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Final loanee reports: Serie C

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Learning experiences, growing pains, and other unpleasant but salubrious stuff.

Italy U20 v Germany U20 - 8 Nations Cup Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Andy Bangu (Matera and Bisceglie)

What happened: The 21-year-old Congolese midfielder (whom I still love too much) started the season at Matera and looked pretty sharp. While he didn’t score goals or influence play as much in the attacking third, his dynamism as a ball-carrier was on full display. Unfortunately, the dire state of il Bue’s finances meant that they were booted from the league after not paying their players for months, leaving loanees like Bangu in limbo.

Fortunately, Fiorentina engineered a move to Bisceglie for him in January. Unfortunately, the player fell off a bit, probably due to the adjustment of a new team after being in such a chaotic situation. He remained a regular for manager Rodolfo Vanoli but was benched for several key matches, including the final 2 of the season and the first 2 matches of the Serie C relegation playout, and came off the bench in the second round, which eventually saw the Nerazzurri Stellati relegated.

Final stats: 29 appearances (22 starts), 4 yellow cards

Best moment: After the 2 takers ahead of him missed their penalties in the shootout to see who would drop to Serie D, Bangu notched his nicely, but to no avail; of the 5 other shooters, only 1 put the ball in the net. It was his only “goal” of the season.

What’s next: With a contract that runs out next season, Bangu probably had to show something impressive in Serie C to earn an extension this summer. Especially with the team in transition, it’s unlikely that they’ll see his body of work in the third tier and make him a part of the long-term plan. He’ll probably spend next year on loan in Serie C again before leaving on a free, and leaving me with a pile of tears and some grainy clips of his Primavera highlights.

Final grade: C- Being on two different teams that got relegated to Serie D isn’t a good look. While Bangu certainly wasn’t the problem, he didn’t add the sort of spark that we’ve seen him bring at the youth level, and he didn’t really show any development from the player he was 3 years ago.

Giuseppe Caso (Cuneo)

What happened: The 20-year-old winger played his first-ever season away from the Primavera in the Piedmont. To his credit, he immediately worked his way into the rotation, usually as an attacking option off the bench; given that the Aquile boasted the 3rd-worst attack in the league, he was frequently called upon to provide a spark.

While he didn’t light up the pitch by any stretch, he showed flashes of the talent that languished behind the likes of Riccardo Sottil and Marco Meli for the Primavera. He’s a quick, fearless winger who’s always looking to beat his man although his final product often lets him down, especially for a guy who sported the number 10 shirt this year.

Final stats: 29 appearances (9 starts), 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1 red card

Best moment: Probably his first (and only thus far) goal as a professional. There isn’t a striker in the world who doesn’t like a burst of pace and a sharp finish in the box for a winner away from home.

What’s next: Although he’s probably not a long-term solution for Fiorentina, it’ll be interesting to see if the club decides to give him a chance to prove himself in Serie B next year or just lets him grind it out in Serie C before quietly shuffling him on. If he can improve from being a guy who’s on the pitch sometimes to a guy who makes a difference, though, he could be worth hanging onto.

Final grade: C+ Carved out regular minutes in his first assignment on a team full of adults, which is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Michele Cerofolini (Cosenza and Bisceglie)

What happened: The 20-year-old goalkeeper started the year at Cosenza in Serie B, but couldn’t surpass Umberto Saracco in the pecking order. Part of that is probably down to his size (at 188 cm/6’1, he’s not the biggest), and that can hamper a younger keeper, especially in the rough and tumble of Serie B. That’s no real knock on Cerofolini, who was making his first professional appearances and has starred in the Italy youth teams, but he desperately needed minutes to keep his spot with the Azzurrini for the U20 World Cup and therefore moved to Bisceglie in the winter.

He immediately stepped in as the number one with the Puglia-based outfit and produced some some strong performances behind a very shaky defense—he sometimes looked like the only thing that would keep the Nerazzurri Stellati from conceding double digits—but it ultimately wasn’t enough to keep them up. To add insult to injury, he picked up a cruciate ligament injury in the final game of the season that kept him out of the World Cup, and out of action until October.

Final stats: 15 appearances (15 starts), 14 goals conceded, 6 clean sheets

Best moment: Pick any of the 3 clean sheets he kept against the top 3 teams in his Serie A group. Or, if you prefer, either of the 2 penalties he kept out this year. Or just any of the crazy-good stops he made. We’re easy.

What’s next: Rehabbing the knee will be his priority, and then he’ll probably spend a couple of months training with the Primavera and maybe even the senior side before trying his luck in Serie B again.

Final grade: B There’s no shame in struggling in your first stint in senior football, especially for a teenage goalkeeper in Serie B. While he may never reach the level of Alban Lafont or Bartłomiej Drągowski, he looks like a lock to be, at worst, a solid Serie A backup for years, and showed that quality at Bisceglie. Well done, young man.

Petko Hristov (Ternana)

What happened: This wasn’t an easy season for the 20-year-old Bulgarian centerback. He looked quite good until late December, showcasing the physical strength, aerial ability, and general ruggedness of a classic penalty box defender which earned him so many plaudits as a teenager back with Slavia Sofia. He’s a comfortingly hulking presence at the back and looked like he was going to have a very impressive season.

That’s when the injuries kicked in. Specifically, a tear in his groin muscle kept him out for all but 2 matches in 2019. Combined with his absences for the Bulgaria U21s, it limited his time in training, and manager Fabio Gallo had no choice but to leave him on the bench even when he was fit. The only silver lining is that he apparently showed enough in his limited action to keep his spot with the youth team for the World Cup this summer.

Final stats: 14 appearances (11 starts), 1 goal, 3 yellow cards

Best moment: A clean sheet and a thumping header? Yes, please. The 3-0 win against Rimini is what you’re looking for.

What’s next: First of all, he’ll try to regain his form while representing his country. After that, he’ll probably get a chance to run at Moena for a bit, then head out on loan to Serie B for a challenge. As long as he can stay fit without a break in the summer, we think he’s ready for a bigger challenge.

Final grade: C Would have been substantially higher had he succeeded in staying on the pitch, as he tantalized us before dropping off the map.

Marco Marozzi (Fermana)

What happened: The 20-year-old winger is another attacker who spent most of his time with the Primavera behind more heralded options and is thus a bit of an unknown. This was his first season outside of Florence, and he acquitted himself adequately, if not impressively; if that sounds a bit like his youth career, well, that’s because it is.

He started the year on the bench and made just 3 league appearances before 2019. He eventually forged himself a spot in the rotation, though, and showed some unexpected versatility by earning his only start of the year in central midfield, which at least proved that he isn’t, at this point in his career, a central midfielder. Still, it’s encouraging that he managed to earn a role after keeping his nose to the grindstone all year.

Final stats: 14 appearances (1 start)

Best moment: Honestly, I didn’t watch enough of him to know. His match in central midfield wasn’t good, and that was the only extended footage I saw of him.

What’s next: Another loan in Serie C should be looming, although this time with the goal of earning a berth in the first XI.

Final grade: C- Showed improvement as the season wore on and kept at it. Given that he’s not the highest-rated prospect in the system, showing that he can fit on a professional team is definitely a plus for him.

Luca Mosti (Arezzo and Bisceglie)

What happened: The 21-year-old rightback was another former Primavera standout taking his first steps outside of Florence. Sadly, it didn’t go as well as we might have hoped; initially sent to Tuscan side Arezzo, he struggled to make the matchday squad and never saw the pitch. A January move to Bisceglie proved just as fruitless, as he made a single appearance off the bench for the Nerazzurri Stellata—he earned himself a booking and gave up the go-ahead goal after letting his man get in front of him for a header. In short, it was a rude reminder that playing grown-ass men is a lot more difficult than playing other teenagers.

Final stats: 1 appearance (0 starts), 1 yellow card

Best moment: n/a

What’s next: Another move on loan in Serie C should be on the horizon, but his profile has surely dropped substantially after this showing.

Final grade: F Yikes. The only positive is that he’s certain to do better next year.

Pierluigi Pinto (Arezzo)

What happened: The 20-year-old centerback had an impressive career with the Primavera, but we didn’t expect him to catch on so quickly as a professional. He immediately established himself as a starter for manager Alessandro dal Canto and never looked back. Physically powerful and quicker across the ground than you’d expect, he’s a sturdy figure who reads the game fairly well at this early stage of his career. He occasionally switches off in his marking and can struggle against pacier attackers, but what player his age doesn’t?

He’s a smart and precise defender, as evidenced by the mere 5 bookings he acquired (and just a single one in 2019). The only downsides to his season were a rather primitive use of the ball (he’s not afraid to leather it forward under the slightest provocation) and a falling-off towards the end of the year, but both should improve with experience; after all, the Primavera season isn’t nearly as long and grueling, and it’s no surprise that his fitness would break down after playing the 4th-most minutes of any outfield player on the team.

Final stats: 38 appearances (37 starts), 1 assist, 5 yellow cards

Best moment: Helped the Amaranti keep a clean sheet in an away win at Piacenza, who are 1 goal away from achieving promotion to Serie B, with an impressive performance against a bunch of veterans.

What’s next: He’s clearly got this Serie C thing pretty well figured out, so next up should be a chance to prove himself in Serie B. Since he’s still so young, there’s no reason to rush him into the senior team. Instead, making sure he’s in a place where he can get lots of minutes should be the priority.

Final grade: B+ Showed physicality, intelligence, and versatility well beyond his tender years. For a guy who was never the most heralded player in his year in the academy, he looks like he could wind up having one of the better careers.

Amidu Salifu (Arezzo)

What happened: The 26-year-old Ghanaian midfielder (who feels like he should be pushing 40) struggled to get his feet under him for the Tuscan outfit. Trying yet again to prove that the series of knee injuries that robbed him of 2 years are behind him, he looked sporadically decent and seemed to have finally nailed down a spot in the first XI at the beginning of 2019, making 3 consecutive starts and playing 90 minutes in each. Then, of course, the injuries began piling up. A broken bone in his hand required surgery, hamstrings, and knee twinges kept him from taking the pitch after February.

Final stats: 9 appearances (3 starts)

Best moment: Arezzo picked up 7 points from his 3 consecutive starts—it would have been 9 except for a late meltdown against Siena after they’d taken a 3-goal lead (Salifu conceded a needless penalty to compound the problems)—and in them, the former Catania man showed what he’s all about: energetically winning the ball, then sitting deep and keeping his distribution intelligent and tidy.

What’s next: Arezzo have an option to buy him, but it’s hard to see them exercising it on someone who missed so much time for them. His name has recently popped up as a target for Cesena, too, but that feels unlikely. His contract with Fiorentina still runs until 2020, which means he’s now outlasted Pantaleo Corvino (the man who signed him) twice. That has to be some sort of record.

Final grade: D Shake your fists at the heavens for poor Salifu, who is, in a gentler alternate universe, a world class midfield destroyer whose knees never betrayed him.

Luca Zanon (Siena)

What happened: The 22-year-old leftback shook off his disappointing 2017-2018 season and had himself a strong showing. The former U20 international locked down a spot in Michele Mignani’s XI, mostly operating at leftback but sometimes pushing forward to wingback when the mister opted for 3 at the back.

Never the most dynamic going forward, Zanon nevertheless remains quite solid defensively, and at least brings plenty of energy on the overlap. More of an old school fullback who sticks to his man like a burr and loves to nip in to take the ball away, he lacks the attacking nous at this point in his career to be a threat on the front foot and probably doesn’t have the physical power required to slide into a 3-man defense, but he’s shown that there’s always a place for someone who defends well (seriously, how the heck did he play that many matches and only get booked once?) and at least gets to his spot on the pitch so the opposition defense has to mark him.

Final stats: 28 appearances (21 starts), 1 yellow card

Best moment: Helped Robur keep a clean sheet against Virtus Entella, who won the division and scored the second-most goals. Hit the overlap tirelessly to stretch the opponent’s narrow formation and got back well to provide cover for his centerbacks. Can’t ask for more than that.

What’s next: It’s unclear if Siena has an option to buy him at season’s end; if they do, they’re likely to exercise it. Otherwise, he’ll be available on a Bosman and will certainly have a market in Serie C, and maybe even in Serie B. We wish him nothing but success.

Final grade: C+ Still hasn’t developed into anything resembling danger going forward, but his solid defense was a fun throwback to the Italian fullbacks of yore. Unless he can learn to provide something in attack, though, this is probably his ceiling.