Internazionale FC. Unlike most football clubs, the Nerazzurri are not named after a place but an ideal: Following the birth of AC Milan in 1899, its creators argued over the eligibility of foreign players and to give these early immigrants a home, Inter were founded just nine years later.
Recent years have seen this early edict continue as the team rarely fields Italian nationals and was the first side in Italy to name a line-up not just without a homegrown player but also made up entirely of non-Europeans. Their South American contingent has received much criticism and they are largely blamed, along with two or three other clubs, for the introduction of the FIGC’s draconian rules governing non-EU players.
But now things have changed and it is easy to argue the fact that both the immediate and long term future of the Italian National team rests squarely upon a number of personnel decisions made by last seasons treble-winners as an ever increasing number of the peninsula’s international players become part of the squad.
The first name is one perhaps not currently widely associated with Inter – Bologna’s goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano. The Florence-born number one is co-owned by il Serpente, and there is much talk of him moving to Milan this coming summer, which must be cause for celebration for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
Julio Cesar has been the top flight’s most consistent shot-stopper in recent seasons and while at just 31-years-old he will not be retiring anytime soon, training alongside a player of such quality can only help him improve. Appearances when the Brazilian is injured or resting can also only serve to increase his experience at the highest level, something he currently lacks.
During the last few months, as Gigi Buffon recovered from back surgery, it was the Bologna man who replaced him and if Viviano – himself just 25 – spends the next few years learning at one of the leagues biggest clubs it should see him challenge Palermo’s Salvatore Sirigu as the second choice as both are potential understudies to Buffon.
A player already fully owned by Inter and learning just how difficult it is to break into the starting eleven is one of the club’s own youth products, Davide Santon. Despite making his first team debut three years ago he has featured in just 39 games in total during that time. Santon is a versatile and competent fullback, able to play on either flank and his loan move to Cesena should see him feature regularly, again much to the relief of Prandelli who’s options at fullback are quite limited.
The first addition of the new Leonardo-era Inter was Genoa’s highly-lauded centre back Andrea Ranocchia. Seen as the brightest prospect of his generation, the 1.95m tall defender was hugely impressive last season when he played alongside current Juve man Leonardo Bonucci at Bari. At the Winter Break last season they were both vital to Bari’s impressive league position, an accomplishment built largely upon their defensive solidity. With the Southern side the pair formed a partnership that many view as the future of Italy’s defence for many years and one Prandelli was quick to reunite, as he did for last weeks friendly against Germany.
Since moving to Inter Ranocchia has quickly become a first team regular – despite being initially overlooked – as injury and suspensions have robbed the side of Lucio, Córdoba, Marco Materazzi and long term casualty Walter Samuel. This quick rise up the pecking order can only improve the player in terms of experience and quality, two traits that his eligibility for the Champions League will also benefit from.
Another man hoping to break the former anti-Italian trend will be newest signing Giampaolo Pazzini, having completed his move from Sampdoria just before the transfer deadline. Having put his signature on a four and a half year deal, it seems like an ideal step up for the Italy goalscorer and he too has slipped straight into the starting line up. His debut was a match he is unlikely to forget, coming off the bench to score two goals and win a penalty that allowed his new side to turn a two goal deficit into a 3-2 victory.
As well as the surprising additions of these players another interesting development is the naturalisation of Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta. His inclusion for the aforementioned Italy-Germany match was not without controversy as the 28-year-old has, despite now calling on his grandparent’s heritage, previously represented Brazil at youth team level.
He played for Brazil’s youth team at the age of 17 – permissible under international rules – but also represented his native country twice as part of the side sent to the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The FIGC argued that this should not count as the team was an Under-23 side and FIFA ruled in their favour just days before the friendly that Motta may indeed switch nations and make his debut.
So now this most unlikely of clubs has Motta as part of the Azzurri set up and has seemingly turned to four of the most talented Italian players of this era, entrusting their future to what truly is a gifted quartet, then perhaps they may even begin to live up to their ‘la Beneamata’ (The Cherished One) moniker instead of living up to the old Internazionale ethos.