Bologna are fifth in Serie A after 19 games. If they finish higher than seventh, this will be their best season since 1970-71. 18 months ago, they signed Lewis Ferguson (son of Derek) from Aberdeen for €2m. The 24-year-old is now a star in Italy, attracting a Transfermarkt value of €18m. Their squad is dominated by players in their early and mid-20s, who in Scotland would be called ‘projects’ but at Bologna it’s just regarded as a normal way to build a club.
Now they want to sign 18-year-old Celtic winger, Rocco Vata (son of Rudi). Rocco is out of contract in the summer, so is able to sign a pre-contract and has had only a handful of substitute opportunities since making his Celtic debut a year ago.
Two Celtic managers have worked with Rocco and despite a period of injury crisis this season, he has not been given a platform. Do Bologna see something we don’t? It’s possible, but that question misses the point. Rocco is 18, it’s what happens next that is more important than whatever innate talent he has.
We use the word ‘potential’ to describe young players all the time, without attributing the developmental responsibility the club has in delivering that potential. Great young players fail to make it for various reasons, not least of all a lack of opportunity to work in a conducive environment. Look at Liam Scales, a different injury crisis rescued him from forever being associated with the word “Darvel”.
Will Rocco get first team exposure and flourish like Lewis Ferguson, or will he spend the next three years learning a language while playing in empty stadiums with the occasional loan period? The breakthrough odds on a teenager making it in the game are ridiculously low, but at Bologna he would be moving to a club that understands how their role in development better than most.
Celtic largely target players a few years older than Rocco, the early 20s are our hot spot (the stage Lewis Ferguson was when he left Aberdeen). Most, like Nawrocki, Lagerbielke, Tilio, Palma, Yang and Holm are usually first team players in comparable leagues. This is where we need to operate, there is no other viable development play for the club.