Hope springs eternal is what I often think about of when I see an exciting new prospect starting to establish himself in Serie A. It’s human nature to always look with excitement to the next great thing, we can easily project different attributes on the blank canvas of a player who has a small sample size of games under his belt.
Just think of how recently Nicolo’ Zaniolo has been anointed as the new Totti, or how many new Maldinis and Buffons we have crowned in recent years. But the reality is that for every Gigio Donnarumma, there are countless examples of Hachim Mastour type prospects who simply fizzle after receiving a lot of hype at the start of their careers- as Jay Z rapped on “Takeover” some players “had a spark when they started, but now you’re just garbage”.
Before we go any further, let me be clear- I don’t think Daniele Rugani and Amadou Diawara are garbage players by any means, but it’s certainly possible that because of the very distinguished starts to their careers, the way they are perceived today doesn’t fully mesh with reality.
Most of the takes on their performances include the phrase “if they got more opportunities, they would be playing better”- but is this reality or are they not getting more opportunities because they aren’t performing well? Interestingly there are many parallels between the two.
Let’s start with Rugani, who despite not turning 25 until next summer is already playing in his fifth Serie A season. The Italian international has been pegged as the building block for Juventus’ defense in the post BBC world since he made the most of his opportunity playing for Maurizio Sarri at Empoli. Rugani’s career trajectory has however taken a turn for the worse, since he’s fallen behind Alessio Romagnoli in the conversation for the next great Italian defender.
The recent story line on Rugani is that he’s getting his best opportunity to establish himself at Juventus now that Mehdi Benatia left in the middle of the season. While the Moroccan international’s departure in it of itself only made him the first backup, the subsequent injuries to Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini made him the top player at the position at least on a temporary basis.
Needless to say so far Rugani hasn’t made the most of this opportunity since Juventus gave up 6 goals in back to back matches against Atalanta and Parma. Now Rugani defenders have pointed to the fact it’s unfair to judge him in these matches since he was forced to partner with Mattia De Sciglio, who was playing out of position, and Martin Caceres who had just arrived from Lazio- while that is a fair point, it’s also important to remember that not long ago Rugani was pegged as the player to lead Juventus defense and Romagnoli is doing so at a comparable age at a high pressure club like Milan.
In addition, Rugani was already given a juicy opportunity to establish himself as a starter at Juventus when Leonardo Bonucci left for Milan. Rugani was given first crack at being Chiellini’s partner at the start of the 2017/18 season and eventually lost his starting spot to Benatia- a change that brought a massive improvement to Allegri’s defense.
While Rugani is set to sign an extension, which will also help sustain or potentially increase his transfer value, there’s now already talk that Juventus will make at least two significant additions at the center back position next summer with De Ligt, Milenkovic, Manolas and Genoa’s Romero all on Paratici’s list- not exactly an endorsement of Rugani’s future at the club.
Just like Rugani, Amadou Diawara has been in our lives for a long time despite being born in 1997. The Guinean midfielder broke out at Bologna, the club that discovered him in Italy’s lower divisions, in 2015- he combined excellent passing abilities with remarkable calmness on the pitch and defensive prowess. After one season under Roberto Donadoni he was sold to Napoli where he started off as Jorginho’s understudy.
Diawara’s development wasn’t helped by Maurizio Sarri’s refusal to rotate frequently, give playing time to prospect and the current Chelsea’s manager devotion to Jorgino- Diawara faced a trifecta of challenges in his efforts to reach the next level in his career. At least the former Bologna midfielder scored his first goal as a professional against Manchester City in the Champions League under Sarri.
Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival and Jorginho’s departure for Stamford Bridge were supposed to jump start Diawara’s career. The former Milan manager took the opposite approach of his predecessor and used twelve different starting lineups in his first twelve matches at the club, he even went so far as rotating his keepers frequently to show he would give an opportunity to everyone.
But while existing Napoli players like Ounas, Milik and especially Nikola Maksimovic made the most of their new opportunities and new additions like Kevin Malcuit and Fabian Ruiz quickly unseated previous starters, the same cannot be said for Diawara who has yet to put in a vintage performance like he used to give frequently at Bologna.
During the January window, Napoli fielded offers for Diawara but while they were never going to loan him to Milan, no Premier League club came close to meeting De Laurentiis’ valuation of 40 million euro. While the winter window did not provide him a new team, Diawara should have even more opportunities now that Marko Rog was loaned out and Marek Hamsik is on his way to China- it’s now time for him to make the most of it because while hope springs eternal, you can only live off your reputation for so long before someone else becomes the hot prospect.