Jaime Báez (Cosenza)
What happened: The 24-year-old Uruguayan was one of 4 Viola players sent to the Lupi this year. Given the 3 fruitless years he’d already spent in Italy, most of us wrote him off as a failed experiment by Daniele Pradè, and his early returns in Calabria did nothing to dissuade us as manager Piero Braglia kept him nailed to the bench for the first month.
After that month, though, Báez worked his way into the rotation and eventually staked a claim on the left wing, and the promise we’ve been waiting 3 years for appeared as if by magic. He was a terror, cutting inside and wreaking havoc, as well as providing excellent service from dead ball situations. He wound up tied for 7th in Serie B with 7 assists on the year. He won a couple of penalties. Basically, he was the energetic, anarchic force we envisioned when Fiorentina paid €2.5 million to Juventud for his services. Without him, Cosenza may well not have avoided the drop.
Final stats: 26 appearances (16 starts), 1 goal, 7 assists, 5 yellow cards, 1 red card
Best moment: A hilariously fluky late equalizer at Carpi in his first appearance was fun, but this spectacular run to set up a goal on the counter is, to my mind, even better since it doesn’t rely quite so much on pure, dumb luck.
What’s next: He’ll be leaving on a free this summer, but he’s certainly done enough this year to prove that he belongs in Serie B. His energy and tenacity, as well as his tremendous athleticism, should ensure that he has plenty of offers. We hope he does well and wish it had worked out better for him in Florence.
Final grade: B- Still not a scorer, but his improvements in crossing and the dribbling and the general appreciation of space have turned him into a dynamic and useful player for the second tier.
Gaetano Castrovilli (Cremonese)
What happened: The 22-year-old midfielder returned to Cremona for the second consecutive year. Following an impressive first spell with le Tigri, we expected a lot, and our man delivered the team’s first goal of the season in the opener against Pescara. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t a sign of things to come, as his performance dipped considerably in the months after; in fairness to him, a lot of that was on his role as a winger rather than a central midfielder or trequartista, where he’s always looked far more natural.
A knee injury in February knocked him out for 2 months right as he seemed to be hitting his stride, but upon his return, manager Massimo Rastelli slid him back into the midfield, and Castrovilli closed the season strongly, showcasing his usual eye for finding space, lovely first touch, and ability to bring his teammates into play. While he’ll never be a defensive force, he held up decently in the hurly-burly of the second division, and his offensive output more than made up for any shortcomings on the back foot.
Final stats: 27 appearances (25 starts), 5 goals, 4 assists, 5 yellow cards
Best moment: A brilliant brace against Perugia should fit the bill, especially since he added an “assist” (really, he was trying to duck a pair of zealous defenders and the ball bounced off his head and onto Antonio Piccolo’s boot for a brilliant finish), but each strike showcased Castrovilli’s quality. The first required a perfectly-timed run from deep to rattle home a header at the front post (1:17), and the second was a jittering, glitchy run followed by a tremendous curling effort (2:32). Lord have mercy.
What’s next: He sure looks like the sort of creative, technical midfield that Vincenzo Montella has made a career out of featuring. While his contract with the Viola runs until 2021, this is probably the right time to give him a run with the first team and see how he does. His will be one of the more interesting stories at Moena this summer.
Final grade: B- Despite a few magnificent efforts out there, never looked like a good fit on the wing. As we’ve said before, the Italy U21 international is the closest thing to Borja Valero currently on the roster.
Gabriele Gori (Livorno)
What happened: Following a brilliant career with the Primavera (20 goals and 7 assists in 31 appearances last year), we were all very excited for the extraordinarily handsome 20-year-old to step into the heady world of Serie B. Sadly, he experienced some pretty serious growing pains at Foggia, notching a goal and an assist in his 10 appearances for the Satanelli and generally looking rather lost.
A winter move to Livorno was supposed to help, and Gori made sure it did when he finally got his first chance with the Amaranti; maybe he just needs to play in Tuscany. While he was stuck to the bench for the first two months, he responded by scoring on his debut, then tallied a late brace against (you guessed it) Foggia three weeks later. While he didn’t score again, he looked a bit more confident, at least, so we can be grateful for that. His difficulties did see him dropped from the Italy U20s for the World Cup this year, though, so you’d better believe he’ll be motivated.
Final stats: 16 appearances (5 starts), 4 goals, 1 assist, 2 yellow cards
What’s next: He’ll take another year in Serie B, but the club certainly isn’t going to abandon such a talented player just because he struggled in his first year outside the friendly confines of the Primavera.
Final grade: D It was always going to be tough for a guy who was so far ahead of his piers in terms of physical gifts to adapt to playing against grown-ass men. We have no doubts that Gori will have learned a lot from this and will bounce back next season; the grade is indicative of his year, not his talent or potential.
Luca Ranieri (Foggia)
What happened: The less-heralded of the pair of Primavera stars who moved to Foggia, Ranieri adapted far better than Gori. A staple in the youth backlines for the Viola, we worried that it might take him some time to adjust to manager Gianluca Grassadonia’s 3-man backline, not to mention the bigger and faster attackers he’d see in the professional game.
It took him a month or two to learn the ins and outs, but he soon established himself as an obvious first-teamer, holding down a spot on the left of the defense and generally looking very solid. While he’s still lacking experience and should add strength to help him hold up against bigger opponents, his positioning was pretty sound and his tackling was good. In short, he looks like a carbon copy of David Hancko: comfortable on the left of any defense, solid at the back. Ranieri doesn’t have the attacking talent that Hancko boasts, but he’s every bit as strong in defense; that’s why he’s starting for the U20s at the World Cup right now.
Final stats: 29 appearances (26 starts), 1 assist, 7 yellow cards
Best moment: Helping keep a clean sheet against a dangerous Palermo attack at the Renzo Barbera was impressive enough on its own, but the way Ranieri did so was even better. He started the game as the left-sided central defender and made some very impressive stops, then shifted to wingback, where he maintained his solidity on the back foot and created Foggia’s best chance of the match with an inch-perfect cross.
What’s next: Between his work this year and the U20 World Cup, it’s likely that a lower-tier Serie A team will lodge a bid for his services on loan. That feels like the logical next step for him, as he’s unlikely to supplant Cristiano Biraghi or Hancko this year.
Final grade: B+ Heck of a year for a player taking some big steps. Needs to add some muscle, but if nothing else, he sure looks like the sort of defender who’ll hang up his cleats after a decade and a half of sterling work.
Andrés Schetino (Cosenza)
What happened: Woof. The 25-year-old Uruguayan has been merely a whisper in his time with the Viola, and so it was again. As the least successful member of the Cosenza contingent, it seemed like he’d play a total of 21 minutes until Braglia unexpectedly handed him a start at centerback (where he’d also played for Sevilla’s B-team a couple years ago) in the final, meaningless match against Salernitana.
Final stats: 4 appearances (1 start)
Best moment: Starting his first match of the year and getting a win, I suppose.
What’s next: With a contract that runs until 2020 (thanks, Pradè), he’ll probably take another loan move somewhere again before leaving on a Bosman. He’s struggled so badly that it’s fair to wonder if he’s got what it takes to play in Europe; perhaps a return to Uruguay would help him retrack his career.
Final grade: D- At least he got onto the pitch a few times? Maybe? No?
Mattia Trovato (Cosenza)
What happened: After helping the Lupi achieve promotion from Serie C last year, we were hoping that Trovato would take a big step forward in his second year in Calabria. Unfortunately, he suffered a major knee injury in preseason training and missed the entire season except for the final game, in which Braglia deployed him for the first half as a reward for his hard work in rehab all year. It was a heck of a tough break for a kid who’s got plenty of talent and carries himself very well.
Final stats: 1 appearance (1 start)
Best moment: Just getting back on the pitch was pretty swell.
What’s next: He got a contract extension earlier this year—2 weeks before he did his knee, in fact—so he’s clearly part of the long-term plan. However, following his injury layoff, he’s definitely not in the first team picture right now, so he’ll probably take another year or two on loan before he really kicks on.
Final grade: n/a He’s healthy and that’s all that matters.
Lorenzo Venuti (Lecce)
What happened: After a rough debut season in Serie A with a historically bad defense in Benevento, Lolo returned to Serie B and won promotion for the second time in 3 years. Showcasing his usual hustle and versatility, Venuti was an ever-present for manager Fabio Liverani. He improved his work in the final third while tidying up his defense; for such a hard-working, wholehearted player, he earns an astoundingly low number of cards.
While people will talk about the goals, it was on the back foot that he showed the most improvement. Spending most of his time at rightback, which favored his “natural” foot (although he’s so good with his left that the distinction scarcely matters), he also put in shifts on the left and even at the heart of defense and as a winger. His versatility, effort, and tactical intelligence are all superb, and he showcased all three this year to great effect.
Final stats: 32 appearances (26 starts), 3 goals, 3 assists, 3 yellow cards
Best moment: D’you like bangers? How’s about this banger?
What’s next: Given how much Fiorentina has struggled at rightback over the past, oh, 15 years, he’ll probably get a long look from Vincenzo Montella at Moena; he nearly won a role with the first team last summer, but wound up behind Kevin Diks in the pecking order (mistakes were made). Now 24 and entering his prime years, this is his best chance to break into the the Viola setup, and we’re backing him to do so.
Final grade: A- His tireless overlapping and occasional moments of magic were crucial components to Serie B’s second best defense, and he showed improvement at the back as well. Looks like a well-rounded professional who’s going to have a long and fruitful career.