x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Serie A: green shoots of recovery on goal-scoring chart

Italian football is gradually shedding its image as a place that instinctively prefers been-round-the-block warriors to effervescent youth.

AC Milan's forward Stephan El Shaarawy is 20 years and is heading the top-scorers list. AFP
AC Milan's forward Stephan El Shaarawy is 20 years and is heading the top-scorers list. AFP

For five of the past six years, the top goalscorer at the end of the Serie A season has been a footballer 30 or more years old.

Men like Francesco Totti, currently in fine form at 36, was capocannoniere in 2006/07, the evergreen Alessandro Del Piero took the award a year later and Antonio Di Natale, a striker for whom the phrase "Indian summer" might have been invented, celebrated successive seasons at the top of the leaderboard in his 33rd and 34th years.

Di Natale, with eight goals for Udinese so far this season, is not to be discounted from ending with a third such distinction on his CV, but there is also the real prospect that Italy's leading goalscorer in 2012/13 might not be a veteran (even Zlatan Ibrahimovic was soon to turn 28 when he picked up the first of his two capocannonieri trophies).

AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy, only just 20, leads the race with 12 so far, two ahead of Napoli's Edinson Cavani, who, 26 in February, would still be the youngest leading scorer in Serie A for a decade.

Certainly, Italian football is gradually shedding its image as a place that instinctively prefers been-round-the-block warriors to effervescent youth. Younger players such as El Shaarawy and Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne, 21, have earned first-XI chances because squads are contracting and recruitment is generally lower in this time of economic crisis.

Austerity has made some clubs look longer at the fruits of their academy system, to trust in the tyros. That is a healthy tendency.

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