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Loanee reports: Not in Italy

It hasn’t been easy for all of these guys, but it’s a good reminder that growth isn’t always linear.

Girondins Bordeaux v FC Nantes - Ligue 1 Photo by Manuel Blondeau/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Nicky Beloko (Gent—Belgium)

The 19-year-old Swiss midfielder has finally resurfaced. After spending much of the season with the youth side, he’s now settling in with the reserves. It’s not quite what we’d hoped for, but he’s at least playing regular football again, and that’s what matters for a youngster. He’s probably a fair distance from popping up in the Jupiler Pro League, but he should make the odd appearance somewhere down the line this year. He’s a really talented player and we’re pretty sure he’ll be just fine; given that Gent have the option to buy him (although Fiorentina retain a counter-option), it’s in their best interest to develop him.

Kevin Diks (Aarhus—Denmark)

The 23-year-old Dutch defender played his first competitive minutes on Sunday since 6 May 2018. True, it was just 9 minutes off the bench to see out a 4-2 win, but you have to be a little bit excited that he finally saw the pitch in a real game for the first time in 18 months. Hopefully this jumpstarts his career; keep in mind that he’d already stacked up 75 Eredivisie appearances by the time he was 20, so this is a guy who’s not short on talent. We’ll be keeping a close eye on him this year; his contract with the Viola runs out next year, but he could be a fascinating reclamation project for someone and now has a chance to prove it.

Martin Graiciar (Sparta Praha—Czechia)

The 20-year-old Czech striker has picked up a knock that’s kept him out for the past month. It’s a shame, too, as he seemed to be building some momentum, even earning his first start, which made for the first time he’d appeared in back-to-back games. Hopefully it’s not a serious injury and he’ll be back in the team shortly.

David Hancko (Sparta Praha—Czechia)

The 21-year-old Slovakian defender continues to work as a rotation option for manager Václav Jílek; it seems that he’s now behind Martin Frýdek and possibly Matěj Hanousek at leftback, while Semih Kaya and David Lischka remain the preferred pairing in the middle. It’s tough sledding, but we’re backing him to break on through this year and earn a role as a regular starter. On the plus side, he’s held onto his starting berth for Slovakia, where he’s been an ever-present, playing every competitive minute for them since over the past year. Even if he doesn't make the final breakthrough this year, we’re confident it’s coming.

Alban Lafont (Nantes—France)

The 20-year-old goalkeeper has played every minute of every match in the league so far for the la Maison Jaune and has had a very Lafont start to the year. He’s kept 6 clean sheets in those 13 appearances and has made some truly mind-melting stops; he’s also made some truly boneheaded mistakes, which is what you expect from a goalkeeper who’s that young. Still, with Nantes flying high in third place, it’s pretty clear manager Christian Gourcuff isn’t going to change too much, and that surely includes the talent between the sticks. Lafont isn’t coming back to Florence is what we’re saying.

Maxi Olivera (Olimpia—Paraguay)

The 27-year-old leftback remains shelved with a knee injury, which could push him back to Florence in January if el Decano decides his health isn’t worth spending on. It’d be an awkward situation for everyone, so let’s hope that the Paraguayan outfit agrees to keep him around; he’s been quite good while on the pitch, so that’s the most likely outcome. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Amidu Salifu (Al-Salmiya—Kuwait)

The 27-year-old Ghanaian midfielder hasn’t made an appearance yet as far as I can tell, but I could be wrong; it’s awfully tough for me to find reliable information for the Terrible Troublers. That seems perfect for Salifu, who’s as mysterious as a player who’s been on the Viola books for 8 years can be. We just hope that he’s prospering.

Rafik Zekhnini (Twente—Netherlands)

The 21-year-old Norwegian winger continues to feature as a regular option for the Tukkers, switching between the bench and the starting XI. He notched his first assist of the season a few weeks ago following this impressive, rugged bit of running.

His end product is still a work in progress, but he’s starting to consistently get to the right places at the right times. Combined with his outrageous pace, he’s got everything going for him and should start to click pretty soon.