On a balmy night in Turin, Juventus were cruising to a 4-0 home win against Empoli. Max Allegri turned to his bench around the 80-minute mark and summoned London teenager Samuel Iling-Junior, five minutes later the youngster would replace Filip Kostic to mark his debut for the Old Lady. Since then, Samuel Iling-Junior has not looked back, here we delve into the young winger’s journey into the professional game so far.
As for so many young footballers, this appearance marked not just the start for Iling-Junior but also the end. The end of a long and arduous journey to making a professional appearance, one that for Iling-Junior began at the age of just 8 years old when he joined the famed Chelsea academy. The same place that had produced the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Levi Collwill, Mason Mount, Connor Gallagher and many more seemingly had too many gems for their own good.
So in 2020, the winger decided to take an alternative route to first-team football, leaving Chelsea and rejecting a scholarship offer, amidst mass interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs. It’s easy to say in hindsight that following the path of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham in moving abroad to develop with less pressure is the right thing to do, but it wasn’t an easy start to life for Iling-Junior in Turin. There was huge bravery involved in his choice to leave all he had ever known and move abroad without speaking a word of Italian but he has since cited his reasoning:
“In football, you have to be fearless,” adding about Chelsea, “I was there from eight years old so of course they tried to keep me, but I just had my head tilted at Juventus,” he told the Times.
Arriving in the middle of very strict lockdown restrictions due to the pandemic, Iling-Junior would have to bide his team and accept what was pretty much a false start. Despite allowing him a decent amount of time to overcome the language barrier, the lack of cultural experience meant the adaptation period was sure to be slowed down.
Style of Play
After those eight minutes or so against Empoli in October, it was clear that Samuel Iling-Junior was very much good enough to be part of the Juventus first-team squad and his talents would be wasted at the youth level. Iling-Junior can play on the left or the right of a front three but has been used frequently as a wing-back by Allegri at Juve.
His game is defined by his excellent ability in one on one offensive situations, the winger deliberately keeps a great unpredictability in his forward play – sometimes driving at his full-back and taking them on and at other times whipping in low early crosses. His technical ability is matched by a superb physical presence.
Not only does he possess a real burst of pace which allows him a yard to cross on the outside or come inside and shoot, but he’s also very agile. In recent years we have seen the importance of dynamism in top-quality players, the ability to open your hips and go either way, not giving the defender an idea of what’s coming next. Iling-Junior has this capability down to a tee, in a similar way to Callum Hudson-Odoi when he first came onto the scene.
With only 16 senior appearances it’s still difficult to fully assess the consistent strengths and weaknesses of his game. As stated in some of the more thorough scouting reports on Samuel Iling-Junior, he is not a particularly “fashionable” winger. As we head ever further into the Guardiola-influenced tactical era, top teams generally look for inverted wingers whereas Iling-Junior is undoubtedly at his best when getting to the byline and crossing. This is not anything to hold against the young winger but may play a big role in the future.
What He’s Done So Far
Four days after his debut, Iling-Junior would again be summoned from the bench again but this time in much more desperate circumstances. Juventus were being embarrassed in Lisbon by Roger Schmidt’s Benfica side in the Champions League. It has been a fairly miserable campaign in Europe for Juve anyway, having lost at home to PSG and then away in Israel.
With the situation worsening and the scoreline at 4-1, Iling-Junior again replaced Filip Kostic – this time in the 70th minute. The Englishman was a revelation in his 20 minutes on the pitch, almost dragging a wounded Juventus team level. His first action was to twist his full-back inside out before delivering a pinpoint cross for Arkadiusz Milik who reduced the deficit. Then two minutes later he again flew down the left-hand side and fizzed in a dangerous ball that was spilled by the Benfica keeper, eventually falling to Weston McKennie to turn in. Despite Juventus not completing the comeback, Iling-Junior had thrust himself into the limelight.
When he again came off the bench days later and assisted in a matter of seconds, it seemed everything was going too smoothly to be true. This is exactly when the young winger faced his first setback, injuring his ankle and breaking his momentum, postponing what seemed like an inevitable first start for the club all the way up until May.
However, when the opportunity came, Iing-Junior was ready to grasp it. He had not left his boyhood club at the age of 16 and moved abroad to shy away from the big occasions. Ten minutes after halftime, away at Atalanta, Iling-Junior brilliantly dispossessed Davide Zappacosta before driving forward and playing a neat pass into the area, the ball eventually bobbled back to him about 8 yards out and he smashed it in off the bar. A huge moment for the Islington boy on the European stage. Potentially the start of something spectacular.
Samuel Iling-Junior’s contract runs until 2025. There have already been question marks over Allegri’s preferred use of the out-and-out winger as a wingback, which could be something that is taken into account when contemplating his future. There is undoubtedly plenty of interest from across Europe not just because of his Juve performances but also the class he has shown at England youth levels.
By: Wilf MacDonnell / @WilfMacdonnell
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC