by Xavier Jacobelli

Take a look at this photo and tell if it is not a sign of destiny: here is Willy Gnonto, 9 years old, a very young Inter chick, immortalised next to Roberto Mancini. At the time he was the Nerazzurri coach, he later became the man who allowed Willy to set a prestigious record, thanks to which the 2023 Golden Boy candidate became a 4-time world champion, 2-time European champion and 1-time Olympic champion in the history of the Italian national team. On 4 June 2022, in Bologna, at the age of 18 years, 7 months and 16 days, Gnonto became the youngest scorer in the 113 years of the Squadra Azzurra, beating Bruno Nicolè’s record that had stood for 64 years, when he scored his first goal in the national team at the age of 18 years, 8 months and 16 days. In Bologna the match ended badly for Italy (5-2 to Germany), but that night Italian football realised that Willy would go far.

Mancini is the coach who was not afraid to launch into orbit the boy born on 5 November 2003 in Verbania, Lake Maggiore, to Ivorian parents who had first married on the Ivory Coast and in 2000 remarried in Baveno. The wedding gift from the priest Don Alfredo Formia was a flat in the parish. The Gnonto family is much loved and since Willy has been climbing the heights of popularity, it can be said that the whole of Baveno is cheering for him. Definitely, Willy is a guy who likes to stand out: he is one of four Italian footballers (the others are Marco Verratti, Vincenzo Grifo and Mateo Retegui) to have played for the Italian national team without having made his Serie A debut.

Growing up in the Inter youth academy, after two seasons at Zurich (74 appearances and 12 goals), he moved to Leeds in September 2022: despite his positive in Uk debut (28 appearances and 4 goals, including 2 in the Fa Cup), Willy was unable to avoid relegation for the Peacocks’
relegation to the Championship. A polyglot (he speaks fluent Italian, English, French and German), an excellent student since primary school (he brilliantly graduated from sports science high school), Gnonto is an external striker, fast and dribbling, who can also play as a second striker. In 2020, the Guardian included him in its list of the best sixty footballers born in 2003.

In England they have compared him to Raheem Sterling, but the player Willy looks up to as an absolute example is Leo Messi. Gnonto is so attached to the Azzurri shirt that in June, after having participated in the final phase of the Nations League with Mancini’s national team, he gladly answered the call of Nicolato, the coach of the Under 21 team in the final phase of the European Championship. Gnonto scored his first goal with Young Italy, but it was not enough to avoid a scorching elimination. In the future he will not lack opportunities to make up for it. The boy from Verbania embodies a passion for football. If it is true that faith moves mountains, passion drives them. Go Willy go.

Scalvini? A predestined player‘. Word of Gian Piero Gasperini, coach of Atalanta, and Roberto Mancini, manager of Italy European champion. And if they say so there is no doubt. Giorgio Scalvini, 19 years old, was born in Chiari (Brescia), 40 km from Zingonia (Bergamo), where is located the sports centre Achille and Cesare Bortolotti, two historical presidents of Atalanta.

Ever since the 1970s, Zingonia has been the eldorado of the Nerazzurri club: it is enough to mention the names of Scirea, Cabrini, Fanna, Antonio Percassi, later captain and now club president, Tacchinardi, Bastoni, Pazzini, Montolivo, Zappacosta, Barrow, Kessie, Kulusevski, Carnesecchi and many others because the list is really long. If there is an Italian club that could be named Golden Boy’s partner ad honorem this is Atalanta.

The club has always believed in youths. You can therefore easily understand how happy Scalvini’s initial tenth place in the Golden Boy Index made him.  Since seven seasons during which he has racked up six European cup qualifiers, the coach of the Nerazzurri is Gian Piero Gasperini, who has never hesitated to launch them into the first team. This is confirmed by the Serie A debut of Scalvini, then still an Under-18, who joined Zingonia when he was only 12 years old.  It happened on 24 October 2021 (Atalanta v Udinese 1-1).  On 7 April 2022, Giorgio made his Europa League debut, replacing Matteo Pessina in the Europa League quarter-final first leg, RB Leipzig-Atalanta 1-1). Eleven days later, on 18 April 2022, Scalcvini scored his first Serie A goal (Atalanta-Verona 1-2). With the Azzurri, Giorgio climbed all the steps to Mancini: Under-15, Under-16, Under-17, Under-21, until his debut with the European champions, on 14 June 2022, at 18 years and 6 months.

A central defender, right-footed, excellent physique, ductile in both 3 and 4-man defences, Gasperini often employs him as a central midfielder as well. The Atalanta coach said of him: ‘Scalvini is only 19 years old, but he has the maturity and seriousness of a 30-year-old. A true professional, always among the first to arrive at training and always among the last to return to the locker room. He has a great future ahead of him”. And Mancini, literally bewitched: ‘Scalvini will have a great career. At his age I have seen few talents like him’. Scalvini is a great friend of Rasmus Hojlund (also 2003, (Golden Boy Index 78.0, ranked No.16 today), the Danish national in his first season in Serie A, also launched by Gasperini. In a recent interview with TMW, he said: ‘I spend a lot of time with Rasmus, we are the same age, we joke with each other, but neither he nor I give much importance to market rumours. Then I am happy for him if he scores for his national team, I hope he continues to do so with Atalanta. We’re two simple guys, who think about playing and having fun on the pitch’. Perhaps that is also why they will go very far.