Juventus continued their transfer market activity by snapping up hot prospect and Brescia goalkeeper Nicola Leali.
Unlike Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla, Nicola Leali is not an established name in Serie A. He is part of Juve’s long term future plan.
“Next Buffon” – Hype Or Real Deal?
Born on 17th February, 1993 in Castiglione delle Stiviere in Italy, Leali was spotted by Brescia scouts while he was playing for his school team in Cavriana. Leali rose through Brescia’s youth ranks quickly and made his debut for the Primavera side at the tender age of 16, quite a young age for that level. His steady performances garnered acclaim as he was selected the best goalkeeper in Primavera level for the season 2009/10.
Big clubs soon came knocking at Brescia’s door for the boy who was now being dubbed as “next Gianluigi Buffon”. AC Milan reportedly made an offer of 2 million Euros to buy half of his contract in 2010, only to be turned down by Gino Corioni, Brescia president. The youngster made his Serie A debut for Rondinelle on 15th May, 2011 against Cesena. With Brescia already relegated there was little to play for in the match but Leali made a number of solid saves, including a smart stop to deny Luis Jimenez around the half-four mark. The youngster could not keep a clean sheet as he was beaten by Emmanuele Giachherini’s low drive around the hour mark. That proved to be the final score as Cesena ensured Serie A survival.
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After seeing Brescia go down to Serie B in 2010/11 season, Leali was soon called up to don the gloves of a starting ‘keeper. He played his first match of 2011/12 season against Vicenza in a home game that ended in a win with him keeping a clean sheet. In September, he rose to the challenge yet again against FC Torino (eventually promoted), playing a major part as Brescia ground a 0-0 away draw. He capped off a wonderful week with another shut-out as Brescia thumped Cittadella 2-0.
Sitting out for a month seemed to have dented his streak as Leali failed to impress against Zeman’s free-scoring Pescara side in October, shipping in three goals. Both Leali and Brescia’s form took a nosedive in next few rounds of matches. The club went through a 9 match win-less streak, losing 6 times. Things were worse for the young custodian, as he conceded 16 goals, keeping a clean sheet in only one match. With first choice ‘keeper Michel Arcari being fully fit and dishing out a series of excellent performances, Leali went back to reserve bench.
He would play two more games before the season ended as Brescia finished well behind promotion spots. Leali overall played a total of 1440 minutes in Serie B, conceding 23 goals.
Leali made his debut for Italy U19 on 22nd September, 2010, as he replaced Francesco Bardi to play the entire second half against Serbia U19. He managed to keep a clean sheet in his first 45 minutes for Azzurini. Leali made his first Azzurini start on 25th August, 2011, against Russia U19. The youngster finished the match on the winning side but failed to keep a clean sheet – letting Nikolay Kalinskiy score a goal on 62nd minute. His second match against France didn’t turn out so well as the young Les Bleus waltzed to a 3-1 victory.
He made his competitive debut for Italy U19 against Romania for 2012 Euro U19 qualifiers. Leali’s debut didn’t go perfectly as Romania scored a late, late goal to snatch an away victory. His performances for the national team have since steadily improved as Italy are yet to lose another game in the same level with Leali in goal. His overall record for Italy is pretty impressive, having conceded just 11 goals in 16 matches (1106 minutes) with 7 clean sheets.
Leali – A Long Term Investment for Juventus
At 1.88 m, Leali has the physical attributes that makes a good goalkeeper. He is also known for agility and command of the area, which has prompted some sections of ex-players and media compare him to a young Gigi Buffon.
Nicola Leali will add nothing to Juventus right now or next 2-3 seasons. Still 19, he is far too young to get chances in a club like Juventus. He is still a raw talent. With Buffon and Marco Storari forming arguably the best goal-keeper team in club level right now, it is impossible for Leali to get into the team. Gianluigi Buffon, who became one of the best ‘keepers in Serie A at Leali’s current age, remains an example few will be able to match. Goalkeepers tend to get better with age and Leali will need couple of seasons more to mature.
Third choice ‘keeper Alexander Manninger is all set to leave Juventus after his current contract expires but the club is being linked to Arcari, current Brescia #1 as a possible replacement. Living up to the tag of being the next Buffon is a difficult job and Leali’s performance in next 2-3 seasons will determine if he is suited to play in Juventus, or not. For now, he is sure to be loaned out to a Serie B club to gain more experience.