Italy: The Case for Salvatore Sirigu over Morgan De Sanctis
The last two days have been fairly boring for me. My neighborhood, Morningside Heights, is one of the areas of New York City that, due to a combination of geography and luck, didn't lose power or get flooded out as Hurricane Sandy rent its destructive swath through the northeastern United States.
Cooped up in here without anything better to do, I started watching endless YouTube videos and came upon a highlight video of last month's Italy v Denmark World Cup Qualifying match.
While watching William Kvist's shot bounce into the goal in first-half stoppage time for Denmark's only score, two thoughts crossed my mind in quick succession. The first was "Wow, Gianluigi Buffon would probably have stopped that shot." The second was "Wow, anyone would probably have stopped that shot!"
Buffon, of course, was unable to play in the match due to a thigh strain. But there was no reason why the man who did let Kvist's shot go in—Napoli's Morgan De Sanctis—should have been in between the sticks rather than the other two healthy keepers on the roster.
Simply put, De Sanctis is no longer an international-quality goalkeeper. Kvist's goal elicited a lot of oohs and ahs as he picked Lars Jacobsen's cross out of the air, but the shot itself wasn't some unstoppable screamer. De Sanctis' reaction is simply too slow. Had he been able to move quicker, the Azzurri likely would have walked away with a clean sheet.
If that shot wasn't proof that he needs to be phased out of the national picture, the pre-Euro friendly against Russia most certainly was. Relieving Buffon for the second half, he picked the ball out of his own net three times, responsible for an embarrassing defeat that caused many people to write the Italians off for the tournament.
There were two other healthy keepers on the Italian roster for that game, and both of them have started games for the Azzurri over the last two years-plus. Emiliano Viviano has started most recently, but the man who should be Gigi Buffon's unquestioned No. 2 is Salvatore Sirigu.
Sirigu, 25, spent the first part of his professional career at Palermo, where he impressed Walter Zenga enough to replace Rubinho in 2009. Since then, his career has skyrocketed, and he caught the eye of French nouveau-riche PSG, who bought him from the Rosanero for €3.5 million in the summer of 2011.
He played fantastically last season, garnering immense support from a notoriously fickle fan base. This season, he's only continued to improve: in nine games in Ligue 1 he's chalked up seven clean sheets and made 23 saves.
Sirigu was Cesare Prandelli's first choice to replace Gianluigi Buffon while the star keeper was recovering from the back injury he suffered during the World Cup. He played well, but was then sidelined with an injury that saw him supplanted by Viviano. The Fiorentina No. 1 is only a year older than Sirigu, but Sardinian is a much better keeper.
Sirigu is making enough of a name for himself in France that he's probably the favorite to be Buffon's immediate successor when the Azzurri captain decides to hang up his gloves. The biggest obstacle to him becoming a big factor on the international stage is time.
Goalkeepers are the only soccer players that get better with age—and Italian goalkeepers always seem to have a longer shelf life than most (Dino Zoff, anyone?).
So long as he stays healthy, it's easy to see Buffon as the team's goalkeeper through the Euros in France four years from now, and maybe even—although this would be a stretch—the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Sirigu does have footsteps coming up behind him in the form of Buffon's Juve teammate, 19-year-old Nicola Leali.
While his long-term future with the Azzurri is a question mark, the now shouldn't be in doubt. Sirigu needs to take the place of De Sanctis as Italy's No. 2. If Buffon is to get injured as the World Cup gets closer Italy cannot afford to keep sending De Sanctis to the field.
Statistics from ESPN
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