What do you do when footballers are being introduced too young, inevitably ravaged by injuries and then forced to deal with a shorter career as a result? Bring through more children to cover for injuries, of course.
In an era where footballers are dropping like flies with muscle and ligament injuries galore in and around seasons that are asking for as many as 60 games from players, managers are having to instil more trust in youth prospects, even if those youth prospects are not still legally old enough to drive a car or buy an energy drink.
It’s a double-edged sword, though. Because if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
And if you’re good enough to be given a chance to play first-team football at a jaw-droppingly young age, the chances are you’re going to grasp that once-in-a-lifetime, genuine fairytale opportunity with both hands.
Despite their recent resurgence which culminated with winning the Scudetto in 2021-22, Milan’s striker roster is still incredibly fragile.
The Rossoneri managed to extract the absolute maximum out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his second spell with the club before his body finally forced him into retirement, plugging the gaps around him whenever he faltered by relying on Olivier Giroud, who has since taken over the role as starting striker.
Experience is great, but having two players in the autumn of their careers with a limited shelf life is bound to catch up on you at some point.
Unfortunately, recruiting Noah Okafor to bolster that frontline hasn’t worked out, with football’s scriptwriters giving Milan a major headache by ensuring he, Giroud and Rafael Leao are all unavailable for their game against Fiorentina.
Thankfully, the Rossoneri have a rather freakish 15-year-old ready to step up their absence – Francesco Camarda.
We’re convinced Camarda came out of the hospital scoring goals for fun on 10 March 2008. And no, that date isn’t a joke. 2008. We’re all getting very old.
Being moved into defence after signing for Milan in 2015, Camarda simply refused to conform to his new position and staged a protest in the form of continually dribbling the ball out from the back, ripping teams to shreds and finding the back of the net until coaches realised the errors of their ways.
The punk rock centre forward has since gone from strength to strength, displaying a near-supernatural knack for finishing at various youth levels for club and country. And it’s clear to see why Milan could trust him against Fiorentina after seeing what he’s capable of.
Leapfrogging age groups for fun at every level, the 15-year-old has been a regular with the club’s under-19s until this season, having finally been selected to train with Stefano Pioli’s senior squad after hundreds of goals at youth level.
And it’s abundantly clear to see why. Watching Camarda in and around the box feels like watching a veteran, the way he’s able to occupy defenders, read the path of passes and always find the back of the net. It’s an IQ you simply can’t teach.
Quoted by MilanNews, Camarda himself talked about his inspirations, which are evident in his style of play: “Ronaldo Fenomeno is my inspiration. Currently, my role model is Benzema but I also admire Ibra: he has a winning mentality.”
Without trying to pile even more unnecessary pressure onto a teenager who still has it all to learn in the senior game, Camarda is about to be presented with a golden opportunity – the type that most Italian kids his age spend every day and night dreaming of.
Even if this is the peak of his footballing career, he can be exceptionally proud.
We’ve got a good feeling that this is just the first chapter of a long and fruitful story, however.
By Mitch Wilks