No Eye-catching Italian players?

by Niccolo Conte on June 29, 2010 · 15 comments

As the World Cup is attracting all headlines related to soccer, there's always a small echo of transfer market news which now, after Italy's elimination from the World Cup, becomes much more than an echo for Italy fans. And as you read about transfer rumors and deals, you hear the names like Di Maria, Maicon, Mascherano, and Kuyt, but none of these names are of Italian players...

Italy has always had a high amount of transfers from clubs within the Serie A, there's always plenty of internal loan deals and low-cost transfers that take place in the Italian leagues. While this isn't a bad thing, it's something which limits the amount of foreign players coming in, and Italian players going out. While there are few big-name players coming to Italy, there's even more that are leaving only to be replaced by aging players who used to be the real deal.

Kaka and Ibrahimovic, two players who could've been considered among the top five in the world, left the Serie A only to be replaced by an old Ronaldinho and Eto'o. The standard is just not good enough to attract the world's best players, and if things continue like this, the German Bundesliga could overtake the Serie A. But this isn't even touching on the true problem; there are no Italian players that other teams are interested in.

When a great player emerges from his country and moves to a top league, this attracts interest from scouts and other teams to take a look at that nation's league and its players. This just isn't happening, nobody is interested in Italian players from the Serie A. There hasn't been a true Italian star that is considered at the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Rooney, Kaka, or David Villa for quite some time now. There isn't an Italian player that people would put in their dream team, or in the top 20 best players, and maybe even in the top 25.

You might be asking why there aren't any great Italian players, but the answer is simple, and we all know it deep-down inside ourselves; Italy just isn't that good anymore, the players aren't good enough. Italy has fallen behind, you watch young crops of players from Germany like Muller, Ozil, and Khedira all shine and lead their national team to victory at the young ages of 20, 21, and 23. Italy doesn't spend money where it needs to, while Coverciano is good, it's not good enough. Italy need to spend some serious money and build one of the finest academies in the world like France's Clairefontaine academy, then in 10 or 20 years, we'll begin to see a World Cup winning side.

While I may seem harsh, I do think that Italy have some good talent like Balotelli, Montolivo, and Rossi, I still don't think it's enough to win a World Cup. When Italy gets a top-level academy up and running, they'll start producing world-class players, and then get exposure for the league and hopefully attract better players and bring in more money for what seems to be a dying league.

15 comments… read them below or add one

1 Robert June 29, 2010 at 7:53 am

Such pessimism so early in the morning (at least for us +5 GMT people.)!

I think one aspect not to overlook is the immigration factor. Mario Balotelli is second generation Italian - some of the immigrant families from across the Mediterranean will bring talent that wants to play for their home country, not their parents.

Also, I think there is some quality talent, but maybe what is needed is a change of culture. I think Bundesliga will surpass Serie A in popularity in the short term due to Germany’s success, but FIGC can adopt a German model for training its younger players, etc. If you look at some of the younger talent, I think Mannone could eventually replace Buffon, and Balotelli/Rossi/Pazzini can eventually become the next wave of talented strikers. I don’t think all is hopeless, but FIGC needs to take a long look in the mirror about how the entire calcio system prepares for international tournaments.


2 Rami S. June 29, 2010 at 11:05 am

A big factor for the Germans and French (and no disrespect to either) is the influx of foreign-born players or those with a single parents from the country or those who are actually from other countries but born in either country who go on to play there and then become part of the national team.

France has relied since the 1990s on a huge number of players from the African continent with many of them picking ahead of their country of heritage. Yes, some were born in France or grew up there but they opted for France because they felt they have a bigger chance of shining on the world stage. Just check how Desailly has been following Ghana in WC2010 or Zidane has divided his team between France and the country of his parents Algeria.

As for the Germans, the last few years they’ve had players of Turkish, Polish and Brazilian origins on their team. As for the Azzurri, the only player has been Camoranesi and he is not exactly a world star and never was. He was a talented player but one with bad temperament.

In any case, Italy moved away from what made it so good for many, many years: a solid defensive unit which suffocates opponents and allows the team to operate with more confidence and a greater sense of belief. Marchetti is no where near Buffon while Cannavaro should have quit Italy and European football after Real Madrid and gone to Dubai.

If Bonucci, Bocchetti and Ranocchia can reach their potential and can work as a defensive unit along with Chiellini in front of a healthy Buffon, the Azzurri will have a bright future.

Strikers do not worry me as those can be found however the main concern is the need to allow Balotelli develop or to pick G. Rossi or even Cassano. Italy needs a creative force and someone who can be unpredictable.

In midfield, all will be fine as long as De Rossi forgets WC2010 and duplicates his Roma form. He showed little of his bite in the tournament and reminded me of Rooney in terms of their commitment and determination, both of which seemed lacking from the 2 players. It was disappointing to say the least.

Montolivo can become consistent, Marhcisio can improve if used properly but again if there’s a Balotelli or Cassano that solves the creativity issue and allow Italy to focus on building a solid midfield. I think the main concern at the end will be the midfield.

As for Ibrahimovic, the Nerazzurri and Moratti look like great predictors of the future after disposing of a player in decline while Eto’o did his job and the money was used to fund the purchase of D. Milito who scored in every game unlike Ibra who used to choke in big game. In his career, Ibra has only scored in 1 big match: the goal against Real Madrid in the derby last season.

Milan were also smart to let go for Kaka as time is beginning to show on the talented Brazilian and he failed to meet expectations while he has yet to set the World Cup on fire with some dazzling moves. He’s on a decline at this stage of his career.


3 Scott Alexander June 29, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I think maybe you are bit harsh in your criticisms. Most countries have cycles to their talent. Italy just won the world cup 4 years ago. Unless you are Brazil (and probably Germany), it takes time to recover from winning a world cup. Italian players are consistently underrated and rarely as respected as being as good as they are except in retrospect.

I’d much rather Samuel Eto’o than Ibrahimovic even without the €40m


4 Rami S. June 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm


I’d pick Eto’o over Ibrahimovic too! Eto’o plays for the team while Ibra is selfish and has attitude issues sometimes.

Add the cash included in the deal and that explains how Inter signed Sneijder and D. Milito- 2 keys players which helped Inter win the Champions League.


5 Scott Alexander July 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Indeed, I can’t add much but to completely agree


6 Rami S. July 3, 2010 at 3:27 am

Barca paid the price as Ibra did nothing besides his winner against Real Madrid (his only goal against a big club in his entire career I believe).

Eto’o has already scored in two Champions League finals and won the trophy 3 times.

In any case, what were Barca thinking by adding all that cash amount to the deal? I frankly would have no answer or explanation for that as the deal didn’t make sense for me. It was a win-win situation for Inter.


7 Niccolo Conte June 29, 2010 at 10:48 pm

While I am harsh in my criticisms, I do notice the young crop of Italian players that are coming through like Marchisio, Ranochia, Montolivo, etc. I just feel that Italy are relying too much on their old reputation, and if things continue like this, I think the Serie A will be in a much worse position, therefore hurting our national team.

I think Robert makes two great points, naturalized players, and cultural changes. When Balotelli is racially abused every week from Italian fans, I see a terrible culture which doesn’t accept foreign/naturalized players because they are arrogant and think that we only need true Italians. It’s very sad to see a player like Balotelli talking about how he might want to play for Ghana because of the abuse he receives from fans.

Mainly I fear for the worst, I see more star names leave Serie A than join it, I see an arrogant team think that just because they’re playing Slovakia, they don’t have to try, and in the end, I see a great footballing nation falling behind the rest.

I’m basically just ranting because of my unhappiness with the FIGC, I hope you can all forgive me… Thanks for the comments!


8 Scott Alexander July 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

“I just feel that Italy are relying too much on their old reputation”

That’s true but it’s certainly understandable coming off a world cup victory particularly considering that Italy had the oldest squad last time.

As to racial abuse… certainly true. goodness just look at the legacy of how northerners and southerners treat each other let alone if they have different skin pigmentations


9 Rami S. July 3, 2010 at 3:34 am

For any team to win the World Cup (even the best ones) they need a lot of factors to fall in place as well as luck.

Just look at WC1994 final, even if Brazil had the better team overall, Italy forced penalties and could have won. Brazil had Romario and Bebeto while Italy had R. Baggio (playing injured) but Sacchi was eccentric in his choices yet the Azzurri still managed to reach the Final and could have won on penalties. As such, one can tell the closest call or some luck could turn anything around.

If the Azzurri did not concede first in all 3 matches then it might have been a different story. Simply put, nothing went Italy’s way in WC2010 from Buffon and Pirlo injuries to conceding from two set-pieces in first two games as well as some awkward decisions by Lippi.


10 Rami S. June 29, 2010 at 11:00 pm


FIGC made many mistakes: re-hiring Lippi, not preparing enough friendlies prior to the World Cup for the Azzurri, letting the venues and arenas get into bad condition with now Germany, England and Spain as well as other European countries having better stadiums as well as not being able to control violence.

You are right in your criticism of the FIGC. The hope is to see Cesare Prandelli choose the right players and help the Azzurri begin the road not just to Euro 2012 but WC 2014.


11 Rami S. June 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I was thinking we did not see Palombo at all during WC2010. He should have played against Slovakia instead of Gattuso during the first-half.


12 Niccolo Conte June 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Yep, we didn’t see much of him, but I don’t really like him as a midfielder for some reason.

But I think that Lippi should’ve played as many youngsters as he could, ignore Camoranesi, Gattuso, and even Pirlo, give the young players a chance to shine and get used to international level football.


13 Scott Alexander July 2, 2010 at 7:24 pm


I’m curious about your criticisms of youth instruction. A couple of days ago I wrote a piece on epltalk ( arguing that English players need to get into foreign leagues but you could also read it as an argument for any country to get their players into Serie A if possible. Other than not having an academy to rival Clairefontaine, what do you see as the weaknesses of youth to young player instruction in Italy?


14 Rami S. July 3, 2010 at 3:36 am

Main problem is Serie A is quite competitive and younger players have limited opportunity to express themselves, play and excel.

Just check D. Criscito who made a mistake against Roma when Totti scored against Juventus and then was basically loaned to Genoa as Claudio Ranieri did not show faith in him after that mistake.

There’s no room for error.


15 Rami S. June 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I thought Palombo was a better option than Gattuso for the Slovakia match. At this point, I don’t think Palombo should be included in future Italy camps. De Rossi & Montolivo can somewhat play similar roles and do better.


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