In the aftermath of the Azzurri’s impressive draw against Germany on Wednesday evening, a growing sense of disgruntlement within the Italian peninsula continued unabated as Internazionale’s Thiago Motta became the latest ‘oriundo’ to pledge allegiance to the Italian national team. Despite the murmurs, this weekend’s latest edition of the fiercely-contested Derby d’Italia between Internazionale and Juventus disproves the theory that the Italian game continues to shun home-grown talent in favour of stranieri capable of doing an equal a job, if not better.
The Nerazzurri are the most in-form team in Serie A and look primed for their sixth title in as many seasons, while la Vecchia Signora meander their way towards another season of underachievement. Despite the contrast in fortunes between these two giants, the one thing they have in common is their faith in Italian talent.
Juventus has long since prided themselves on the fact that the biggest contributors to their illustrious past have come from players who were Italian-born and bred. Legendary figures such as Giampiero Boniperti, Franco Causio, Gaetano Scirea, Dino Zoff, and Roberto Baggio, amongst others, graced the black and white shirt before representing the full national side. While success has eluded the club since the Calciopoli scandal, la Vecchia Signora’s eternal faith in Italy and the talent she continues to produce is still evident, as no less than 16 players make up the majority of Juve’s current squad – each one of them being an Italian international at some stage – with the purchase of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Luca Toni in addition to the loan signings of Marco Motta, Alberto Aquilani and Alessandro Matri bolstering the quota of home-grown talent.
In contrast, Inter – since its inception – has always opened its doors to foreign talent, with the cream of world and European football turning out for the Milanese club over the years. Despite the plethora of non-Italian playing personnel pulling on the nerazzurri shirt, the club never truly lost sight of the fact that Italian heart and ‘passione’ were vital ingredients in achieving domestic and continental success. Sandro Mazzola, Giacinto Facchetti and Walter Zenga were among the few to have played their part in la Beneamata’s victories, and it was this blend of a handful of home-grown talent – allied to the large contingent of foreign stars – which provided the foundation for success.
However, it has not gone unnoticed in recent seasons that success for the Nerazzurri has come at a price. While Inter remain an Italian club, critics cite the club itself as an example of what is wrong with the Italian game – and that of other nations across Europe – having forsaken all sense of national identity in the pursuit of glory. Their first Champions’ Cup success in 45 years was achieved without a single Italian player in the starting line-up facing Bayern Munich, with Marco Materazzi only entering the field of play with a token appearance in injury-time.
Since the start of the season, Inter reduced further the number of Italians in their first-team squad, having sold striker Mario Balotelli and loaned Davide Santon to Cesena for the remainder of the season. Sporting Director Marco Branca could have opted to replace the outgoing duo with more foreign stars, but opted instead for home-grown players in the shape of Azzurri duo Giampaolo Pazzini and Andrea Rannochia, knowing their talent were ripe enough to propel them to another scudetto and a successful defence of their Champions League crown. Motta’s Italian heritage aside, add his debut for the Italian national side and the Nerazzurri will most likely line up against Juve with three Italian internationals – the most for a number of seasons.
With a possible 16 Italian internationals (past and present) appearing at some stage, Sunday evening’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ will not only showcase two of the most storied clubs in Italian football, it will showcase the greatest number of Italians playing for these two sides for quite a while.
A true Derby d’Italia, for a change.