Leave Sebastiano Esposito alone and let him grow, one would say. Well, small chance of that in the age of information. Since Antonio Conte sent him in at San Siro during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, nothing will be the same anymore for the 17-year-old Inter’s young prospect. People won’t stop talking about him and building hype around the supposedly new hope of Italian calcio.
The young starlet did little to pass unnoticed, if truth be told. Not only did he become the youngest Nerazzurro player to have ever debuted in the top European competition. He also embellished his Champions League breakthrough with a powerful acceleration towards the opponent goal which earned his side a penalty kick, and him instant, international visibility.
It will be difficult for Sebastiano Esposito to fall back off the radar and grow quietly. Our hope is that he will manage to handle the pressure as he makes his way towards the upper stages of calcio.
The world of Italian football indeed has a bad record for overhyping and consuming generations of supposedly extraordinary players. Think about “little Maradona” Vincenzo Sarno, who in 2000 was signed by Torino at 11 for approximately 60000 Euro. He was exposed to an insanely massive media coverage in the process and ended up never ever playing a Serie A game.
Or about Youtube sensation Hachim Mastour, who moved from being featured in a commercial video showing his freestyle skills along with Neymar, to barely scraping together 10 appearances in 4 seasons as a professional, and now struggling to make a start in the Italian Serie C.
Those who know the young Esposito, however, speak of a boy with both his feet firmly planted on the ground – except for when he uses them to skillfully deal with a ball, we would add. One thing is for sure: The 17-year-old has a personality, as he showed during Wednesday’s Champions League game. The way he incited his supporters after gaining a penalty kick evidenced his passion and hunger for the beautiful game.
But who is really Sebastiano Esposito, and can he be the forward talent that Italians have been waiting for since the days of Roberto Baggio? His youth club record outlines a 186cm-tall forward capable of covering virtually any attacking position. In his ramping-up career, he has been playing as a second striker, as a winger on both sides of the pitch, as well as an offensive midfielder.
“I prefer playing as a striker,” Esposito himself said in an interview part of a series showcasing Inter’s youth club talents, “but I’m quite a technical player, so I enjoy playing in the attacking midfield too, so I can provide assists as well as scoring goals,” he added in a curious blend of Southern and Northern Italian accents – a consequence of his wandering upbringing.
Esposito was born in Castellammare di Stabia to a family of footballers. His grandfather Salvatore was an amateur player, whereas his father Agostino went through all the youth ranks at Napoli. Sebastiano was cresciuto a pane e calcio, one would say using a pretty common Italian locution meaning that he was raised “being fed with bread and football.”
Esposito’s hometown is fertile soil for footballers after all, as players like Fabio Quagliarella and Gianluigi Donnarumma were also born in this big town in the outskirts of Napoli. Local team Juve Stabia has had a few stints in Serie B and is currently stationing in the Italian second flight.
Oddly enough, and in common with his fellow citizen Donnarumma, Esposito does not support neighboring Napoli. He is a fan of Roma, and particularly of Francesco Totti. When the Capitano retired, young Sebastiano switched his preference when it comes to active players to Mauro Icardi. Just an advice, son: Do not follow his steps, at least for what concerns off-the-pitch attitude and maturity.
The choice of Icardi as a model was of course facilitated by Esposito spending his teenage football years at La Pinetina, the Nerazzurri training center. His first stop was however in Brescia: After starting playing at Scuola Calcio Club Napoli, he was noticed by a Brescia talent scout and promptly offered to transfer to Northern Italy along with his whole family at the age of eight (EIGHT!).
The Rondinelle have a great tradition for nurturing young talents – Andrea Pirlo’s name should be enough to prove the point – and Brescia was the perfect environment for little Esposito to grow. However, when in 2014 the club risked going bankrupt, Inter took advantage of the situation to land Sebastiano and his two brothers at their court. He was only 12 at that time, and bringing him to Milano proved to be a great intuition.
Sebastiano debuted with the Nerazzurri’s Under 15 selection when he was one year younger, and immediately showed what he was about: In a game in Verona, with his side losing 0-2, he was sent in from the bench with just six minutes to go. Inter won 3-2, and Esposito scored all three goals. Later in the same season, he scored a haul in just 30 minutes during a playoff game against Salernitana.
Young Esposito would spend the following season between the Under 15 and Under 16 rosters, leading the latter to the Italian title by scoring a goal in the final game against Juventus, which Inter won 3-0. At the same time, he started collecting his first caps for the Azzurrini selections.
The 2018-2019 season started with Esposito tallying 16 goals in 14 appearances with the Under 17 Nerazzurri squad. He would eventually join the Primavera (Under 19) club, making his way among players two years older on average. In March 2019, just as his idol Mauro Icardi started digging in his heels and breaking his relationship with the black-and-blues, coach Luciano Spalletti made him debut in a Europa League Round of 16 game versus Eintracht Frankfurt. Sebastiano thus became the first player born in 2002 to play in a European competition.
Esposito closed the season back in the Under 17, conquering another national title by beating Roma in the last act. Just to live up to his standard, he scored all three goals in the Final, including a Panenka penalty.
New First Team coach Antonio Conte took the boy with him as Inter prepared for the current campionato. During a pre-season practice game, the 17-year-old starlet impressed the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as he served Stefano Sensi a perfectly-timed assist for the former Sassuolo midfielder to score. But even before that, Sebastiano had started to be noticed internationally as he had led the Under 17 Azzurrini to the Final of the European Championship with two assists and four goals, including two stunning free kicks against Germany and France.
Rumors say that Liverpool and Paris Saint Germain have both set their eyes upon the 17-year-old sensation. The Nerazzurri have supposedly, politely declined – probably not willing to experience a new Nicoló Zaniolo case and seeing another home-grown, Nazionale prospect slipping out of their hands. Esposito is fine where he is, Conte must have said.
With an injury keeping Alexis Sanchez at bay at least until the beginning of 2020, Antonio Conte seems to have made a clear choice of keeping Sebastiano Esposito in his roster as Inter’s first alternate offensive solution, to the point that the young phenomenon had to give up joining the Azzurrini for the upcoming Under 17 World Cup.
The 20 minutes Sebastiano Esposito enjoyed against Borussia Dortmund, sent in at a key moment in a fundamental match for Inter’s chances of continuing their European adventure, showed that Conte was pretty serious about his decision, and that Esposito will likely have his good chances not to end up being yet another meteora in the Italian football panorama.
Good luck, young man!