Monday Mar 27, 2017  
     
 
  18/11/2014: Under the Microscope: Lazio's Loan Policy
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Even in a week where national teams take up our attention, a narrative emerges with Lazio. This was a story that came out of the blue, and a tale that could so easily be swept under the carpet, but it is not one I am prepared to ignore.

It involved Devis Mangia - the former Italy U21 coach who was once linked to the Lazio hotseat - and F.C. Bari. Surely knowing a 3-0 defeat to Crotone in Serie B was about to earn him the sack, Mangia began to speak the truth as he saw it, and passed comment on certain players which he had used sparingly in his short spell in charge. Unfortunately for Lazio, that meant the well-regarded Joseph-Marie Minala and Lorenzo Filippini were about to be critiqued in front of the media. The verdict? Minala is lazy, and Filippini just is not at the required standard for Serie B.

The ultimate judge of player potential, Devis Mangia is not. That said, his opinion should be respected as a man who was once valued highly enough that he was entrusted with the development of Italy's top talents at international level. His assessment of our players, therefore, calls into question our policy for loaning youngsters (or lack of).

It is early days for Minala at Bari, but I was enraged by our decision to loan him to Bari, and critical of our youth policy off the back of that decision. Claudio Lotito has undoubtedly improved our youth teams and Igli Tare's judgement must be respected given his signings have brought about silverware, but certain decisions this summer are seemingly absent of logic and loaning out Minala is the most baffling of the lot.

Teenagers across the globe leave their home every year, be it for university, work, or just to see some corners of the world and each teenager handles that experience differently. Minala is no different to your average teenager - he just happened to leave Cameroon in search of a footballing career... and was abandoned in Italy by the man who had promised him his dream... and ended up playing amateur football... and was then discovered by Alberto Bollini... and signed for Lazio... and found in Lazio a home and proclaimed his love for the club... only to become the butt of jokes following speculation that his actual age was 41... or 42... and then he was racially abused... and then he reacted badly... and was subsequently disciplined according to reports... and then he was brought to pre-season training anyway...

And then we sent him to Bari.

Minala is your average teenager, but one that has led an extraordinary life so far and taking all of the above into consideration, who made the call that the best thing for the kid would be to send him 415kms south-east to make a name for himself? And why was that call made? Minala could have featured in the Primavera this season and broken into the first team as Ogenyi Onazi and Keita Balde Diao did before him. Instead, he's played 13 minutes for Bari and boy, have those 13 minutes been unlucky for him.

We made a similar mistake with Antonio Rozzi last year. Like Minala, Rozzi felt Lazio was his home, but we turned it into a safe haven by sending him to Real Madrid for his 'education'. At the time, he was a part of Mangia's plans in the U21s - now he is with Minala and Filippini and has just witnessed the man who perhaps has the most faith in him pack his bags and leave.

In the last 20 years, Lazio have had little to no success with loans. The only player who came back from a loan spell to have success at Lazio was Giorgio Venturin, and even he was a bit-part player.

We all had high hopes for the returning Danilo Cataldi this season, but a series of injuries has prevented him from making his Serie A debut and beyond the road to recovery, the road to a successful Lazio career is long. I still have faith in him, but he has to buck a trend which makes me wonder why we bother loaning anyone out in the first place.

That may sound pessimistic, but it is a reasonable argument if you look at the performance of the other individuals we have out on loan in Serie B. Brayan Perea - the most high-profile of them all - has struggled to hold down a starting berth at Perugia as he finds Torino-owned Italian U19 international Vittorio Parigini to be stiff competition. Perea's teammate, Vinicius Freitas, has not yet broken into the Perugia starting eleven despite breaking into Brazil U21s. Luca Crecco is having the same problem at Ternana while Cristiano Lombardi is finding minutes hard to come by at Trapani, and is seeing his team played off the park when he gets them.

Interestingly, players who have recently left Lazio or those who were never considered for the first team are producing the goods elsewhere. Tommaso Ceccarelli, Alberto De Francesco and Alessio Luciani are regulars at Lega Pro side L'Aquila and there is evidence to suggest Riccardo Perpetuini and Alessandro Berardi will obtain the same status soon. Andrea Sbraga is a regular at Carrarese, Giuseppe Capua at Aversa Normanna and Alessandro Crescenzi at Reggina.

Players are flourishing once they rid themselves of the Lazio shackles. Even Emiliano Alfaro - who the club cannot wait to get off their books - is reviving his career at Liverpool Montevideo having racked up eight goals in seven games. His compatriot, Gonzalo Barreto is on the verge of signing for Udinese having failed to ever make it out of Lazio Primavera.

Something is clearly amiss and the problem needs to be identified. It could be the case that Lazio are simply expecting too much of their younger players. During the week, Stefano Pioli organised a much-needed friendly between the first team (minus the internationals) and the Primavera. The game ended 7-1 - a scoreline usually reserved for our bitter rivals in European competition - and one that gave Miroslav Klose Brazilian flashbacks. Put simply, our Primavera talents as a whole are absolutely nowhere near Serie A standard, despite the media hype that our president has helped generate.

The solution to the problem could be quite simple; if we think a player has excellent potential, then keep him in the Primavera to be unleashed at the right moment. The Primavera did Onazi no harm, or Keita for that matter, and learning from the likes of Miroslav Klose or Stefano Mauri cannot hurt either.

If the club are unsure about a player, then consider the loan option, but not to a Serie B club where players we spent millions on are finding life difficult. Josip Elez was hurriedly loaned out in the summer to promotion-chasing Grosseto of Lega Pro, and he is proving up to the task. Had he been loaned to Serie B club earlier in the summer, would he have made the same impact? I severely doubt it.

We need to get this right and soon. The current Primavera side - as we found out during the week - are going through a period of transition, but Australia's Chris Ikonomidis stands out like a sore thumb. He seems to be finding the net every time the Primavera play and he is surely approaching the crossroads of his career. Will we keep him in the Primavera and unleash him at the right moment, or will we look to send him to Serie B or Lega Pro for experience? These calls - it is about time we started getting them right.

Author: Cathal Mullan
 
 
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