Lippi’s Bias Leaves the Azzurri Living in the Past

by Ryan Popilchak
Sports News - February 12, 2009

With the World Cup fast approaching, the national teams of the participating nations are eagerly anticipating the announcements of their final squads.

Yesterday, Marcello Lippi announced his preliminary squad that will be attending a 3-day training session.

Most Azzurri fans hold Lippi in very high regard, given that he delivered the World Cup title only 4 short years ago. It doesn’t hurt that Roberto Donadoni made such a mess of his Euro ’08 squad that anyone else seems like a savior in comparison.

Given that I’m an absolute master of the transfer market in FIFA 10, and consider myself quite a team architect, I think it’s time I showed Marcello Lippi how to put together a team. My qualifications speak for themselves, so let’s examine my master plan.

First, take a look at the list of players Lippi has invited, keeping in mind that he has purposely left off Giuseppe Rossi, along with any players from Roma and Inter, due to mid-week games.

I must admit, I’m extremely disappointed with Lippi’s apparent belief that the same core players from 2006 will take him far in 2010. Many of Italy’s unsung heroes, such as Fabio “The Iceman” Grosso, Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso are well past their best years. In 2006, Grosso and Zambrotta provided incredible width and pace in attack, but they no longer possess the pace to be a threat. Gattuso has been a shadow of his former self this year.

The entire squad from 2006 deserves to be immortalized on the peninsula, but that doesn’t mean they should get automatic selections into the 2010 version of the team.

Other players like Fabio Quagliarella have not looked in-form all year. Yet “Quags” has been chosen over a proven performer and the hottest player in Italy, Fabrizio Miccoli. If you listen to the Pink Shirt Wise Guys podcast, you’ll know that we’re huge Miccoli supporters, and all it takes is to watch the highlights each week to realize how truly special he is at the offensive end of the pitch.

My formula for picking the Azzurri follows three basic principles:

  1. Pick players from in-form teams where possible. For this reason, it makes sense to select players from Roma, Sampdoria and Palermo who are all playing excellent football and could be used to playing together. Why not pair Cassano and Pazzini up front if they already know each other’s tendencies and strengths?
  2. Experience matters at key positions. Goaltender, central defense and midfield are positions where experience can make a big difference when dealing with the pressures of the World Cup. It absolutely makes sense to have a few seasoned veterans available.
  3. Talented youth must be mixed with experience. If experience was the ONLY thing that mattered, AC Milan would be dominating Serie A and the Champions League for the next 4 years. Young players on the rise provide fresh legs, pace and a fearlessness that can be contagious for veterans. Youth is also important for the Azzurri’s lasting success as a tournament spent on the bench, as a substitute or in a lesser role can help a young player get valuable experience.

Given these criteria, here would be my squad of choice for the Azzurri, assuming they stick with Lippi’s preferred 4-3-3, with some flexible talent to give him formational and tactical options.

Goalkeeper

Buffon (Juventus), Marchetti (Cagliari), De Sanctis (Napoli)

Buffon is the obvious starter despite being hot and cold this year. Marchetti is the most obvious successor to Gigi, so it makes sense to have him on the squad as well.

Defense

Cassani (Palermo), Chiellini (Juventus), Cannavaro (Juventus), Criscito (Genoa), Motta (Roma), Bocchetti (Genoa), Bonucci (Bari), Santon (Inter)

It’s time for a changing of the guard. I am the first person to admit that Grosso and Zambrotta were Italy’s best offensive and most dynamic players in ’06, but they just don’t have it anymore. Cannavaro would still be on my team purely for leadership purposes, but his form has been awful. A starting back four of Cassani, Chiellini, Cannavaro, and Criscito would at least be serviceable. Santon, Motta, Bocchetti and Bonucci look to be the backline of the not-so-distant future for the Azzurri. Who knows, maybe one of them will have to step in as a starter and get his chance to shine.

Obviously Alessandro Nesta was once again the class of Italian defenders but is both injured and retired from international play.

Midfield

Palombo (Sampdoria), De Rossi (Roma), Perotta (Roma), Marchisio (Juventus), Pirlo (Milan), Montolivo (Fiorentina)

A starting midfield of De Rossi, Perotta and Marchisio would be both stout and dynamic. In ’06, the midfield thrived by using Pirlo, Gattuso and sometimes Ambrosini because they already had great chemistry from playing together at AC Milan. De Rossi and Perotta could have that same bond while Marchisio is Italy’s midfield of the present and future. Pirlo would be a fantastic substitute in the final 30 when trailing and Palombo could fill the role when ahead.

Alberto Aquilani is a player I would love to see in the squad but he has played so sparingly this season that he hardly seems in game form. He’s had some nice games, but is hardly dependable.

Forwards

Pazzini (Sampdoria), Cassano (Sampdoria), Miccoli (Palermo), G. Rossi (Villareal), Gilardino (Fiorentina), Totti (Roma)

Lippi needs to wake up and realize that talent and form trump all else when it comes to forwards. A front line of Pazzini, Cassano and Miccoli would not only provide a pair with chemistry but combine them with the best offensive player in Italy at the moment. For some reason Lippi has shut out Cassano to the disappointment of the fans, but they should be even more furious about Miccoli. Giuseppe Rossi’s performances in qualification and the Confederation Cup have easily earned him a spot on this squad. He is another young player who should be on the squad for years to come. Gilardino and Totti both provide some experience and talent, provided Totti doesn’t complain if he doesn’t start.

The hardest player to leave off this list is Mario Balotelli. I have tremendous respect for his ability, but he is a true troublemaker, unlike Miccoli and Cassano who only seem to have that reputation with Lippi.

On May 18th, we will find out who Lippi regards as worthy of his squad, in the meantime I’ll just keep trying out my lineup on the Xbox and hoping the Azzurri can re-create the magic of ’06 despite Lippi’s obvious biases.

Author Info

Ryan Popilchak

While I have a day job, what feels natural to me is to be fanatical about sports. I spend all my free time checking on injury reports, watching games, cursing lineups and predicting who will sign which players in the transfer period. I love to discuss sports, I’m fairly argumentative and I need a creative outlet. I hope you enjoy what you read, and feel inspired to passionately argue and debate your own points. I also write for my own blog http://sports-opinionated.com and publish an Italian Football podcast called Pink Shirt Wise Guys at http://sports-opinionated.com/podcasting/

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2 Responses

  1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

    Very interesting post, Ryan.

    Personally I’d love to see the likes of Cassano given a chance, he’s been phenomenal this season.

    At the moment, there’s no chance of the current aged squad going far in the competition, it’s time for change amongst the ranks in Italy.

  2. Thanks Kevin.

    Both Cassano and Miccoli are players that deserve to see the pitch for Italy , but sadly neither one will. It’s extremely disappointing but Lippi seems set in his ways.

    Unfortunately I think Italy will suffer badly because of his potential selections.

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