Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Italy’s build-up to their Euro 2012 qualifier in Slovenia has been more about the notable absentees than those actually making the trip. Both Mario Balotelli and Daniele De Rossi have been left in the cold as Cesare Prandelli has observed his ‘code of ethics’ outlawing any sort of unsporting behaviour – which of course, if strictly abided to, would preclude most of the squad.
Neither Balotelli nor De Rossi had done anything untoward on the domestic front, coming a cropper in Europe with the young striker sent off for Manchester City in the Europa League while the AS Roma midfielder received a three-game ban from UEFA after being caught on video elbowing Shakhtar Donestk captain Darijo Srna.
Blacklisting two important members of the new-look Azzurri could yet backfire on the coach but rules are there to be… broken. Whilst De Rossi was seemingly unconcerned about missing out on the delights of a Friday evening in Ljubljana, preferring to use his imposed exile as an opportunity to rest up, Balotelli was reportedly pouring his heart out to his national team boss.
According to Prandelli, the troubled youth has demonstrated some hitherto untapped maturity and admitted that he is indeed the architect of his own downfall at the moment – and is in need of some guidance. The saintly Cesare has taken many a stray waif under his wing, so who better to guide the raw talent towards realising his undoubted potential?
Prandelli: "You wanna chillax, son"
Having extended the hand of forgiveness to both his bad boys, with Balotelli definitely back for the friendly against Ukraine next week, Prandelli then boosted the confidence of those attempting to build an international career.
With the likes of Francesco Totti, Antonio Di Natale and to a certain extent Alessandro Del Piero enjoying a rich vein of form, those in the current squad are being somewhat overshadowed and Prandelli joked that if the tie had been a crucial decider then the old guard would have been back.
Of course, the glory boys of 2006 won’t wear the blue shirt again – Prandelli hasn’t come this far to take a massive step backwards when the new generation of Italian footballers need all the support they can get.
In fact, he is something of a visionary and has put forward a proposal that a select group of under-21s are allowed to play as a team in Serie B, where they would gain valuable experience of the rough and tumble of professional life rather than kick their heels at clubs where there is no reserve-team football.
One player who has benefited from leaving a top team is Sebastian Giovinco, who looked set to become another wasted talent at Juventus where he failed to displace or even play alongside Del Piero.
With his confidence shot to pieces, the Atomic Ant moved on to Parma – and lo and behold, he's playing with the sort of verve and creativity that had originally marked him out as one to watch a few years ago.
Gaffer and Ant: "He's only this big!"
Prandelli’s selection policy is very simple: if a player is starting for his club on a regular basis, good; if he's playing well, even better. Thus Giovinco has been given his opportunity, as have Giuseppe Rossi, Alessandro Matri and Giampaolo Pazzini.
Giovinco has been touted for stardom for some time while Matri and Pazzini have made the step up at Juventus and Inter respectively. By contrast, at 25, Marco Parolo had never played in the top flight until this season.
However, despite turning out in a struggling Cesena side, Parolo's personal performances and eye for goal from midfield – he's scored two in the last three games – have been enough to ensure his call-up.
With the likes of Inter, AC Milan and Juve jammed pack with foreign stars, the inclusion of the likes of Parolo will give other players at less glamorous clubs the hope that their chance will come too. Prandelli may joke about the old guard waiting in the wings but he knows the future belongs to a new generation.
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