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Franco Carboni: Argentine teenager out to become Inter's new Zanetti

12:00 PM WAT 15/04/2022
Franco Carboni NXGN GFX
The 19-year-old was signed by the Nerazzurri amid competition from Liverpool and Juventus, and has already earned a first international call-up

When Argentina announced their squad for their final World Cup qualifiers in March, it raised plenty of eyebrows.

Alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez were a series of relatively unknown names, for whom their first senior international call-ups were coming before their professional debuts.

Not only that, but a number of those teenage talents were not even born in Argentina, with some, such as Manchester United forward Alejandro Garnacho, having previously represented other countries at youth level.

For Inter full-back Franco Carboni, this was the first time that Argentina had come calling, having previously played for Italy Under-18s.

But having been whisked away from Argentina almost overnight three years earlier, it was a dream come true to be recognised as being a prestigious talent by the land of his birth.

"I knew that the national team was following me here at Inter," the 19-year-old tells GOAL in an exclusive interview. "When the call came, it gave me immense pride and emotion. It was a very beautiful experience.

"I thank Italy for the opportunity they gave me in some youth friendlies. They were very important experiences for me.

"But when the call from Argentina came, I had no doubts. It's my country, and it was my dream to play for the national team.

"Training with Messi? It really made my dreams come true. Something that I dreamed of as a child and that I experienced in that moment.

"Training with him, doing ball possession, but also eating at the table with him... Incredible things and difficult sensations to explain."

Born in Buenos Aires, Carboni's first taste of academy football came at Lanus, but he was forced to leave his homeland at the age of 16 after his father, Ezequiel, accepted the job of youth coordinator at Catania.

"Three years ago, when we moved to Italy overnight, I had to tell him and my family that we were leaving Argentina." Ezequeiel, a former midfielder for Lanus and Catania, amongst others, recalls to GOAL.

"I know how much he suffered in leaving his friends, family, club and many other things to move to a country he did not know anything about, from the language to the football."

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Both Franco and his younger brother, Valentin, were enrolled into the Catania academy upon their arrival, but spent just five months with the club before bigger teams from around Europe began to take notice.

With a cultured left foot, physicality that allows him to beat opposition players both through pace and strength, and with excellent decision-making ability, Carboni's talents were clear, and with clubs now understanding the importance of full-backs in the modern game, it is no wonder he soon became hot property.

Liverpool and Juventus both showed an interest in signing him, but it was Inter who won the race, as the Nerazzurri also brought Valentin to Milan to join his brother.

"There were proposals from different clubs, but I've always wanted to play here," Franco says. "The project that the club presented to my family was very good and we chose to come to Inter.

"Thank God it turned out to be the right choice!"

Carboni has shone since arriving at the Nerazzurri while playing in a variety of positions down the left-hand side.

Initially a forward when he first began his footballing career, he has slowly moved backwards, and is now most comfortable playing as an attacking wing-back or full-back.

He has become a key member of Inter's Primavera (U19s) squad that is managed by former defender Cristian Chivu, providing seven assists over the course of the 2021-22 campaign while catching the eye of Simone Inzaghi.

He has been named on the first-team bench on five occasions over the course of the current campaign, though his first taste of senior football actually came with Antonio Conte's title-winning side in 2020, for whom he was a substitute twice in the early weeks of the Serie A season.

"I give thanks to Conte," Carboni says. "I trained under him for four-to-five months with the first team and he put me on the bench for the first time in Serie A. It was a very nice experience and I thank him for the opportunity he gave me.

"Inzaghi has also put me to the bench, even in the Champions League. He gave me a wonderful experience and I also thank him."

The thought of an Argentine full-back roaming down the wing in the Nerazzurri shirt at San Siro instantly brings up memories of Javier Zanetti for Inter fans, and the five-time Italian champion has already offered advice to Carboni in his capacity as club vice-president.

"My role models? In Inter, it's always Zanetti, even if he played on the right and I on the left," Carboni says. "For me, he is one of the best in history in that role and it is really a pleasure to talk to him. He is always very nice to me, he is a great person.

"In today's Inter team, I really like [Ivan] Perisic. Playing in the same role as him, I always observe him. I try to learn from him because, for me, he is very strong."

While Carboni's progress is encouraging, the issue of young players breaking into Serie A first teams is one that is not going away, with the issue having again been brought up again recently after Italy's failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Of the 15 youngest players to appear in Europe's 'Big Five' leagues this season, only one – Carboni's fellow Argentina call-up, Lazio's Luka Romero – plays in Serie A, while only one Italian player under the age of 18 has played in the competition this season – Atalanta defender Giorgio Scalvini.

The path to playing regular senior football for Carboni is not clear, then, meaning a potential loan move could be on the cards in the summer of 2022 after he recently extended his contract with the club through to 2025.

"Right now, I am thinking about finishing the season well with the Primavera," he insists. "We have important game, such as the play-offs, which we want to win.

"Then, at the end of the season, we will evaluate with my agent and Inter the best choice for me.

"I always set myself short-term goals, but I dream of playing in the first team at Inter or in the first team at a Serie A club."

Carboni certainly seems on the right path to achieve those dreams, and after his week of training alongside Messi and the rest of the Argentina squad, he knows more than most that dreams do sometimes come true.

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