Just who is the 19-year-old Juventus striker who claims to be stealing all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s football “secrets”?
Ronaldo scored the away goal that puts Juventus in charge of their Champions League quarter-final against Ajax, and is likely to be the centre of attention at Tuesday’s second leg in Turin – but watch out for Moise Kean.
The teenager may not be a household name yet. But those in the know are tipping him to become one.
He has broken records in Italy and Europe, and has six goals in his past six appearances for club and country. Even though Juve surprisingly lost at SPAL last weekend, he will surely finish the season as a Serie A title winner.
But what is his story? Why is he so good? And how has he taken inspiration from Mario Balotelli?
A home-grown hero
Kean was born on 28 February 2000, in northern Italy to Ivorian parents, and spent six years in Juventus’ academy.
Even before he made his senior breakthrough, he was making an impact. His total of 24 goals in 25 games for Juve’s reserves during the 2015-16 season led to reports of interest from Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and from Arsenal.
At 16, Kean was offered a professional contract by Juventus. On 19 November 2016, he became the club’s youngest first-team debutant, aged 16 years, eight months and 23 days.
Three days later, he made further history as the first player born in the 2000s to make his Champions League debut. On the final day of the 2016-17 season, he became the first footballer born in the 21st century to score in Serie A, with a last-minute winner in a 2-1 victory at Bologna.
However, Kean made only four senior appearances during his debut campaign. So last season, he headed out on loan to Verona in search of regular first-team football. His total of four goals in 19 league games could not prevent relegation to Serie B, but the experience proved invaluable.
As French football journalist Julien Laurens told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro Leagues Podcast: “I think the loan spell did him so good at a young age.
“Do you stay at a club like Juventus, where you are not going to play that much but train with Miralem Pjanic and Giorgio Chiellini? Or is it better to go and be the best at training but at least you play nearly every week? In his case, at least it looks like that loan did him a lot of good.”
Kean returned to Turin to find that Juve had signed Ronaldo from Real Madrid for £99.2m. His response? To take a football education from the new arrival.
“I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo in training; I steal his secrets,” said Kean earlier this year. “I always try to be ready and train regularly so that I’m prepared when the time comes.
“I know that I still have so many records to beat and I intend to beat them.”
Revitalising a lost nation
Kean has been true to his word. In March, he set two more records at international level, as the youngest forward to start a match for Italy since 1912, and the youngest player ever to score in a competitive match for the Azzurri.
He scored in each of his first two starts for Italy, as they defeated Finland 2-0 and Liechtenstein 6-0 in their opening Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Kean is one of several young players hoping to revitalise an Italian side which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Italy boss Roberto Mancini, who replaced Gian Piero Ventura last May, has been known for providing opportunities for young players and he famously gave the young Balotelli a chance while in charge of Inter Milan.
Since taking over the national team, he has given debuts to four players aged 21 and under, calling up 19-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo before he had made his Serie A debut with Roma.
As Italian football expert James Horncastle told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro Leagues Podcast, Mancini has called heavily on the Italy side who were runners-up to Portugal in the Under-19 European Championship last July.
Horncastle said: “Mancini has looked at the key players in that Under-19s team – Kean, Zaniolo and Sandro Tonali, who plays in Serie B with Brescia, and said: ‘I want these players with me in the first team for the Nations League and the Euro qualifiers.’
“This is an Italy side that wants to play passing football, that wants to be on the front foot and that doesn’t believe you will get anywhere by looking to defend and pick teams off on the counter-attack.
“There are a lot of new faces. It has been a theme throughout his time in charge. I think that is why people are getting enthusiastic about it and think that Italy are turning a page.”
|Young players to feature under Roberto Mancini for Italy|
|Player||First game under Mancini||Age on first game under Mancini||Manager who gave them debut||Appearances for Italy||Goals scored for Italy||Current club|
|Moise Kean||USA, 20 Nov 18||18 years 265 days||Roberto Mancini||3||2||Juventus|
|Gianluigi Donnarumma||Saudi Arabia, 28 May 18||19 years 92 days||Giampiero Ventura||12||0||AC Milan|
|Nicolo Zaniolo||Finland, 23 Mar 19||19 years 264 days||Roberto Mancini||2||0||Roma|
|Federico Chiesa||Saudi Arabia, 28 May 18||20 years 215 days||Luigi Di Biagio||11||0||Fiorentina|
|Rolando Mandragora||France, 01 Jun 18||20 years 337 days||Roberto Mancini||1||0||Udinese|
|Nicolo Barella||Ukraine, 10 Oct 18||21 years 245 days||Roberto Mancini||5||1||Cagliari|
|Pellegrini Lorenzo||Saudi Arabia, 28 May 18||21 years 343 days||Giampiero Ventura||9||0||Roma|
Mancini’s faith in players such as Kean seems to have paid off. Italy have won their past three games under the new boss and are unbeaten in six.
“Kean took the opportunity with two hands,” said Horncastle. “There was something wonderful about the goal against Liechtenstein.
“The cross came in from Leonardo Spinazzola and Fabio Quagliarella, who scored twice that evening, nodded the ball down for Kean. You had these two extremes – the youngest goalscorer and the oldest goalscorer combining together in what is an Italy side that has generated a lot of enthusiasm.”
Balotelli and the ‘University of Football’
Kean’s development with club and country owes a lot to Balotelli.
The former Manchester City striker attracted a fair few negative headlines in England – for incidents such as throwing darts at a youth player and accidentally setting his bathroom alight with fireworks. But he has been a positive influence on Kean.
Balotelli was born to African parents, like Kean, and moved to Lombardy at the age of two. Both players have suffered racist abuse during their football careers and battled citizenship laws in Italy.
“Kean has spoken a lot about his interactions with Balotelli and about his experiences,” said Horncastle. “There are 10 years between them and Balotelli has told him not to make the same mistakes that he has.
“The emergence of Kean has been politicised. In Italy, the citizenship laws are discriminatory essentially. If you are born and raised of parents who are not Italian, you have to wait until 18 to be named an Italian citizen.
“Kean, because his parents have been in Italy for 30 years, is to all intents and purposes an Italian citizen, but he has been asked about this. He has essentially been fast-tracked with his citizenship because of heroic deed. Kean and Balotelli are seen as symbols of this.”
Kean’s agent, Mino Raiola, has also encouraged the striker to learn from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Ronaldo’s influence on the training ground has already proved a big factor in his development.
Horncastle says Kean has described Juventus as “a University of Football” given the wealth of talent there and he has disregarded interest from Ajax and AC Milan as a result.
Strength, pace and hunger
Kean, who has six goals and one assist in Serie A this season, has been compared to his hero Balotelli – matching strength and power with pace and intelligence.
Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri has recently said Kean “needed to stay at Juve to grow technically, train and play with the champions, but to improve mentally”.
He showed his value by coming on as a substitute to score a late winner against AC Milan on 6 April, but can still improve, as Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told the Euro Leagues Podcast.
“Kean has got the ability to run into space and doesn’t like to touch the ball that much,” Balague said. “He has got a lot of strength and pace in the first 15 metres. He finishes very well but in small spaces doesn’t feel comfortable and makes mistakes.”
Ajax beware, though. As Horncastle notes, Kean is making rapid strides.
He said: “You have to look at the precociousness of this kid in terms of his development. It is really astounding.
“He is a centre-forward but is prepared to play out wide. His right foot is better than his left but he is close to being ambipedal. He is just willing to do whatever it takes to be in the team and he has got that hunger.”