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Loanee reports: Serie C

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The rough-and-tumble of the third tier is a good starting spot for a lot of these youngsters.

Italy U20 v San Marino U20 - International Friendly Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Riccardo Baroni (Siena)

The 21-year-old central defender was enjoying a strong season for Robur until a hip injury knocked him out against Olbia 6 weeks ago, forcing a surgery that ended his season. Prior to that, he’d started every match but 1 (for which he was also hurt) and even scored his first goal, helping Siena to a middling defensive record and a spot in the promotion hunt. It doesn’t sound like his injury is too serious, so we fully expect the Bianconeri to trigger his clause if there is one.

Michele Cerofolini (Castertana)

The 21-year-old goalkeeper had a rough start to the year as he rehabbed a cruciate injury, but worked hard and earned a move to Casertana in January. He immediately took over as the number one for the flailing Falchetti, but his stint as the starter lasted just 8 matches; Manager Ciro Ginestra has opted for Diamante Crispino in the past two outings instead. It feels a bit unfair, to be honest, as Cerofolini did let in an easy one against Vibonese a couple of weeks ago but had been pretty sharp overall. It feels like a bit of scapegoating, frankly, since Castertana have dropped from 5 places over the past 2 months and are now just 3 points away from the drop zone. It really doesn’t seem like Cerofolini’s fault, though,

Gabriele Ferrarini (Pistoiese)

The 19-year-old rightback has slowed down a bit in the past months after a torrid start to his career as a full professional; he remains stuck on 1 goal and 3 assists. Of course, that’s a pretty dang good return for a teenager taking his first steps outside of the Primavera. His pace and willingness to get forward are serious weapons, and he’s started to sort out his defensive issues a bit. Most importantly, he’s cut back on the number of bookings he picks up, which was a serious concern at youth level for him. This year, he’s got 4 yellow cards in 2042 minutes of play, which is very okay. He’s probably not ready to contribute at the senior level next year, but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Simone Ghidotti (Pergolettese)

The 19-year-old goalkeeper remains the nailed-on starter for the Cannibali, having now started 22 matches. He’s been mighty busy, too, as Pergolettese hold the 5th-worst defensive record in the division. It’d be a lot worse without Ghidotti, though, who continues to look like the sort of player who’s going to have a long career in the top flight. A current U20 international, he’s well on track right now as the top developmental net minder for Fiorentina and should be ready for a step up to Serie B in the next year or two. With a contract that runs out in 2022, we also wouldn’t be surprised to see an extension sent his way very soon.

Gabriele Gori (Arezzo)

The 21-year-old striker was in scorching form a few weeks ago, scoring in 3 straight to bring his tally up to a very respectable 9 goals and 2 assists in 21 matches. Of course, because nothing comes easy to our beautiful boy (except for those chiseled feature, dio mio), he picked up a muscle strain in training right afterwards and missed two weeks, but got a run off the bench last week and should be ready to resume his starting spot when Serie C resumes on 15 March. With a strong finish to the season, he should be very in demand for any number of Serie B squads next year.

Petko Hristov (Bisceglie)

The 21-year-old Bulgarian centerback has finally settled in for the Nerazzurri Stellati, starting the past 11 matches in the heart of defense. Unfortunately, Bisceglie is struggling pretty badly: with just 20 points, they’re destined for the relegation playoff, which is always dicy. Hristov, though, has been solid enough. He’s not the type to win many footraces and looks very uncomfortable in space, but excels in the chaos of the penalty box when he can just thump clearances upfield. While some may call the U21 international limited, we contend that there’s always a place for that particular skillset in the game.

Julián Illanes (Avellino)

The 22-year-old Argentinean centerback has finally started doing just what we wanted him to do: keeping his head down and getting an extended run of play. Manager Ezio Capuano has come to rely on him in the heart of his 3-man defense, much like Hristov at Bisceglie. Illanes, however, has a penchant for bookings that’s a bit of a concern: he’s collected 7 yellow cards and a red in his 24 league appearances and shows no signs of reining in his aggression. While there’s a time and a place for that tone-setting tackle, he needs to be a lot more careful at times. Still, it’s good to see him getting regular minutes, especially since he’s probably playing for his future: it’s unlikely that Fiorentina will extend his contract when it runs out at the end of next year, so he’s got the rest of this season and all of the next to audition. Given that he’s picked up an Italian passport, he should be in demand on the peninsula.

Erald Lakti (Gubbio)

The 20-year-old Albanian midfielder continues to quietly impress for the Rossoblù. He’s now up to 25 appearances on the season (20 starts) with a goal and 3 assists, including for the opener in last month’s wild 3-3 draw at Feralpisalò. Manager Vincenzo Torrente clearly likes his industry and and passing in the middle, and for good reason; the U21 international has the makings of a real midfield general. He’s been good enough to keep my beloved Andy Bangu on the bench, so you can bet that Lakti has some talent. It may take another year or two before he’s ready to compete for a spot with the senior squad, but we’re not ruling out a strong showing in preseason this summer either.

Salvatore Longo (Bisceglie)

The 19-year-old striker hasn’t had a memorable campaign in his first season as a full professional. The positive is that he’s made 24 appearances in all competitions. However, he’s started just twice in the past 9 matches and still hasn’t gotten a goal. His only contribution on the scoresheet is an assist from September against Avellino. In fairness, it’s not all his fault. The Nerazzurri Stellati have the division’s 2nd-worst attack, having netted all of 21 times in 29 matches, and haven't exactly provided their strikers with sterling service. Strikers Álvaro Montero and Massimiliano Gatto have still been decent, too, so it’s been tough for him to break through all the way. The Catania-born forward will probably need another few years of seasoning before we can know if he’s going to contribute at the next level, because it’s might hard to tell in these circumstances.

Marco Marozzi (Virtus Francavilla)

The 21-year-old midfielder had a slow start to life in Brindisi—he’d played 32 minutes before new manager Bruno Trocini took over in November—but has started to show signs of life. He’s now gotten 3 starts and another 14 appearances off the bench, scoring once, assisting once, and winning a penalty. His calling card has been his versatility: he’s played as a wingback, a central midfielder, and even up top. Getting minutes has to be mightily satisfying for him; the 17 competitive appearances is the most he’s made in his career dating back to his U17 days, as he’s been stuck behind a really impressive group of attackers at youth level. He’s another one whose contract runs out in 2021, so a few more strong showings could secure him a future in Florence or elsewhere.

Marco Meli (Gubbio)

The 20-year-old winger has struggled with fitness and consistency in his first season away from the friendly confines of Florence. Persistent groin injuries have prevented him from finding any rhythm—he’s started 3 matches and only gone more than the first half once, then made a number of appearances off the bench—and now that Torrente’s in charge, his 3-5-2 doesn’t have much room for a tricky winger, especially one who’s not very experienced defensively. It’s clearly a learning curve for a guy who was pretty productive at youth level playing next to guys like Riccardo Sottil and Gabriele Gori. We think that he could wind up coming good, but he needs some time to get up to speed.