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Fiorentina prospect countdown: 5-1

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Meet the future.

Heracles Almelo v Fiorentina - Pre Season Friendly
Just get out of his way
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Now that Trayers has done all the hard work on 20-6, it’s time to wrap up our tour of Fiorentina prospects with the crown jewels. We feel really good about all of these guys, who should, barring catastrophe, have strong careers as professionals. Hopefully those careers will be spent largely with the Viola, since we’re awfully tired of Cristiano Piccini and Gianluca Mancini situations, but that’s more about the off-pitch stuff. Based on their work on the pitch, here are your stars of tomorrow.

5. Rafik Zekhnini

Although he was largely invisible last year—making just a solitary appearance for the first team—the Big Z is still a top-notch footballer. Currently on loan at Twente in the Dutch second division, he’s helping the Tukkers push for promotion back to the Eredivisie, already notching a goal and an assist. Everyone has the book on him, which is that he is an absurdly pacy player. The wide-open attacking setting in the Netherlands should suit him nicely as he learns the finer points of wing play, but we’re confident he’ll pick it up quickly; you can teach the movement and the tactics, but you can’t teach that kind of speed. If he progresses this year as much as we expect, he could be ready to serve a role with the senior side as early as next year. While he wouldn’t be able to provide as much of a threat as, say Federico Chiesa, he could certainly force a defense to account for him due to the threat he’d offer in behind. Right now, that feels like it could be a big deal.

Goals for this season: Score some goals, show off the wheels, but more than anything, demonstrate an understanding of where to be so that Stefano Pioli decides you’re ready for next year

4. Kevin Diks

It’s hard to believe that this is just his third year on the Viola books, as it seems like we’ve been waiting for him to break through to the first team for nearly a decade. He’s 22 years old now and managed to fend off Lorenzo Venuti at Moena for a spot with the senior side, although he hasn’t made an appearance yet and may still be behind Vincent Laurini in the pecking order. However, with the French fullback expected to leave this winter, we could see some Diks in the Coppa sooner rather than later. He’s got everything you could hope for in a fullback: pace, stamina, crossing technique, a willingness to get forward at any time, and a bit of fire in his belly. Excellent in possession and in attack, it’s his defending that’s raised some questions, but we firmly believe he’s going to have a lengthy top-class career. Don’t forget that he was considered possibly the best teenage fullback prospect in Europe when he signed on. Defenders often seem to pause their growth around this stage of their careers before pushing through (Piccini and Mancini jump to mind). If given a chance to operate, we’re confident he’s ready for whatever the bottom teams in the league can throw at him, and maybe for more.

Goals for this season: Train hard and bide your time, then grab hold of the first opportunity with both hands and don’t let go

3. Gaetano Castrovilli

He’s so much fun. That’s the first thing. He’s not a languid playmaker, but rather one who’s always in motion, darting all over the pitch to find space to receive a pass. Castrovilli is back in Serie B with Cremonese and already has 2 goals and 2 assists in 7 appearances. We originally thought he was a trequartista, but the move farther back the pitch has worked perfectly, as it gets him on the ball more often. That said, he can fill in on the wing when necessary. Despite his slight build, he’s not afraid to stick his foot in for a tackle, but it’s his skill going forward that’s made us fall in love. With a natural understanding of where to find space for himself and for his teammates and a knack for playing passes that are much more clever than they look at first blush, he reminds us a bit of Borja Valero. That’s obviously a big set of shoes to fill, but the fact that we can even say this about such a young and unproven player should be a good reflection of his quality.

Goals for this season: Tear Serie B apart at the seams, because Fiorentina could desperately use your creativity in the middle of the pitch next year and you should get a chance to prove that you’re ready then

2. Gabriele Gori

Gori’s got it all: size, quickness, technique with the ball, aerial prowess, finishing, and intelligent movement for a player his age. Combined with his matinee idol looks, it’s easy to see why so many people think he’s the future face of the franchise. While he hasn’t been at his prolific best at Foggia—just 1 goal and 1 assist in 6 appearances—he was unstoppable for the Primavera, smashing 20 goals and adding 7 assists last year. It’s no surprise that a 19-year-old would struggle a bit when moving from playing other teenagers to clashing with grown-ass men, but Gori’s looked comfortable with the pace and ruggedness of his new surroundings. He also scored on his debut with the U20s earlier this year and should be breathing down the necks of Gianluca Scamacca and Andrea Pinamonti for minutes. With his power and hold-up play, he should be ready for Fiorentina sooner rather than later.

Goals for this season: Find your shooting boots, win your tussles with men ten years your senior, and hit double digits in Serie B

1. Dušan Vlahović

The hulking Serb has already made his first two appearances for the senior side, although he’s yet to score a goal; in fact, he badly missed a header against Inter Milan that would have tied the match. However, he’s just 18 years old and in his first season in Italy; the fact that he’s already surpassed Cyril Théréau, Gori, and Martin Graiciar as the understudy to Giovanni Simeone should say plenty. It’s not like he’s usually a poor finisher, either; Vlahović has already helped himself to 3 goals in 2 appearances with the Primavera. The Zlatan Ibrahimović comparisons are lazy and based only on their size, but Dušan has almost limitless potential. Not only is he almost comically large and strong, but he’s as light on his feet as a man who’s half a foot shorter, as you can see from his lateral quickness and excellent skill on the ball. His finishing can occasionally desert him, but he’s normally as predatory as you could like in the box. He’s probably the safest bet in this season’s roster to have a breakout year and garner some consideration from mega-clubs, and he’s only just scratching the surface.

Goals for this season: Open your account before New Year so that Corvino and everyone else know that Cholito’s backup is on the roster and ready for duty