Udinese’s vast scouting network has had success over the years unearthing gems and showcasing them to the world. From Luis Muriel to Alexis Sánchez to Piotr Zieliński, the Zebrette have scoured every corner of the world for promising teenagers at cheap bargains. The latest one to grace the friendly confines of the Stadio Friuli is none other than Czech Republic’s Jakub Jankto. Born and raised in SK Slavia Prague’s youth academy, the Czech wonder has all the tools at his disposal to make a name for himself in Italy and beyond. After a year of familiarizing himself with the league and his new surroundings, Jankto is primed to hit the ground running this season and give the Friuli faithful something to rejoice about.
After making the transition to Italy from Slavia Prague in 2014 for a reported fee of €700,000, a bargain in today’s market, Jankto was quickly loaned out to sharpen his skills. He had managed 27 appearances from the Primavera side in his debut season in Italy, and at 19, Udinese decided he was ready for an Ascoli loan–a career move that has done wonders for Simone Zaza and Andrea Petagna. Immediately, it was clear he was an imposing player, capable of playing on the left wing or in centre midfield. Following just a year of second division football, Udinese recalled their Czech talent and thrust him into the limelight for the 2016-2017 season.
Jankto would soon continue his good form in Italy’s top flight, notching five goals and four assists in his 24 starts, catching the eye of the likes of Arsenal, Milan and Juventus. The Udinese man’s 39 chances created last season were the most by any Serie A player under the age of 22. His impressive play would not go unnoticed and he, along with Patrik Schick and Matěj Pulkrab, were nominated for 2016’s Czech talent of the year. Despite eventually losing out to Schick, it was a sign of things to come for the Udinese man and his compatriot. Going forward, Jankto has never shied away from the fact that he desires to leave Italy soon.
“I want to play abroad, to try some new experience,” Jankto said. “I’m curious, I want to know other things. I certainly do not see myself in Italy for too long, certainly not up to 25 years old.”
The 21-year-old’s domestic play also caught the eye of national team boss Karel Jarolim, and he debuted on March 22, 2017 in a 3-0 win against Lithuania. During his debut, Jankto pulled out a familiar move from his arsenal, as he cut to his dominant left foot and finished in the opposite corner off the post to put the tie to bed. Since then, the winger has established himself as a regular for the national team and has represented his country across all youth levels.
With a year in Serie A under his belt, Jankto is already looking to have a bigger influence on games. In his first two appearances of the new season, the Prague native is averaging 33.8 passes per game, up from last season’s average of 25.7. While it’s still early days, Jankto is beginning to establish himself as Udinese’s main catalyst going forward, especially now that Bruno Fernandes and Cyril Théréau have departed the club for greener pastures.
Standing at 5’10, the 21-year-old has had no issues imposing himself on the left wing in Italy. A direct winger by definition, Jankto is blessed with a quick trigger and is proficient with quick, lateral movements on the ball. Like most wingers, he enjoys cutting into the middle and whipping in an early cross for his strikers to attack. Jankto’s biggest asset, however, is his ability to see the play unfold before it happens as his head is on a constant swivel. He has the clairvoyance to know when to hold onto the ball and when to release it to a teammate in space. Due to this, he’s capable of also playing in the middle of the park, as he has done both domestically and internationally. His agent, Beppe Riso, spoke about the clubs following him.
“Arsenal like him, he’s a lover of English football, and he’s also liked by Juve, Inter and other teams. Still, he’s 21 years old, he must be calm and he’s only thinking about Udinese. After that, we’ll see. Do I see him more in the Premier League than other leagues? Yes.”
While the player is defensively responsible, his physique has seen him lose out on some 50-50 battles. If he is to play in the midfield long-term as opposed to the wing, this is an aspect of his game that needs honing and quite frankly, bolstering. In any case, Jankto has already shown that he will go that extra mile defensively, which is a positive, early sign. Another area of Jankto’s game that needs fine tuning is his weak foot. As defences begin to study his movements with more precision, it’s vital that the Czech international learns to mix it up and go to his weaker right foot.
In front of goal, Jankto is an opportunist in every sense of the word and doesn’t typically need a second chance to punish lackadaisical defences, as seen through his clinical finishes against Inter, Pescara and Palermo. That being said, the Czech international is also capable of hitting them from range, as Joe Hart and Gigi Buffon learned all too well last season.
Before the transfer window closed, Milan were heavily linked to Jankto but Udinese were reluctant to move him, citing 20 million euros as his price-tag. Blessed with the ability to play in the midfield or in the front three, it should come as no surprise that Montella’s men were interested. Despite not getting his move to a big club this summer, it won’t be long before a European powerhouse snaps him up, once the mercato re-opens in January. As his role at Udinese continues to expand week by week, so will his price-tag and the list of prospective suitors.
With the world at his feet and the Stadio Friuli as his stage, Jakub Jankto is set to take his game to the next level when Udinese and Czech Republic need him most.
By: Gregory Caltabanis (@GCaltabanis)