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What should Chelsea fans’ mood be after past weekend? Disappointment, surely; their team was leading 3-0 against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, but two penalty kicks in 10 minutes, both converted by Wayne Rooney, cleared the way for the equaliser by Javier “Chicharito” Hernández when the match was close to the end. But, on the other hand, last Saturday and Sunday give them a reason for being proud of Chelsea and, in particular, of their academy. Two young rising stars grown up at the Cobham Sportsground shined in the last few days – Italians Jacopo Sala and Fabio Borini.
Sala, born in Bergamo on 5 December, 1991, is the most recent talent produced by Atalanta, allegedly one of the best – if not the best – acadamies in Italy. He was only 15 when Chelsea signed him for more than £300,000, this being considered the umpteenth snatching perpetrated by British clubs to Italian football. Throughout the years, other young footballers left Bergamo to cross the Channel – Samuele Dalla Bona, Vito Mannone, Luca Percassi and Fabio Zamblera.
Once arrived in London, he spent some time in the Blues’ Under-18 pre-season games and was tried in different positions. He was fielded as right winger in a classic 4-4-2 module, but he provided good performances also a striker in a 4-3-3 line up and he even played as right-back. He started the season with the Under-16s team but he soon drew the attention of Paul Clement, manager of the Under-18s squad. Consequently, he was given a call and scored a goal in a 5-1 victory over Charlton. Once back into the younger squad, he moved forward and impressed his superiors, reaching the peak with a sensational hat-trick against Portsmouth and being named captain of the team.
Afterwards, he progressed into the Under-18 team and then into the Reserves, earning three caps in 2008. Although he did not give continuity to what shown in previous seasons, he was a full-time player of the Reserves as well as part of the team who won the FA Youth Cup in 2010. In the same year he also sat on the bench of the first team in the match against Blackburn Rovers.
On June 2011 he migrated for a second time, as German side Hamburg signed him with a three-year contract. Once again, it did not take that long to shoot ahead. Two caps with the Reserves were enough to ensure Sala the debut in a professional championship. The big day came on January 22, 2012, when he replaced Marcell Jansen in the second half of the 5-1 defeat against giants Borussia Dortmund. He then appeared in the Starting XI for the first time the next match day. But that was not all.
4 February. 2012. 22 minutes have passed in the big match against Bayern Munich, one of the three Bundesliga leaders. Sala is unmarked, on the right side of the goal area. He receives the ball from teammate Paolo Guerrero and he immediately kicks it, without any hexitation. The shot has a lethal effect, the ball bounces twice on the pitch and shake the net behind goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s back. The goal does not coincide with a classic “David against Golia” victory, as Croatian striker Ivica Olić equalises when there are only 19 minutes to be played. Yet, that dazzling shot forced the Munich side to leave the first place of the table to Borussia Dortmund. And it is still Sala’s first goal as a professional footballer.
Less than 24 hours later, another Italian gifted striker, and former Chelsea player, gave his signature in one of the last weekend’s matches. His name is Fabio Borini and he was born in 29 January, 1991.
He approached football in Bologna, his hometown, joining the young squads of the local team who was also his favourite one in childhood. Borini signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2007, reaching Sala just a few months later, and he rapidly became one of the most interesting talents of the Blues academy. The same year Sala played for the first time in the Reserves, Borini became the team’s top scorer with an astonishing score of 10 goals in 11 matches and contributed to the winning of the FA Youth Cup.
Two seasons on high levels were sufficient for convincing Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti to rely also on his fellow countryman for the Premier League as well as for the Champions League. Borini, portraited by Ancelotti himself as the “new Filippo Inzaghi”, made a bench in the European clash against Porto in early September 2009 and then played his first match in the English football’s top flight, a 3-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspurs, although for one minute. He then made other apperances also in the FA Cup and even in the Champions League, in the 2-2 draw against Apoel Nicosia. Sadly, he underwent a hernia operation which forced him to be away from matches for a long time. Meanwhile, he earned his first caps with the Italy Under-21s national team.
His impact on British football became more consistent in the spring of 2011, as we has sent on loan to Swansea City in the Championship. His first appearance with new teammates was oustanding, as he scored a brace against Nottingham Forest. In half-a-season he scored 6 goals in 12 matches, contributing to the historical promotion of the Swans in the Premier League, the first ever for a Welsh team. Swansea fans dedicated a song to him inspired by Ottawan’s “D.I.S.C.O.”, editing it in “F-A-B-I-O, we’ve got Fabio”.
But time to come home arrived for Borini, who reportedly signed a pre-contract with Parma even before going on loan to South Wales. In the last days of the summer transfers window, however, he was sent on loan to Roma for £1.5m. After an encouraging beginning of the season, with the first apperances and also goals, another injury occurred.
However, the best was yet to come. The new year saw the incredible rising of Borini, as he scored one goal in the overflowing 5-1 victory over Cesena and, above all, a spectacular brace against Inter Milan. That is what he did last Sunday. In the dying minutes of the first half he received the ball on the left side, rounded Argentinian defender Walter Samuel and beat goalkeeper Júlio César with a precise cross-shot.
Later, three minutes within the second half, he struck again. Avoided the offside trap, he tamed the ball on a long pass and immediately ran towards the opponents’ goal. Brazilian defender Lucio attempted to disturb his shot on target, but Borini managed to overwhelm and scored his second personal goal.
Probably, the two 1991-born young footballers will not wear a second time the blue jersey of Chelsea.
But another blue shirt – the one of Italy national team – might cover their shoulders sooner than expected.