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The Italian National Team: Innovation or Stability?

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Italy v Spain - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Sometimes it seems; We'll touch that dream

But things come slow or not at all; And the ones on top, won't make it stop

So convinced that they might fall

Everything is Everything; Lauryn Hill

Ah, the beloved Azzurri. The beautiful blue color of the jersey, the wonderfully inspiring and captivating national anthem, the squad’s historical achievements over the decades; it brings the most powerful emotions to even the most disinterested fan amongst us. Juventus are generally, and certainly have been the last few years, the rock and foundation of the Azzurri.

Juve provide the central spine of the national team and have done so for years: Gianluigi Buffon (38 years old), Giorgio Chiellini (32), Andrea Barzagli (35), Leonardo Bonucci (29), Claudio Marchisio (30) and heck even the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Alessandro Matri in the near past. In addition to this bunch, we also have Daniele Rugani (22), Stefano Sturaro (23), Simone Zaza (25), Luca Marrone (26), Federico Mattiello (21), DJ Paolo De Ceglie (29), Emil Audero (19) and Rolando Mandragora (19) currently registered in the squad.

You take a glance at that list and you think, “Ah, look at all those Italians in the squad, how wonderful it is to see Juventus maintain its rich reputation as the stronghold of Italy!” But, then you take a closer look, and you realize it’s really not such a glamorous situation. Barzagli has already officially retired from international duty while Buffon is set to follow suit after Russia 2018. Chiellini is coming off the back of an injury-riddled 2015-16 campaign and thus has to prove his sustained fitness in the upcoming season. Marchisio will likely return to action in October but realistically will be back to full match fitness in November or December; not to mention that we can only hope that his heavy injury does not significantly derail his career. To polish the situation even more, no Italians were purchased this summer (there were only a few returns from loan, e.g. Mandragora).

So there are two ways to look at this: the spine of the Italian squad, the BBBC, Marchisio, and hopefully soon Rugani as well, still remains intact and still remains at Juve. So, uhm, nothing changes then ... right? Well, the other way to look at it is that the Italian spine is reaching retirement age (i.e. Buffon, Barzagli) and struggling with fitness (i.e. Marchisio, Chiellini) with few at the club in line to replace them, while others are failing to cement their status as first-team regulars (i.e. Zaza, Sturaro). Seems like Bonucci will be the one to hold down the fort until Rugani blossoms into the leader we all hope he will be.

Add to the mix that offensive reinforcements are even scarcer with Zaza supposedly on his way to Germany and it seems like this side of the coin, unfortunately, looks awfully bleak...

It’s just economics baby

We all know that every business acts in its self-interest. (Can I get an Amen to that from my fratelli Fefu and BuffonHathSpoken?) As much as we all love the national team, we’re not going to purposely go out of our way to sign Italian players that we don’t need or aren’t good enough just for the greater good of the Azzurri. Therefore, if it was not optimal for the club to sign (young) Italians for their given market values, then it was perfectly rational not to do so. Does this mean that there is no young Italian talent out there right now? Not necessarily. It simply means that management reasoned that it was in the club’s best interest to not sign them right now, given its current objectives (i.e. the trophy with the big ears).

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Adam Smith

As with everything in life, your main question after all of this is probably, so what, why does this matter? Or, in this case, what does this mean for the Azzurri? In my opinion, it means that very little is going to change for the time being. The solid, albeit aging, spine will remain the same, while the new branches will have to grow from elsewhere. It seems like new manager Giampiero Ventura will have to cast his eyes elsewhere in search of a spark of inspiration, in search of that new kid on the block that makes everybody rise out of their seats in awe and wonder. Juventus, as always, maintains the mainly defensive foundation of the national team but offers it nothing in terms of offensive resources.

But it begs yet another question, namely, is this a sign of things to come? Will Juventus gradually transition to a more international squad base or was this year merely an anomaly?

Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

Don Draper; Mad Men

I refuse to believe that it’s some kind of crisis situation where all the Italian talent in the country has suddenly vanished. I believe it’s simply a case of a reallocation of resources; signing young Italian talent was not the priority for management this year, so that talent was acquired by other clubs elsewhere. The club has too great a reputation and history of having key Italian national team players in the squad to suddenly abandon that, even in light of the current obsession with bringing in the Champions League trophy. Priorities for the club will shift again as time passes by and when that happens, I’m confident that the management will again gun for (young) Italian talent to reinforce the Italian core of the squad.

And let’s also say that change is neither good or bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy. A tantrum that says ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says ‘Look, something new.’

Don Draper; Mad Men

So as a suggestion to the new manager (Ace) Giampiero Ventura, if you want innovation and young, up-and-coming Italian talent to provide a breath of fresh air to the national team, don’t come looking here. But if you need stability and reliability, then you know where to find us.