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 Francesco Coco
by Paddy Agnew

Francesco Coco is an important standard bearer. At a time when it is all too fashionable to lament the problems faced by young Italian players trying to emerge in Serie A, the 23-year-old has proved that there is still space at the top for homegrown quality talent.

If there have been two success stories in Italy this autumn, they concern the club Milan and the national team, coached by Giovanni Trapattoni.

Curiously, Coco has played a significant part in both, making his debut for Italy in a thrilling 3-0 World Cup qualifying win against Romania in Milan after starring for his club side in the Champions League.

Trapattoni apparently had no worries about throwing young Coco into the fray, and he made an excellent debut, using his pace to constantly get behind the Romanian defence down the left flank. The Italians would appear to have found a new, important player for the future.

When World Soccer caught up with Coco at Milan's training ground, he was beginning to learn to deal with the effects of his new-found fame, having just collected a huge handful of fan mail.

Coco said: "If people had told me four months ago that I was set to make my international debut, I just wouldn't have believed them. It has all happened very quickly. "It was a totally galvanising experience. The fact that the game was at the San Siro, however, helped me a lot, psychologically, because it was as if I was playing in my own backyard."

San Siro is indeed Coco's home ground in the sense that he is a product of the Milan youth team. Born in Catania, Sicily, Coco made his club debut at the age of 18 in a 2-1 Serie A win away to Padova on the opening day of the 1995-96 season. But he played only a handful of games before he was shipped off to Vicenza on loan for a season before returning to Milan. Frustrated by further inactivity, he was happy to move to Torino last season, again on loan.

Looking back on the experience of being 'sent to the provinces', Coco now says he has no regrets. "If you're a young player at a big club that has lots of big-name players, it is obviously not easy to win a team place. In such a case, it's right for the player to go off on loan to other clubs because that way he gets to play regularly and consistently, and thus picks up a load of experience. Then, when the time comes, you're ready to come back to the 'mother house', just as I did with Milan.

"I grew up with Milan and I did everything possible to get back to the club and win a team place this season. I've always felt that this was my team and my dream is to play for many, many years for Milan and then end my career here."

Given the way he has been playing this autumn, Coco might well fulfil his dream.

Club Milan
Country Italy
Born January 8, 1977, in Catania
Previous clubs Vicenza, Torino
International debut October 2000, v Romania (3-0)
International caps 2 (0 goals)