As the Ballon d’Or list of nominees was released yesterday, Italians were once again conspicuous by their absence for the second year running. For a nation that has won four World Cups to have produced only one contender for World Player of the Year (Gianluigi Buffon in 2008) in three years, this plight is particularly noteworthy.
The Ballon d’Or is not by any means a fair and true judge of players’ talent and the omission of Diego Milito from the released list of 30 is a clear indication of the same. However, one has to take into account the worrying signs for Italian football which this throws up. Buffon’s nomination for the 2008 award was the last time a Nazionale player featured on this list, the Juventus custodian had finished 18th on that occasion receiving merely five votes in his favour. This year no one really expected an Italian to make the grade in light of the disastrous World Cup campaign for the Azzurri and this is probably one of the biggest worries for Italian football. The fact that no Italian has made a significant contribution to his team amongst the biggest clubs in Europe further magnifies the problems for Italian football.
A look at the top clubs around Europe will reveal hardly any Italians in their ranks. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Lyon have absolutely no Italians in their first team ranks. Manchester United’s Federico Macheda is a player who promised much two seasons ago but his stock is fast dropping after problems with the Red Devils management. With the exception of Mario Balotelli, no Italian player commanded a noteworthy figure in the transfer dealings over the summer. The biggest concern then for Nazionale manager Cesare Prandelli has to be the paucity of talent at his disposal. The recall of Gianluca Zambrotta to his squad for the recent Euro qualifiers was the clearest indication of dearth of options available at the national level.
Inter Milan maybe European champions but the lack of Italians in their squad has been well documented time and again. But to be fair to Moratti and his management, which Italian could be an able addition for the squad that currently resides at Appiano Gentile? Juventus were praised for their acquisitions of some talented Italians in the summer but it is Serb Milos Krasic that is dominating the headlines for the Bianconeri. As Spanish World Cup winner, Andres Iniesta said recently: “Del Piero is a great. But where are your younger players?” This is a question that managers and club directors will stumble in answering all round the peninsula. Lazio’s rise to the top has been credited to Brazilian Hernanes, Palermo’s impressive start to Argentine Javier Pastore and Napoli’s challenge to Slovak Marek Hamsik. Even at the Nerazzurri, Brazilian Coutinho has once again wowed the pundits whereas Italian upstart Davide Santon finds himself regularly on the bench.
Italy may still be able to make a claim of having a competitive domestic league but the deficiency of real Italian talent is alarming. Whether it is stifled youth system in Italy that has curbed the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Santon from exploding on the scene or the ‘outdated’ tactics practised by academies according to Capello, the problems confronting Calcio are massive. The pundits will always give quick fix remedies, but the truth is that this is an issue that will take a few years to be addressed.