It was remarkably fitting that the man so charmingly branded a “West Ham reject” by the English commentators was the one who scored the winning penalty on Sunday, sending the Azzurri through into the semi-finals. But, with Alessandro Diamanti coming off the bench and producing such an excellent performance – as well as converting the winning spot-kick – it may leave Cesare Prandelli with more questions than answers.
With Italy just 90 minutes of football away from the final – and 180 from winning their first European Championship since 1968 – the former Fiorentina coach still does not seem to know the definitive resolution to the trequartista problem. Thiago Motta and Riccardo Montolivo have been favoured behind the two strikers so far this tournament, with Sebastian Giovinco, Antonio Nocerino and the aforementioned Diamanti all options from off the bench.
Possibly from his days coaching in Florence, Prandelli has an obvious affection for Montolivo, much to the bemusement of much the calcio fraternity – not least following his poor domestic season. Regarded by most as a regista in the Pirlo mould, Montolivo did however impress against England, looking sharp on the ball and demonstrating excellent vision, crafting out clever chances by delicately lofted balls over the opposition defence.
But, it is most likely down to Thiago Motta’s fitness concerns that Montolivo got the nod in the first place, despite the two players having completely different styles. Motta has spent his club season sitting the deepest of three midfielders in Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-3-2-1, recreating the job he did breaking up opposition attacks at Inter. Therefore, starting him just off the strikers in a usually creative role seems bizarre. Prandelli’s thinking is clearly more defensive stability, with Motta offering a greater contribution without the ball than the other options. Equally, he can drop deeper, providing space for Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio to run forward into – two of the finest box-to-box midfielders in Europe.
Antonio Nocerino too fits into the box-to-box mould, possibly explaining Prandelli’s reluctance to play him as a trequartista. While his industrious efforts and runs from deep are his greatest attributes, he may lack the vision and creativity necessary of a trequartista. Sebastian Giovinco is the opposite. A striker by trade, he has spent his season at Parma up front alongside Sergio Floccari, frequently dropping deeper than his Emiliani counterpart to craft out chances. His pace, imagination and technical ability are unquestionable, and whilst he will be the long-term solution, it is most likely too late – and risky – for Prandelli to start him, especially with Schweinsteiger and Khedira having to be watched so carefully.
It seems like Alessandro Diamanti is the perfect compromise – more creative than Nocerino, yet more comfortable in midfield than Giovinco. His excellent season at Bologna mean he has fully deserved his position in the Italy squad, although questions will continue to be asked as to whether he can really deliver on the world – or European – stage. Having only ever played for Livorno, Brescia and Bologna in Serie A, he has well and truly been thrown in at the deep end – even as a squad veteran at 29.
Whether his cameo against England, in which he struck the post, played a delightful cross for a narrowly-offside Nocerino to head home and scored the decisive penalty will be enough to warrant a start remains to be seen. Regardless, as a West Ham reject, he has not done badly to be in the running.