For those who are less familiar with Italian football, the peninsula has a strange habit of wasting some of their best talent for odd reasons. Sometimes it’s the belief that a player doesn’t fit the system, that they don’t have enough experience or that there is no room for them on the squad.
I heard an interview the other day on the Dan Patrick show with college basketball coach John Calipari. He was asked whether he would prefer his teams were built on talent or experience. He quickly answered “talent.” Patrick tried to rephrase the question and before he could finish, Calipari answered with “talent” yet again.
To be honest, talent should be the answer every time.
There are definitely advantages to experience, tactical systems, complementary skills, and leadership, but none of them matter without the right level of talent. An extremely talented player can unlock a well-planned defensive system or merely force the opposition to change their game plan to compensate.
Unfortunately, in Italy, this concept is lost on many. Calcio is run with an emphasis on tactical play and well-travelled veteran players. Young players are often left to rot on the bench while talented veterans can be left off the national team without explanation.
Here are the top five wasted talents in Italian football:
5. Mario Balotelli
Super Mario has been in and out of the Inter Milan lineup for the past three seasons. At the age of 17, he cracked into Roberto Mancini’s squad and scored seven goals in only 15 appearances.
Capable of playing both on the wing and up front, he has poured in another 19 goals in 62 appearances over the last two seasons. Balotelli has a fiery temper and at times lacks composure, but at the age of 19, this isn’t unusual.
It may seem odd to include a 19-year-old player on this list, who already has 77 appearances with a major European club, but Inter appears ready to give up on the young prodigy already.
Jose Mourinho has left Balotelli out of the lineup for the past four matches and has managed to alienate him from the rest of the squad.
The only reason he isn’t higher on the list is that Inter has had plenty of other attacking options the past few years. That said, they don’t have any Italians in their starting lineup, and are missing out on the marketing benefits of having Balotelli make it big.
4. Davide Santon
Continuing the waste of good young Italian talent, Inter has regressed in its development of young Davide Santon this year. Last year, Santon made 20 appearances for Inter at the age of 18. He earned comparisons to Paolo Maldini from Italy coach Marcello Lippi.
While he suffered a knee injury earlier this season, he has still only appeared in 13 matches. His lack of playing time appears to be due to a preference for Chivu or Zanetti at left back, but Santon would be a fantastic complement to Douglas Maicon on the other side of the field.
3. Antonio Cassano
While Cassano is definitely not wasted at the club level, he has been maddeningly left out of the National team by Marcello Lippi.
The Azzuri have looked completely lost in the attacking third, yet Lippi has refused to incorporate a player who is equally adept at scoring and creating chances for others.
I am not suggesting that Lippi should be handing Cassano a starting position, but at the very least he should be on the bench as a late-game offensive sub. Most countries would be giddy to have a player with Fantantonio’s offensive arsenal.
2. Sebastian Giovinco
Twenty-four million Euros—that’s what Juventus could have saved in the transfer market had they looked to their own bench instead of searching the Bundesliga for a playmaker.
This summer, the Old Lady’s management felt that Diego would be the solution to their lack of offensive creativity. What they failed to realize is that they have possibly the most exciting young offensive player in Italy, wasting away on their own training ground.
The Atomic Ant is not only the best nickname in sports, he’s a fiery, quick playmaker with the ability to play behind the strikers or out on the wing.
Even when Diego has struggled, both Ciro Ferrara and Alberto Zaccheroni have failed to give Giovinco much playing time other than late-game duty.
At the very least, they should be trying to mix up a lineup that has failed to impress offensively. Giovinco deserves a few starts while Zac tries to find a way to meld his talents with those of Del Piero, Diego, and Amauri—possibly as a wing player in a 4-2-3-1.
1. Fabrizio Miccoli
He’s not only my favorite player to sign in FIFA 10, but he’s possibly the most underrated player in Serie A.
He has 35 goals in 81 games with Palermo while providing the creative service for both Amauri and Edison Cavani to flourish at striker the past few seasons.
Miccoli’s work rate is phenomenal, he has great pace and vision, and has been a leader on the pitch in Palermo.
Miccoli has only 10 caps with the Azzuri, all in 2003-2004, despite playing left wing for Palermo, a position of need in Marcello Lippi’s preferred 4-3-3. He is also versatile enough to play in a strike partnership and frequently drops deep to pick up the ball and link with midfield.
Despite his fantastic scoring record and being a perfect fit for the national team’s formation, he has not played a single game for the Azzuri in the past six years.
If Marcello Lippi wants to win another World Cup title, he would do well to slot Miccoli into his starting lineup and let his talent shine through.