In November 2016, 16-year-old Moise Kean became a record-breaker with his first (literal) step in Serie A. On his debut, replacing Mario Mandzukic late on in Juventus‘ home win against Pescara, the young striker became the first player born in the 2000’s to make his debut in Europe’s top five leagues. The achievement emphasised his tender age even compared to other young players, and meant all eyes were on Kean as soon as he entered senior football. Inevitably, the narrative dictated that because of his incredibly young age, a first-team debut automatically means Kean must be the next big thing for Italian football.
Little over two years on, the Italian is still on the bench for Juventus after a mixed loan spell at Verona in 2017/18. This analysis will have a look at whether the youngster has made any progress, is still very much a raw talent, or whether the media was perhaps overly-Kean (apologies).
At only 18 years old, Kean, who is also of Ivorian descent, chose to represent Italy and recently made his senior debut, having been prolific at all age groups. The youngster is currently in the news because of murmurs of Kean’s agent, the ever-outspoken Mino Raiola, pushing a potential move to AC Milan. The transfer makes sense in principle, with Gonzalo Higuain also rumoured to return to Juventus which presents the obvious possibility of a swap deal.
Interest is clearly high, as Kean’s brother revealed in a recent interview with Tutto Juve:
“I honestly don’t know how many teams are following him, but we’ll see how the situation evolves. Not least because so many things could happen between now and January.”
However, the Bianconeri understandably want to keep hold of their starlet for seasons to come, but it’s rather unlikely he will get much more than a late cameo in Serie A considering the club’s fire-power at present. With a loan offer from Chievo also being rejected, and Juventus seemingly adamant for Kean to stay, is he too good to stagnate on the bench?
For obvious reasons, Kean has seen limited action this season so most of what we can gauge of the striker can be taken from last season.
A disclaimer in defence of Kean, having seen Verona first-hand last season, the team were woeful. Relegated with the second-worst goals scored in the league, the fact that the young striker’s confidence isn’t shattered deserves credit and any sort of bright performance has to be heralded. With this in mind, to score four goals in 12 starts in a team where chances are hard to come by is respectable. With an average of 1.8 shots per game whilst on loan, Kean had to be clinical to get on the scoresheet.
This highlights his main strengths at this point in his career, his technical abilities. Kean clearly has dribbling ability in abundance and likes to use his pace to run at opponents, which was clear at youth level but has also transferred to senior level, averaging 1.5 dribbles per game at Verona, more than double the likes of last year’s ‘Capocannoniere’ Ciro Immobile (0.7 pg).
What is particularly impressive about a player so young is his tactical reading and positional intelligence, as seen below against AC Milan last year.
Here, Kean does well to read the left back’s positioning, anticipates the ball and peels off to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
What we’re seeing here is a teenager with the presence of mind and composure to read where a cross will go, react quicker, create space and finish on his weak foot past an already top-level goalkeeper. Most of Kean’s goals have come from using his pace to finish off a counter-attack as that was the bulk of Verona’s chances against better opposition. However, this goal proves that he has the potential to be dangerous in the box as he gets more game time, whether it be at Juventus or an established top-half team.
His pace also means he finds himself drifting out to the wing, which comes in handy in Juventus’ system, with Massimiliano Allegri preferring his ‘central’ strikers such as Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and on occasion, Cristiano Ronaldo, to come off the wing and behave as inside forwards. This system fits perfectly for Kean who, as seen below, can adapt to play on the wing.
In the game above against Fiorentina last season, Kean picks up the ball on the right-wing and looks to start a counter attack. First, he says ‘buonanotte’ to Jordan Veretout and fittingly does a ‘Ronaldo chop’ past another player before releasing the ball forwards. This is just one of numerous times Kean took the pressure off of the defence by bursting forward and highlighting his pace, dribbling and passing.
We have seen glimpses of class that prove Kean has the potential to play at the top and, almost as importantly, fit into the system at his parent club. However, at 6ft tall but weighing only 67kg, Kean has still a long way to go before he is the perfect physical specimen. Consequently, he isn’t as capable in the air as you would expect for a player on the taller side. This translates into his statistics as last season, he won just 0.6 aerial duels per game and lost 1.6.
A combination of his lack of physical presence and playing for a weaker side meant that he sometimes struggled to make an impact on games. However, it’s doubtful many strikers would have been able to make a name for themselves in last season’s Verona team. Expect the youngster to bulk up in the coming years as he looks to improve his presence in the air and become a more intimidating force.
To remind us football fans why we love to see exciting young players come through, here’s the unforgettable reaction of Kean’s brother when he made his debut.
At 18, Moise Kean will gain invaluable lessons learning from the likes of Ronaldo and Dybala and perhaps at this very moment, Juventus is the right place. However, come the next few transfer windows the priority for a young player becomes game time, so don’t be surprised to see him on loan come the summer. His technical and mental qualities are undeniable, and his weaknesses understandable. At his stage of life, as well as career, the vast majority of players are not the finished, physical article. One relevant example would be his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, well-known for arriving at Manchester as a skinny but skilful winger. I’ve heard he turned out alright.
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