Who are the finest Under-23 players in Serie A? Who has shone the brightest in the Italian top flight so far this season? Goal.com's Gil Gillespie cuts through an increasingly congested forest of young talent and singles out the ten most outstanding saplings around...
Note: All players are born from 1986 onwards...
10. Simon Kjaer (Palermo) Age: 20
Things have been falling neatly into place for Denmark's former Under-19 Player of the Year. After his club FC Midtjylland turned down an offer from Real Madrid, he could have been forgiven for feeling a little disappointed to land in Sicily just six months later but now he must be mightily happy he did. The tall, gifted, blonde bombshell of a centre-back has reacted brilliantly to the faith shown in him by the Rosanero and filled the unfortunate gap left by the enforced two year absence of Moris Carrozzieri. Milan, Juventus, Manchester United and Roma are all primed to pounce.
9. Ignazio Abate (Milan) Age: 22
There are only two bright spots in Milan's season so far. The first is the return to fitness and form of the impeccable Alessandro Nesta. The second is the arrival on the scene of the extremely versatile and undeniably gifted Ignazio Abate. And what a baptism of fire it has been. Despite the increasingly sluggish performances of some of his team-mates, the young Italy Under-21 international has been a perfect mix of adventure and discipline, playing either as a right-back or on the right side of midfield. Pacy, dynamic and the purveyor of potentially deadly low swinging crosses into the box, Abate will still be around when almost all those around him have disappeared.
8. Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus) Age: 22
The very fact that the 'Atomic Ant' is not sitting at the very top of this list should be enough to tell you that he is not having the best of times so far this season. Juve coach Ciro Ferrara may not be interested in giving the kid a chance, even when all his other trequartista options are unavailable, but make no mistake there is no other young player anywhere in the world with as much talent in their boots as little Giovinco has in his size 4's. Dino Zoff, who's seen a player or two pass his way over the years, reckons he has superior fantasy and technical ability than Alessandro Del Piero. Which begs the question, why isn't he playing more regularly?
7. Alexandre Pato (Milan) Age: 20Although Pato has endured a miserable 2009/10 so far, there can be no doubting the talent and potential of this Brazilian wonderkid. Last season former Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti predicted that Pato would become the "best forward in the world" within a few years, and the 20-year-old certainly possesses some explosive attributes - pace, skill, creativity, body strength. If he can just refine the rough edges of his game - such as his decision-making and final ball - he will soon a be real diamond.
6. Mauro Zarate (Lazio) Age: 22
'El Pibe De Haedo' is not short of admirers. After his explosive start to his Lazio career last season, he quickly established himself as a fans' favourite and has even been touted more recently as a possible saviour of Diego Maradona's stuttering disaster-flirting Argentina national side. "I think he can become the best in the world," observed his club coach Davide Ballardini and although the goals seem to have dried up somewhat this term, it will only be a matter of time before the 'Zarate Kid' in the number 10 shirt is firing on all cylinders again.
5. David Santon (Inter) Age: 18
"A predestined that reminds of a young Paolo Maldini," noted Marcello Lippi upon calling up the Inter teenager to the Italy squad. Nicknamed 'Il Bambino' by Jose Mourinho, Santon has been the most exciting young defensive discovery of the last few years. He appears to have it all: balance, pace, poise, grace, versatility, superb tactical awareness, coolness under pressure and vice-like crunch in the tackle. Not bad for someone who hasn't been played in his proper position yet. Santon, lest we forget, is actually a right-back, not a left-back.
4. Edinson Cavani (Palermo) Age: 22
The 22-year-old striker joined Palermo in 2007 and has played a total of 81 Serie A matches for Palermo, scoring 24 goals. But perhaps it wasn't until this season and in particular Palermo's stunning 2-0 victory over Juventus at the Renzo Barbera, that El matador really announced himself as one of the hottest prospects on the planet. He has pace, technique, a frightening ability in the air and a typically explosive South American verve in front of goal. According to reports, Juventus are interested in doing what they did with Amauri and hope to bring him to Turin as soon as they can. They'll have to get past the hilariously volatile Rosanero president Maurizio Zamperini first.
3. Marek Hamsik (Napoli) Age: 22
Left foot, right foot, it doesn't matter with Napoli's Muppet-haired eastern European maestro. And not only is the young Slovak becoming one of the stand out midfield performers in Serie A, he suddenly can't stop scoring goals. So far this term he has found the back of the net five times in seven games. Hamsik is one of those players who is almost impossible to mark, he is prone to injecting sudden surges of pace into his stride that can leave defenders spinning on their heels. But there is more to his game than just speed. In fact, he is every inch the modern footballer and is defined by that rarest of combinations; a seriously high work-rate and a heavy duty serving of flair.
2. Claudio Marchisio (Juventus) Age: 23
The player who indulged in the most iconic goal celebration of all time is in no doubt. World Cup winner turned Republic of Ireland assistant coach Marco Tardelli said, "Marchisio is not a prospect any more, he is already a great player". What he didn't say is that the young Juve midfielder looks to have the technique that could enable him to become an even better player than the legendary Azzurri hero himself. His performances for both his club and his country so far this season have suggested he is talented enough, and mentally tough enough, to go on to win 100 caps for his country. Already no longer a prodigy.
1. Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina) Age: 19
He might look like the bassist from a poodle-permed heavy metal band from the 1980's but the young Montenegrin sits in number one position in this highly competitive top ten because his performances this season have set European football on fire. In September, he was singled out as the star of the future by Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini. Then he turned in a stellar display and scored both goals in Fiorentina's stylish 2-0 demolition of Liverpool in the Champions League. And ever since he has been an active bleep on the transfer radar of every major club on the continent. "Jovetic is for sale? Absolutely not," roared Viola sporting director Pantaleo Corvino, who then busily inserted a buy-out clause into the youngster's contract.
What are your views on this topic? Are you outraged that there is no mention of the likes of Mario Balotelli, Andrea Ranocchia, Kwadwo Asamoah, Javier Pastore, Alexis Sanchez or Andrea Poli? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think…
Gil Gillespie, Goal.com