FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART FOUR: REVIVAL, VICTORY, AND BREAKTHROUGH

Part four looks at some players looking to make it at their respective clubs and some look to add some glory.

MATTIA CALDARA

25 / ITALY / AC MILAN
BY SOMNATH SENGUPTA

Mattia Caldara was looking all set to make a leap to the next level when the 2017/18 season ended. The 24-year-old centre-back had enjoyed a brilliant season with Atalanta and was to join Juventus where he was expected to partner up with Daniele Rugani with veterans Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini as mentors.

Caldara

Instead, what followed was a surprising switch that saw Leonardo Bonucci rejoin the Old Lady with Caldara putting on the red-and-black jersey of AC Milan. Gli Azzurri fans were perhaps smacking their lips at the prospect of Caldara teaming up with Alessio Romagnoli. However, what followed was an absolute nightmare.

Initially, Caldara struggled to fit in tactically and his form wasn’t helped by a series of minor injuries. Unfortunately, it was just the start of his troubles. His first big injury came with rupture of Achilles tendon. This was followed up by an anterior cruciate ligament tear – an injury every footballer wants to avoid.

These injuries ruled him out for the season, meaning his first year at AC Milan was a wasted year of his career.

With a tactically intelligent coach like Marco Giampaolo taking charge, both the club and the young defender will be looking for a fresh start from scratch. Milan dropping out of Europa League will mean that Giampaolo’s primary target this season will be a top-four finish in Serie A.

AC Milan have been linked with several central defenders like Merih Demiral, Dejan Lovren, and Dayot Upamecano, amongst others. Caldara wasn’t called up for Milan’s pre-season camp in the USA and will be continuing his return to full fitness in Milanello. However, it seems like he is still very much a part of Giampaolo’s plans and has participated in tactical sessions with the new coach both on and off the pitch.

It will be intriguing to see how he recovers from his injury issues over the next year and show the form which prompted many top clubs to set their sights on snapping him up when he was young and highly touted.

SOMNATH HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS LIKE THESE FOOTBALL TIMES, IN BED WITH MARADONA, FOOTBALL PARADISE, THE GENTLEMAN ULTRA AND MORE. ALL HIS PUBLISHED WORK CAN BE FOUND HERE.

MEGAN RAPINOE

34 / USA / REIGN FC
BY MARISSA BLACKMAN

Megan Rapinoe, America’s 34-year-old superstar, has always been pegged as a serious talent and she has always lived up to the label. When she was still in high school, she was often recognized on lists of exceptional young players published by major organisations. She has played at nearly every level of professional soccer in America, and she has even had a few stints outside of America.

Rapinoe

When the reigning World Cup winner is not collecting international titles, she serves as captain for Seattle Reign FC. Last season, Rapinoe scored just over a quarter of all the goals scored by Seattle Reign FC in 2018. Rapinoe is a regular who played in roughly 71% of Reign matches last year, and she was a starter in all but one of the matches she appeared in.

Internationally, Rapinoe has garnered far more accolades than can be listed here, but there is one thing missing from her incredibly successful career. Rapinoe has not won many competitions with any of the seven domestic clubs she has represented. As the statistics show, Rapinoe is a very strong player for the Reign, but her personal success hasn’t resulted in silverware, and her latest stint with the Reign has been dry on the trophy front. During her tenure with the club, the team has finished in second place twice.

Winning a domestic title would be one more accolade on Rapinoe’s laundry list of accomplishments, and it would prove that she really can do it all. In a career of being a trendsetter, it would be very fitting for Rapinoe to lead her long-time club to its first title in club history. During Rapinoe’s World Cup absence, her Reign FC teammates have made it to third place. When Rapinoe returns from the victory circuit, fans will be eager to see if Rapinoe can lead the Reign to victory.

MARISSA IS THE CREATOR OF SIDELINE SHINDIG. SHE HAS ALSO PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HER WORK HERE.

JOÃO FELIPE

20 / PORTUGAL / BENFICA
BY ALEX GONCALVES

Anyone who watched Portugal at the U19 Euros last summer will know that João “Jota” Filipe is the real deal. He did struggle for game time last campaign for Benfica, overshadowed by the efforts of his team-mate João Felix, but Benfica will know that as soon as Jota starts showing what he can do week in, week out at senior club level, some of the biggest clubs in world football will come knocking. And the time for the 20-year old winger/second striker is surely now.

Jota

A real box of tricks, Jota is clearly best when with the ball at his feet and given the license to run at the opposition. His dribbling and trickery is a sight to behold, and it is quite clear that he is a natural footballer, stylish and elegant on the ball and a real crowd-pleaser. He can also follow that up with good passing and shooting ability, and if he just improves his final decision making, he will be a genuine superstar.

Sometimes he does try and take on too much, clearly enjoying his football and sometimes getting caught up in the moment, holding onto the ball for a little too long, but that’s to be expected for a young footballer and his decisiveness in the final third is only going to improve.

Having featured a fair bit for the Benfica senior team over pre-season, this really could be his year – and it’s been coming for a long time. Having come through the Benfica youth academy, his quality has been clear for a long time now, and, if anything, it’s somewhat surprising that he’s only becoming an important first-team player now. Nevertheless, with Félix now at Atlético Madrid, there’s an opening to take the Portuguese league by storm – and he may be the perfect player to fill the void left behind.

He could, however, still add a bit more physicality and muscle to his game, weakness perhaps quite literally being his major weakness, though that’s to be expected for a 20-year-old and will naturally improve over time.

ALEX GONCALVES IS A FOOTBALL WRITER SPECIALISING IN THE PORTUGUESE GAME AND IS THE CREATOR OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE SITE, TUGASCOUT.COM, WHICH IS DEDICATED TO BRINGING THE LATEST NEWS AND VIEWS REGARDING PORTUGUESE FOOTBALL FROM ACROSS EUROPE.

YOUSSOUF FOFANA

20 / FRANCE / STRASBOURG
BY CAMPBELL FINLAYSON

The midfielder, Youssouf Fofana may have only just turned professional at the start of last season but the 20-year old quickly made his mark at Ligue 1 side Strasbourg.  After impressing boss Thierry Laurey in pre-season, Fofana was handed his debut off the bench in their 2-0 defeat at Lyon. A few substitute appearances followed before his first start came in the Coupe de la Ligue against Lille. Fofana scored the opener, his first competitive goal, before featuring in every game in the cup run, except for the final, as Strasbourg lifted the trophy.

Fofana

His league debut came against French champions Paris Saint-Germain in December with his first league goal coming away to Monaco the following month. By the end of the season, Fofana had featured in 22 games in all competitions, notching three goals and helping Strasbourg into Europe for the first time since 2006.

At international level, Fofana made his debut for the French under-20 side in November against Switzerland, before being called up to the squad for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland where he featured in all four games, scoring in the group opener against Saudi Arabia.

His impressive form has already caught the eye of some bigger clubs, with Monaco having a bid of a reported €8 million knocked back as Strasbourg wanting €12 million. Jean-Eudes Aholou could return to Alsace as part of the move were it to happen, but whether Fofana is at the Stade de la Meinau or the Stade Louis II next season, what is certain is that, given a run in either team, he is sure to make a big impact on the French top tier.

CAMPBELL IS A SPORTS JOURNALISM STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND IN AYR. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS LALIGA NEWS UK AND MATCH WRITER UP AND HIS WORK CAN CURRENTLY BE FOUND ON VAVEL. WITH A KEEN EYe ON FOOTBALL IN SCOTLAND, SPAIN AND FRANCE, HE IS ALSO PART OF THE MEDIA TEAM AT SCOTTISH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL, COVERING THE SWPL.

KASPER DOLBERG

21 / DENMARK / AJAX
BY MICHAEL GALLWEY

The Ajax conveyer-belt of talent is well and truly alive once again, but one of the stars who appeared before Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt were moving for big money appears to have lost his way. In Kasper Dolberg, Ajax have a player whose stock has dropped rather than risen after last season.

Dolberg

 It has been a couple of seasons since the Dane broke onto the scene in 2016-17, netting 23 goals in 48 appearances, but since, injuries, poor form and the arrival of Dušan Tadić to Ajax have seen him limited to 21 goals in the two seasons since.

In the Champions League semi-final against Tottenham, when he was drafted in as a late replacement for David Neres, showed how lacking in confidence he was, with him barely able to make any impact on the game at all.

Dolberg still possesses all the ability that saw him linked with Europe’s elite, with an incredible eye for goal and the all-round game that many managers want from their modern striker. The issue for Dolberg is a dramatic loss of confidence.

The upcoming season feels like an almost last-chance saloon, a remarkable fact considering he is still only 21, but footballers are rarely afforded the chance to develop at their own pace in the modern game. Another season of struggling for form in the big matches could see his chances of earning himself a move to a bigger club scuppered. A return to the goal-scoring sensation he burst onto the scene as could see one come knocking.

Working on his willingness to drop deeper and work harder for his team could perhaps be the key to finding himself back in the starting line-up, especially with the style that Ajax have begun to play again. Becoming a player that runs the hard yards and creates as much for others as himself is the next step for Dolberg, one that could see him reach that next stage that he is capable of.

MICHAEL IS A EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WRITER. HE HAS FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE ONSIDE VIEW, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND ANALYST FOOTY. HE IS ALSO A FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE

EDDIE NKETIAH

20 / ENGLAND / ARSENAL
BY HRISHIKESH ANAND

Eddie Nketiah is a youngster who could have a breakout 2019-20 campaign. Nketiah made his Arsenal debut in 2017 and scored a brace in his second game against Norwich. The Englishman has been a prolific scorer for the Arsenal youth sides, scoring 43 times for both the U-23 and U-18 sides. His first Premier League goal came against Burnley in the final day of last season.

Nketiah

As Danny Welbeck has been released, Nketiah could become the designated backup striker unless he were to go on loan. Arsenal are resigned to another season in the Europa League and this combined with the League Cup and FA Cup means that Nketiah is likely to have far more opportunities than he did last season. Nketiah is a great poacher and has a striker’s instinct in his movement and positioning. He is also quick and possesses the ability to play in different tactical systems.

If Nketiah were to go out on loan to a Championship side, he has the potential to reach a double-digit tally of goals but the 20-year-old Englishman needs to keep his head down and work hard. At times, Nketiah has shown a tendency to fade out of games, a trait common with younger players. With proper coaching and a more hands-on approach, these minor issues can definitely be ironed out in order to nurture Nketiah into a fine striker.

It is important that the expectations of both the player and the fans are managed. There is no doubt that the youngster has the potential to enjoy a successful career at Arsenal but needs to choose his next move at the earliest. The lack of depth at Arsenal could represent a potential opening to break into the side and Nketiah would do well to capitalize on the same.

HRISHI IS A WRITER AND ANALYST AT TOTAL FOOTBALL ANALYSIS AND YOU ARE MY ARSENAL.

WUILKER FARIÑEZ

21 / VENEZUELA / MILLONARIOS
BY MOUHAMAD RACHINI

While Europeans obsess over Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alban Lafont, and Bartłomiej Drągowski, South Americans have their own young goalkeeper prodigy to worship in Wuilker Faríñez. The 21-year-old is already one of the top goalkeepers on the continent, and he has built a substantial fanbase in both his native Venezuela and abroad.

Farinez

Faríñez first burst onto the professional football scene in 2015 when Caracas FC made him their starting goalkeeper. He was then just 17-years-old, but he looked mature beyond his age. In just his first season, he established a new club record when he went 689 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal.

He would set a similar clean sheet record with the Venezuelan senior national team during the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, this time going 213 consecutive minutes without conceding in 2017. That same year, Faríñez backstopped Venezuela’s U-20 team to the 2017 U20 World Cup final. He kept the second-longest clean sheet run in tournament history, and his two saves in the penalty shootout propelled Venezuela to the final over Uruguay. Recently, Faríñez is coming off of a respectable 2019 Copa América, a tournament that saw him make a stupendous double save vs. Peru.

Now playing his club football with Colombian outfit Millonarios, Faríñez is certainly the real deal. The 21-year-old, who is just shy of six feet tall, possesses a light centre of gravity, which helps him when making successive saves. He is able to recover quickly from an initial stop and get himself ready to face a second or even third attempt. He’s also renowned for his distribution, and his accuracy rivals those of fellow South American custodians Ederson Moraes and Alisson Becker.

The 2019 Categoría Primera A season is already underway, so you won’t have to wait long to catch Faríñez in action. A move to Europe isn’t out of the picture, though. He was previously linked to Benfica and Barcelona, and some reports suggest that Espanyol are interested in him. Wherever he ends up, tuning in to what could be a big year for Faríñez is a must for any football fan.

MOUHAMAD IS A SOCCER JOURNALIST WHO TENDS TO COVER GOALKEEPERS. HE IS THE FOUNDER OF THE BETWEEN THE STICKS BLOG AND THE KOORA TV YOUTUBE CHANNEL. HE IS CURRENTLY BASED IN TORONTO, CANADA. 

STEPHAN EL SHAARAWY

26 / ITALY / SHANGHAI SHENHUA
BY STEVEN MOORE

Back in December 2008, 16-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy made his debut in the Serie A with Genoa. Dubbed a ‘superstar-to-be’, despite the optimistic start to the Italian-Egyptian’s career – which saw the youngster acquire a dream move to Milan in 2011 – everything did not go exactly as desired for Il Faraone.

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This was largely a result of the numerous injuries the footballer continued to struggle with. Considered ‘injury-prone’ and ‘washed-up’, Stephan fell out of favor in relation to the Rossoneri’s future plans and was consequentially transferred to Roma in the summer of 2016. A debatable switch, the club seemed to take a gamble, while the player was hoping for a restart. Luckily enough, the move paid off for both parties, most definitely reviving his career.

Throughout the 2018-19 season, it felt as if El Shaarawy was a changed man. The 26-year-old led the ranks for the Giallorossi in attack, which was caused by his elevated confidence levels. A regular starter, he was trusted by managers Eusebio Di Francesco and Claudio Ranieri.

This, in turn, resulted in the winger finding the back of the net 11 times and setting up his teammates on seven occasions from 33 total outings. One of the few encouraging signs for James Pallotta’s club after a rough year – this is why the acceptance of an €18 million transfer to the likes of Shanghai Shenhua came as quite the surprise this summer.

Although many have been skeptical of his move to the Chinese Super League, El Shaarawy will become the star of a team making a very generous cash sum of €40 million over three years. Offered the security and incentive that Roma were unable to provide, he will bring pace, intelligence, and skill, in addition to his lethal attacking threat to take the club to a higher level. A move that may end his playing career with Gli Azzurri, one can only hope that El Shaarawy made a rational decision and succeeds in his new endeavour.

Stephan El Shaarawy

STEVEN MOORE IS THE FOUNDER AND CREATOR OF THE LAZIALI, THE PREMIER WEBSITE FOR ALL THINGS PERTAINING TO LAZIO IN ENGLISH. HE ALSO CONTRIBUTES TOWARDS GIANLUCA DI MARZIO’S ENGLISH WEBSITE.

MARCO CARNESECCHI

19 / ITALY / TRAPANI
BY ROBERTO GROSSO

When Italy’s coach, Roberto Mancini, announced his 35-player list for a second national team camp in April, eyebrows were raised in surprise over the number of youthful call-ups. One of the surprise call-ups was that of Marco Carnesecchi, one of Atalanta’s brightest talents.
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Continuing the trend of Atalanta’s endless production line of top-class footballers, Carnesecchi is yet another promising product coming out of La Dea‘s renowned talent factory. Plucked away from Cesena’s youth system, the Rimini-born shot-stopper was thrust into the Primavera squad and the impact was immediate.

In his debut season in 2017/2018, Carnesecchi built himself a reputation as a penalty-killer, leading the league with three out of four saves from the spot, and compiled seven clean sheets, good enough for third-best amongst all Primavera goalkeepers. It was becoming clear to the human eye that Atalanta had a jewel shining bright in their possession.

The 18-year-old ticks all the goalkeeping boxes. His athletic 6’2″ frame projects a towering presence inside the area which he commands with a strong, assertive personality. While he is agile and explosive, it is his excellent sense of positioning, beyond his years, that makes him a difficult figure to beat. Not one for reckless exits off his line or relying solely on his reach to cover space, he has exceptional timing & understanding for where he needs to be in goal when opposing attackers loom around his box.

An efficient organizer at the back, his guidance & instructive approach aids his defensive unit in maintaining balance on and off the ball. The comfort of having the ball at feet also factors into the trust built between himself and his defenders. An impressive profile that boosted Carnesecchi into the national team picture, representing the Azzurrini from the U17 ranks to his current place with the U20 squad.

A start in the final group game of the 2019 U20 World Cup against Japan gave the audience a front-row glimpse at Atalanta’s prized asset. A few key one-on-one stops and a penalty kick save drove Italy to a 0-0 draw, adding a clean to his name in his debut appearance.

Carnesecchi is in the ideal environment to continue developing in his craft. A third season in the Primavera would not be out of the question, continuing to sharpen his skillset under goalkeeping coach, Giorgio Frezzolini.

However, with Atalanta wanting him to experience a more competitive level, a loan move to Serie B club, Trapani, was arranged. This was done to help him absorb as much knowledge as he can while training regularly with at a first-team level.

For a goalkeeper of his calibre who almost left the position behind in his younger years due to slow growth and a lack of playing time, Marco Carnesecchi is on the verge of becoming the next great graduate from Atalanta’s famed academy.

ROBERTO IS A GOALKEEPER COACH, CALCIO WRITER AND ITALIAN FOOTBALL ROMANTIC. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS LIKE THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND THE GENTLEMAN ULTRA.