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Cosimo Marco Da Graca: Juventus' teenage goal machine that Chelsea missed out on

7:00 AM EDT 7/6/21
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The 19-year-old was rewarded for his fine form at Primavera level in 2020-21 with a first-team debut for the Bianconeri and a new three-year contract

As speculation continues to swirl regarding the future of Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, plans are already being made in Turin as to how the Bianconeri will replace the five-time Ballon d'Or winner whenever he eventually departs.

Of course, with Ronaldo's wages off their books, Juve could always try to make yet another splash in the transfer market.

But there is also the possibility that they look internally, and right now they have a teenager in their ranks whose goal record at youth level suggests he could, at least in part, help fill the void that Ronaldo will undoubtedly leave at the Allianz Stadium.

Cosimo Marco Da Graca's form in Juventus' Primavera (Under-19s) side last season was certainly enough to catch the eye of Andrea Pirlo, who included the teenager in a number of matchday squads during his sole season in charge of the first team.

Da Graca scored 15 goals in just 17 league games for the Primavera side, finding the net, on average, every 65 minutes he was on the pitch.

That saw him earn a first shot at playing senior football in Serie C for Juve's U23s, while he made the first-team bench on 10 occasions, though that number could have been more had he not suffered an injury late in the campaign.

And though he made it onto the pitch just once, for the closing minutes of January's Coppa Italia quarter-final win over SPAL, there is real hope around Juventus that in Da Graca they have a special attacking talent.

If that comes to pass, then Juve will be rewarded for the bet they made on the youngster after bringing him to Turin from his hometown club of Palermo.

Da Graca joined the Sicilian outfit at the age of 12, and for the first couple of years within the Palermo academy structure played as a winger.

It was not until he was 14 that he was moved inside to play as a central striker, owing to a growth spurt that meant that he was suddenly a physically imposing threat for opposition defenders to deal with while also possessing great attacking instincts.

His performances caught the eye of Juve, who continued to monitor his progress until, in 2018, they offered to take Da Graca on loan to get a closer look.

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He was partnered up front in the Bianconeri's U17 side with fellow 2002-born striker Mirco Lipari, and it was he who looked to be the player with the potential to go on and break into the Juventus first team.

Lipari scored 20 goals in 22 games in 2018-19, while in comparison Da Graca found the net on just four occasions while also providing five assists.

Juve knew they could only keep one in their academy structure, and opted to sign Da Graca permanently for a fee of around €600,000, while Lipari was sent on loan to Empoli, where he is still waiting to make his senior bow.

Da Graca's technical ability is what swung it, and in the two seasons since the rangy forward has kicked on, with his progress having not gone unnoticed elsewhere.

Chelsea pushed hard to sign Da Graca, who only turned 19 in May, around the turn of the year, scouting him extensively despite the Covid-19 restrictions before considering making a huge contractual offer to the teenage forward.

Juve realised they needed to move quickly to tie him down, with Federico Cherubini - who has since been promoted to football director to replace Fabio Paratici - instrumental in tying Da Graca down to a new contract in April that will keep him at the club until 2024.

It remains to be seen whether the Italy youth international, who is also eligible to represent Portugal through his parents, will remain at Juve this season or be sent out on loan to gain experience, but sources have described Da Graca to Goal as a player who trains until he is reaching exhaustion so as to improve himself.

It does not hurt to have Ronaldo around to learn from, either, though some of Europe's other elite forwards are who Da Graca is modelling his game on.

"I would go with [Robert] Lewandowski," he told Juventus TV when asked about his footballing idols, "because technically there are few like him.

"From [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, I would take character and determination, as that is important. He always gives strength, courage and spirit."

On being at Juve, he added: "The emotion is strong and indescribable. Everything still amazes me: the staff, the managers, the team-mates."

Da Graca, though, does not play like a young man who is overawed by his surroundings.

And with returning manager Massimiliano Allegri always keen to give youth a chance during his first spell in charge, the chances of him making an impact in coming months and years are pretty high.