for Serie B new boys Cremonese, where he’ll surely gain some new fans.
Goals for next year: Hone your craft and become a complete central midfielder, because you’re far and away the closest Borja Valero replacement on the roster
2. Andy Bangu
The skinny: I’ve made no secret here about my pure and unadulterated love for Andy Bangu, who I think is a combination of Renato Sanches and Optimus Prime. He’s not tall—5’6 or 172 cm—but he’s strong as the proverbial ox, loves to dribble past opponents in the middle of the pitch, and has a gift for finding holes in the defense, motoring into them, and scoring goals. He’s about as much fun on a pitch as you’re legally allowed to have and he’s also a tremendous footballer. If you’d rather talk in terms of numbers, how about 44 goals and 16 assists in 122 appearances with the Primavera, or 6 and 1 in 35 with Reggina last year? Yeah, that’s pretty productive from a central midfielder. I have no idea why he was sent back to Serie C with Vicenza this year rather than getting a shot in Serie B or even the top flight, but he’s already notched an assist in his two appearances.
Goals for next year: Just keep displaying your joyfully destructive qualities, get ready for a role with the big boys next year, maybe improve defensively, and remember I love you
1. Ianis Hagi
The skinny: You know who he is. Son of Gheorghe Hagi. Debuted in the Romanian league at 15. 2017 Golden Boy nominee (is there a worse-named award in soccer?). Greatest footballing hope of Romania and realistic heir to Adrian Mutu’s old number 10. And he’s finally getting settled in and ready to rock. He tallied 5 goals and 3 assists in 13 appearances for the Primavera last season, but spent most of his time as an unused substitute for the senior squad, managing just 48 minutes across two matches, although he’ll certainly get more playing time in 2017. Hagi Junior isn’t a pace merchant, but possesses top-notch acceleration and changes speeds well. Coupled with his impressive balance and silky touch, he ghosts past defenders without ever seeming to try hard. He’s entirely two-footed, to the point of delivering corners with both, and packs a dangerous shot from distance to go with outstanding set piece delivery. His technique has always been beyond question, but he also showed intelligence in his movement at Moena this year. He’s the next 18-year-old to take Serie A by storm, just like Federico Chiesa did last year, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Goals for next year: Work your way into Pioli’s attacking rotation, start the odd match, and make things happen