Prior to Siniša Mihajlović’s appointment as manager of AC Milan this past summer, there was little hope amongst supporters of the club that youth was a major priority for the future. We’ve seen the youth pawned off in favor of more “ready” players in recent years, only to have that plan backfire. However, under the Serbian manager this season, not only have the few youngsters within the squad contributed; they’ve become pillars to the success we’ve seen through 26 league matches in the 2015-16 campaign.
In the summer, Milan held tightly onto Genoa’s 2014-15 second-half star M’Baye Niang, landed 21-year old prized defender Alessio Romagnoli from Sampdoria and this season, replaced a Champions League winning goalkeeper in 34-year old Diego Lopez with teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma. All three of these players are 21 and under, yet have all proven that they are more than ready to perform in the Italian top-flight, and perform well. Once Antonio Nocerino officially became a member of Major League Soccer’s Orlando City, it was time for another youngster to be summoned from the talented Milan Primavera side of the red and black.
In the third of a series of youth profiles, we give you the breakdown on newly promoted Italian midfielder, Manuel Locatelli.
Manuel Locatelli, an 18-year old midfielder from Lecco, Italy, is a highly regarded prospect from the deep talent pool of the Milan youth system. Born and bred in Italy through the rossoneri academy, Locatelli stands in at roughly 6’1″, 165lbs and has an array of qualities capable of making him a star in Italian calcio for years to come.
In the past, players like Locatelli were allowed to run less, maneuver around the midfield and not “waste” their talents exhausting themselves with extra work. In the modern era of football, this position on the pitch no longer welcomes this approach, thus forcing midfielders into going above and beyond.
Manuel fits the persona of a modern day midfielder. He understands when to protect his own goal, covering gaps between supporting midfielders and the defending back line. The Italy U-19 star has never shied away from lunging in for a tackle and showing his aggression, which will be welcomed by a hard-nosed manager like Mihajlović. Vision – as with all positions – is especially key for a midfielder, and Locatelli’s is at an advanced level. This trait helps him read the match extremely well and contribute on the defensive end, intercepting play and frustrating the opposition. While the youngster possesses some noticeable strengths in the defensive department, there is Locatelli’s playmaking ability on the offensive end that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Locatelli has a good first touch. He always plays with his head up and is observant of the game in front of him. With his vision and ability to read the game well, the Italian has exceptional passing accuracy on both long and short passes. These qualities allowed him to excel as a playmaker in front of the defense under manager Cristian Brocchi of the successful Milan Primavera. In previous years, he often played in a more advanced midfield position, showing the ability to make the final pass, while also finding the back of the net with a shot, or just rushing the box.
While Locatelli has many strengths as a dynamic midfielder, he also has some noticeable weaknesses. At times, he tends to take many risks with dangerous passes and dribbles right in front of the defence, surrendering possession and leaving his side vulnerable to counter-attacking. Because he is not fleet of foot in terms of speed and acceleration, he must be more cautious in front of the defense as he doesn’t have the quickness to recover from costly errors. These are weaknesses that will be exploited in Serie A, or even the lower levels of Italian football.
Prior to getting the call up to the senior side a few weeks ago, Locatelli was performing well for the Primavera. In 15 total matches across all competitions, the gifted teenager collected three goals to compliment 2 assists, showcasing a bit of everything he can provide to his club.
Outlook on Manuel Locatelli
Locatelli has been one of the more raved about prospects in the Milan camp; and for obvious reasons. There is much to praise about this kid and through training with the first team, he will pick up on some things which could only help him improve his craft as a versatile Italian midfielder.
Last week, Silvio Berlusconi was all smiles as he celebrated his 30-year anniversary as President of Milan. The former Prime Minister always dreamt of seeing his club field an all-Italian starting XI. While pointing to Donnarumma and Bonaventura as components to making that a reality, Berlusconi compared Locatelli to 2007 Champions League and 2006 World Cup winning regista, Andrea Pirlo. Berlusconi, via Rossoneri Blog:
“Now we’ve added Manuel Locatelli to the squad [promoted from the Primavera squad of Brocchi], who I consider to be the heir of Andrea Pirlo for his great technical skills and imagination.”
Locatelli hasn’t even made his debut for Milan, yet has already drawn comparisons to one of the best Italian midfielders ever. (No pressure Manuel).
Aside from his recent call-up for club, Locatelli quickly – and quietly – rose through the ranks of the national side. He’s climbed from the under-15 side all the way to under-19 squad with manager Paolo Vanoli. Based on his rapid growth, it’s fair to say that in 4-5 years, we could see the promising youngster become a starter for the National Team as he will be 22-23 and many others will have called it quits for their country by then.
Given his ability and upside, there is no reason Locatelli can’t become a future starter for Milan. He needs to work on building up strength, learn to better shield the ball and be more decisive when holding possession, but those should improve through time and development. All things considered, Manuel Locatelli is on the fast-track to becoming the next teenager to take Milan by storm.