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Man Utd approach to youth recruiting shows Italy way forward

If Filippo Scardina's comments this week are any barometer, Italian clubs face a battle appealing to their best young players.

Even at AS Roma, which boasts iconic players like Francesco Totti and Daniele de Rossi, teenage striker Scardina admits he was upset having to give up on a dream move to Manchester United last year.

Scardina, 18, is currently playing on-loan at Como and admits he did have his head turned by United.

"I was 17 and I still was not in contact with Roma when there was this possibility (of going to England)," said Scardina.

"It was the end of the season with the Primavera when we played against Genoa at the Marassi and an English gentleman introduced himself to my mother.

"I then did an interview when they said they were interested in me, but Roma demanded I sign a professional contract and so I gave up this idea of playing in England.

"At the time, yes, I was angry with the way it worked out. But I was young."

Since then, Scardina has signalled his potential by making a Champions League debut with the Giallorossi, but his comments must concern Italian football chiefs.

The "English gentleman" mentioned by Scardina, is United's successful Italian-based scout David Williams.

While Scardina may have seen his move blocked by a concerned Roma, that hasn't prevented Williams from also sounding out some of his former Primavera teammates.

Roma pair Valerio Verre and Filippo Cipriani, both 16, have been linked with United this year after being identified by Williams.

Williams, 55, is dubbed "grandfather" by the Macheda family after he successfully oversaw Kiko Macheda's move from Lazio to United three years ago. The former Everton and Leeds United coach has also spotted three Italians currently enjoying success in United's youth team - Davide Petrucci, Alberto Massacci and Michele Fornasier.

Like Scardina, Petrucci hails from Roma and his move last year sparked fury in the local Rome press.

"It is a nightmare," said Il Romanista at the time of Petrucci's move. "Manchester United have dealt us another low blow, stealing Petrucci from under our noses, probably the best product of our youth system. In three to four years, he will be worth 100 times as much."

Petrucci, who comes from the San Basilio suburb of Rome, has been compared to a young Francesco Totti and could have made the first-team squad this year. However, Roma offered him a contract worth only £16,000 a year, the basic youth-team deal. At United, the teen is on a cool £95,000 salary.

Fiorentina and Empoli also claim money is behind Massacci and Fornasier's departures respectively last year.

But Scardina's remarks hint at something deeper.

Massacci never played in a game for Empoli, but was on the fringes of the first team, and reveals the personal touch of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson convinced him about moving to Old Trafford.

He said: "When Sir Alex Ferguson rang me up, I couldn't believe it, I had an hour-long conversation with him, in English. He seemed a humble person and nobody from the club made the pressure of an historic side weigh on my shoulders.

"In life a chance like this only comes past you once, so you've got to grab it with both hands. It isn't an easy decision aged 16 to leave home, family and friends, but I don't want to have regrets."

Italy's top-flight clubs have always suffered in comparison with their English counterparts when it comes to the treatment of their young players. And it's difficult to imagine the equivalent of Ferguson or Arsenal's Arsene Wenger getting on the phone to a young lad about moving to their club. More often than not in Italy, that's left to the sports director and youth coaching staff.

Scardina admits he often speaks with his former Roma primavera teammates and reveals their frustration over a lack of playing opportunities.

"Yes, I hear my comrades in the Primavera and they are a bit angry at the fact that they do not play," adds Scardina, who pointedly adds, "of the first team staff, I did not hear from anyone, I never had great confidence ..."

Italian football is set for big changes in the coming 12 months, with Roberto Baggio and Arrigo Sacchi now both in high level technical roles. If improvements are to be made at youth level, the culture and attitude of the local game towards it's young players needs radical change to convince the next generation of Petrucci's and Macheda's that they're more valued at home than abroad.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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