Entering the weekend games as joint leading goal scorer in Serie A, having helped steer Parma to a healthy position above some much more quality-laden clubs, Sebastian Giovinco has, not for the first time, become a hot topic of conversation in Italy. While not the most instantly recognizable figure in Italian soccer, he was tipped for greatness at a young age and struggled to live with the incredible expectations that placed upon him.
An attacking midfielder with exceptional dribbling and playmaking skills who, due to his short stature (he stands just 5-foot-4) and his skills, earned the nickname "formica atomica" (atomic ant), Giovinco is considered one of the most promising Italian players of his generation. Thanks to the very different approach to young players in Italy there was no danger of him becoming a first team player at just 14, but it was at the same age when the hype-machine began to pay attention. Growing up in the youth sector of hometown club and European giants Juventus, he tore through the various youth teams, consistently the most impressive player in any particular game and displaying the kind of skill that set him apart from his peers at those levels.
He helped the Turin club win both the 2005 and 2006 Viareggio Tournament, a prestigious annual summer event attended by the best teams in the world. It also comfortably won the Primavera (U-20) Championship that same season with Giovinco named Guerin Sportivo's player of the season. Meanwhile the late summer of 2006 also saw Juventus thrown into turmoil and relegated to Serie B following the Calciopoli trials, with the club losing its coach and a number of first team regulars.
Among the promising youth players expected to be given the chance to shine following all these departures was of course Giovinco, by now labeled the heir to club legend Alessandro Del Piero. Then only 19 years old. he struggled for playing time as Juventus still had its iconic captain and Pavel Nedved ahead of him. There was also Raffaele Palladino, a similar player who, being three years his senior, was considered closer to the finished article by then manager Didier Deschamps and Giovinco managed just three appearances.
As Juve immediately returned to Serie A, Giovinco was -- along with Claudio Marchisio -- sent on loan to Empoli to gain more regular first team experience. There they both thrived, playing significant minutes and helping the club qualify for Europe for the first time in its history. Giovinco caught the eye, particularly when he scored an equalizer in the last minute against Roma. It was a long distance curling free kick, strikingly reminiscent of -- who else -- Del Piero.
Giovinco also became a regular in the Italian U-21 Team that season and helped the team win the 2008 Toulon Tournament and was part of the Italy team at the Beijing Olympics. After these impressive performances he was recalled to Turin, seemingly to be given the chance to impress for Juventus in Serie A and the Champions League under new coach Claudio Ranieri. Yet still he remained the odd man out, regularly overlooked with fans criticizing Ranieri for wasting his talent as the team struggled. Ranieri's replacement Ciro Ferrara was previously in charge of the club youth system that produced Giovinco and it was expected he would get more of a chance heading into the 2009-10 season.
Ferrara confirmed Giovinco would support new signing Diego in the trequartista role and true to his word, when the Brazilian picked up an injury, Giovinco got the start in the role he so craved. However he was poor, struggling to link the play and was benched after a game and a half. Then during a injury-hit period Ferrara altered formation, giving him a wide role in a 4-2-3-1 system. Here the player thrived but it was short lived as others returned to fitness and he was once more on the outside looking in.
Soon Ferrara himself would be replaced, this time by Alberto Zaccheroni. Once again Giovinco found himself down the pecking order, often not even on the bench. In the summer of 2010-11, he was sold in co-ownership to Parma, the new management regime at Juve unwilling to begin a new era dealing with these old issues. This has led to some questioning what these managers saw in training everyday. After all goes the logic, if he is as talented as we all believe, what have Deschamps, Ranieri, Ferrara, Zaccheroni and Beppe Marotta seen that we do not?
First there is the obvious question of temperament. While he was -- perhaps understandably but certainly unprofessionally -- harsh in his criticism of Juventus since the move away, there never was any Carlos Tevez-esque outburst while Giovinco was in Turin. He was always at the disposal of his coach, never going public with any grievances. Yet the fact four very different -- and in some cases very experienced -- coaches continually overlooked him remains puzzling.
The real issue seems to be one of mindset, both of the player and the soccer establishment in Italy. Giovinco never seemed capable of playing a backup role. He needed -- and still needs -- to feel the appreciation of his coach, to know he will play every game for which he is available. Some players thrive in being the biggest name in town and he is certainly that at the Tardini side, in a way he simply never would be at Juventus. Since becoming Parma coach Franco Colomba feels the need almost on a weekly basis to praise the player, to talk up his performances and praise him the way a manager would with a much younger player.
Italy has had incredible success at youth team level but a strong sense of distrust presents itself when the time comes for those same starlets to graduate to the first team. This leads to a never ending cycle of loans, co-ownership deals and transfers and in no time at all a prodigious youngster like Giovinco, Juve's Paolo De Ceglie or Milan's Ignazio Abate are around 25 years old yet still referred to as "promising."
Seemingly finding space away from the glaring spotlight that is ever-present at a club like Juventus, Giovinco has settled into life in the provinces, showing clear signs of being able to mature and develop to his incredible potential. Regular calls to Cesare Prandelli's Italy squad have followed but it remains unclear whether he can overcome the physical and mental flaws that have stood in his way thus far. He may be the star at Parma but talk of a homecoming to Juventus will not relent and new coach Antonio Conte has said on more than one occasion he would like to see him return. Watching him flourish away from Turin is pleasing to all who have followed his career to date, but whether Sebastian Giovinco will ever shine as brightly in Juventus colors is something yet to be discovered.