Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Marcello Lippi may have been a man to give the nod to household names, but his successor Cesare Prandelli has preferred to trawl the lesser-known path to unearth Italy internationals.
For starters, the squad to face Romania this evening has an Argentine in its ranks, with Cristian Ledesma following in the footsteps of Mauro Camoranesi, but what is more striking are the number of players from less fashionable clubs.
In fact, it would take less time to name the players plucked from the Serie A elite, but at least it gives the Azzurri a more homely feel which should help the likes of Davide Astori (Cagliari), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Ranocchia (Genoa) and Daniele Gastaldello (Sampdoria) settle in without feeling intimidated by their new surroundings.
One new cap who seems to have taken to the manor-born is Brescia’s Alessandro Diamanti, who has been darting around in training like Antonio Cassano should be, winning everyone over with his enthusiasm at just being part of La Nazionale set-up. He is proving that if you have what it takes technically and the fire in your belly, you can make it.
The 27-year-old is a hero to the outsiders – the street dribbling, off-the-cuff mavericks who never quite had the talent of a Cassano and thusly spent their careers with boots slung over their shoulders travelling the backwaters and by-lanes of the Italian football scene (and East London, in Diamanti‘s case).
The Tuscan-born Diamanti did it his way, from Serie D to A; but never became part of the A crowd.
There were spells at his hometown club Prato, Empoli, Livorno and three games for Fiorentina when they went under the name of Fiorentia Viola - and always there were whispers of a step-up into the big time, but it seemed his face would never fit at one of the more prestigious clubs.
Never fully appreciated at home, he pitched up at Gianfrano Zola’s West Ham United, where he immediately drew comparisons with another ball-playing entertainer who liked to do things his own way: Paolo Di Canio.
He had the same pinched features, hunched running style and was never afraid to take a penalty or two – in fact he even shaved his head in the fashion of the Roman. But just like his predecessor at Upton Park, he seemed destined to never be fashionable in the eyes of those back home, especially when after just one season in England he moved to Brescia.
However, looks can be deceiving. He may be heavily-tattooed (although what Italian players aren’t?) and still has a penchant for eye-catching hair-styles – the latest was a cross between Robert de Nero in Taxi driver and an extra from Max Mad which thankfully had grown out by the time he arrived at Federation headquarters at Coverciano - but he prefers to live the family life with his wife and two kids.
One thing that does set him apart is that he can play a bit, and for Brescia fans he is the closest thing they will ever get to another Roberto Baggio, although club president Gino Corioni’s assertion that the new darling of the fans was better than the one-time Divine Ponytail was well wide of the mark.
The player was the first to laugh off Corioni‘s comparison, joking that he could only his left foot, but already this season he has given a master-class in tricky against Inter and Juventus – scoring an absolute stunner against the latter.
And it was no surprise that when he was forced to sit out three matches after being banned for berating the referee as he left the pitch after being sent-off at Lazio, the Rondinelle’s form nose-dived in his absence.
With Cassano off the scene until March, Diamanti has the chance to take up the mantle of the team’s creative fulcrum, for one night at least. He’ll be hoping he can stay in fashion.
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