Weekly Wonderkids: Episode 8

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One of Football Index’s unique attributes as a platform is that it allows traders to pick and choose which players to buy and sell, which to stockpile, and which to keep an eye on in the future. Traders can spot a promising footballer, buy stock in said player, and watch them flourish as the player’s profile grows on the world stage. If you truly believe that a teenage prospect who’s only registered a handful of substitute appearances will go on to become a Golden Boot winner, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is and add him to your portfolio.

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will analyze a new U-23 player who Football Index traders should consider buying in a new weekly series called “Weekly Wonderkids.” With this series, you’ll be able to discover which youngsters you should place your trust in – and money – and why.

Name: Enzo Loiodice

Age: 19

Club: Wolverhampton

You’d be hard-pressed to find a club in Europe’s top 5 leagues whose fortunes have changed as swiftly in the past three years as Wolverhampton. The club went through five different managers in the 2016/17 season, where they would 15th in the Championship. Nevertheless, they skyrocketed from 15th to 1st the following season, racking up 99 points. A year after the Chinese investment group Fosun International purchased the club for £45 million, Wolves returned to the Premier League thanks to new manager Nuno Espírito Santo and a summer transfer spree that saw the likes of Willy Boly, Barry Douglas and Rúben Neves arrive at Molineux.

If 2017/18 announced the hype, 2018/19 confirmed it; Wolves finished 7th and made it all the way to the FA Cup semi finals. From finishing seven points above relegation to League 1 to playing Europa League qualifiers, it was a tremendous leap in a mere two years, one that owed merit to the club’s connections with superagent Jorge Mendes as well as shrewd work in the transfer market from sporting director Kevin Thelwell. However, questions began to surface concerning the club’s squad depth, with fans demanding better reinforcements and stronger rotational options ahead of a season that has seen Wolves compete in four competitions.

The club currently sit 7th in the table and are set to face Espanyol in the Europa League Round of 32, yet those questions still persist. Jesús Vallejo and Patrick Cutrone have both come and gone back to their home countries in a matter of months, and Thelwell has come under the firing line for failing to adequately prepare for a packed schedule, with the club exiting early from both the FA Cup and League Cup.

Nevertheless, in the waning days of the January transfer window, Wolves conducted some shrewd business to assure Nuno’s side would have enough gas in the tank to compete in the league and Europa. They signed promising Ecuadorian striker Leonardo Campana on a free transfer and completed a deal in the region of £17 million for Portuguese winger Daniel Podence. In addition, they completed an under-the-radar deal for Dijon midfielder Enzo Loiodice, signing the 19-year-old on loan with an option to buy.

The France youth international will join up with Wolves’ under-23 side initially as he gets accustomed to the English game, but he has the potential to become a valuable asset for the first team in the long term.

Polishing His Skills in Dijon’s Academy

Having grown up in the town of Villejuif, Loiodoice began his footballing career at the age of six with Sporting Club de Paris and attended school at the Paris Centre. Nicolas Paolinelli, one of his first coaches, said, “He was above average and very strong technically. We regularly played him against a higher age group. He was a short player, but he made it due to his technique and intelligence.”

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It wasn’t until he joined FC Gobelins as a 12-year-old that he realized that the only thing that mattered to him, aside from his studies, was football. At 14, he decided to refine his skillset at a bigger club and joined the Dijon academy. While he had offers from Auxerre, Reims and Saint-Étienne, he rejected them in favor of Les Moutardes due to Dijon’s status as a ‘family club’. He based his choice on Dijon’s prestigious school, so that if he didn’t make it as a footballer, he could at least have the education to pursue a white-collar career, and perhaps even chase his dream of becoming a pilot.

The first year at Dijon was a baptism of fire. He suffered two major injuries all the while being away from his parents, and he described having previous bouts of homesickness, depression and anxiety. Nevertheless, he continued to pursue his dream, and at the age of 17, went from playing third-division football with the youth team to starting in Ligue 1.

Breakthrough and Struggles Under Dall’Oglio

Loiodice came off the bench several times in the final weeks of the 2017/18 season, before making his first start for the club in the last match of the season, a 2-1 win against Angers. Dijon manager Olivier Dall’Oglio brought him into the starting line-up at the start of the 2018/19 season, which saw Dijon claim three straight victories. Loiodice impressed scouts with his deft technique and even attracted interest from Fiorentina, who ended up signing Szymon Żurkowski from Górnik Zabrze instead.

Despite his young age and lack of physical power, Loiodice was cutting the mustard at Dijon.

And yet, after a red-hot start to the season which saw him become a regular starter, he dropped out of the line-up after a 0-2 defeat to Marseille in November, and didn’t start again until a year later in a loss against Monaco.

With Dijon embroiled in a relegation battle, Dall’Oglio tended to prefer the veterans Florent Balmont, Morgan Amalfitano and Jordan Marié to his diminutive teenage midfielder. With Antoine Kombouaré taking over in January and Stéphane Jobard subsequently replacing him in June, Loiodice never regained the same trust that was placed in him under Dall’Oglio.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent manager Bernard Diomède from starting him for France during last summer’s U-20 World Cup in Poland. The left-footed midfielder kept things ticking in possession, evading pressure with swift turns, and fearlessly carrying out the first phase of the build-up. Playing at the base of midfield, he’d only need a sole touch to break the lines and pick out a winger in an advanced area. While he wasn’t the strongest physically, his positioning and marking ability allowed him to recover and recycle possession with a surprising consistency.

Playing alongside the likes of Boubakary Soumaré, Youssouf Fofana and Mickaël Cuisance in midfield, it was Loiodice who shined the brightest out of Les Bleuets’ midfielders. This was the player we had previously enjoyed under Dall’Oglio, a left-footed technician who could switch the play in the blink of an eye and smoothly evade pressure. A brilliant reader of the game, both on and off the ball, who knew what pass he was going to make before he even played it.

What to Expect at Molineux

After playing a mere 189 minutes of football under Jobard this season, Loiodice joined Wolves on loan with an option to buy during the final days of the January transfer window.

The Frenchman will likely rotate between the U-23 side and the first team during his loan, and should he showcase the same talent that he put on display in Poland over the summer, then Wolves triggering their £1.6 million purchase option will be a mere formality.

The main questions that will be posed with regard to Loiodice’s time at England will pertain to his ability to cope with the more physically imposing style of Premier League football, as well as his ability to stay clear of injuries. 

There have been times where he has taken liberties in his own area as stronger, more experienced players bear down on him, but thanks to his delightful control and sharp body swivels, he’s almost always been able to defuse the pressure and advance play further forward.

The player, who models his game after Andrés Iniesta, is a satisfyingly simple smooth operator, a technician who can control the flow of  possession and break the lines with lovely cross-field switches.

Nuno, who has always been hesitant to rotate his key starters, will not be scrapping his Portuguese double pivot of Neves and João Moutinho anytime soon. However, at 33 years old, Moutinho only has so much left in the tank before it’s time to give someone else the keys to midfield. That replacement could very well be Leander Dendoncker, although the Belgian has mostly played on the right of the back three following Boly’s injury in October.

Plenty of other young midfielders in Wolves’ squad, such as Morgan Gibbs-White (20), Bruno Jordão (21), and Meritan Shabani (20) will be competing with Loiodice to eventually fill Moutinho’s shoes. But if the club do decide to cash in on Neves after receiving an eye-watering bid, don’t write off a potential midfield of Dendoncker and Loiodice at Molineux.

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