If I Were Marcello Lippi: An Ideal Italy Squad for the 2010 World Cup
Let me tell you just one thing before you start reading: this is not going to happen. I mean, this squad, these players, most of them won't go to the World Cup.
I know that, they know that, and certainly Marcello Lippi knows that even better. Everybody here knows Italy's captain will be the 37-year-old Fabio Cannavaro, even if he had a pedestrian season.
Everybody knows that despite Juventus had possibly the worst year in their whole history, most of their Italian players will likely be part of the squad for South Africa, from benchwarmer Legrottaglie to the inconsistent Grosso, from out of form Camoranesi to the injury-plagued Iaquinta. We can count ourselves lucky if Lippi spares us Amaurì.
We already know there's no place for a genius like Cassano, and Milan captain Ambrosini is out of discussion as well. Which is quite strange considering he's undisputed first choice for the Rossoneri, while his own backup Gattuso is already sure to be part of the Azzurri squad for South Africa.
So, I'm under no illusion: this is not going to happen. I just thought it would be fun to select a squad basing "only" on players' skills and perfomances. How crazy, uh?
Here's "my" team, in a 4-3-2-1 formation.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
Not much discussion here.
When fully fit, Buffon is the No.1 keeper in the world. When he's not 100 percent he's still one of the best goalies around. When he's struggling with severe injuries on his knees and back he's still the best Italian GK by far.
The truth is, if Buffon can repeat his 2006 form even the most dreadful Italian squad (yes, I mean the actual one) has a chance to defend its title.
Right Back: Mattia Cassani (Palermo)
Mattia Cassani would be a smart choice at right back. He has been a consistent performer for Palermo in a succesful season for the Rosanero team.
Cassani has the pace, athleticism, stamina and crossing ability to be an effective attacking fullback even at the highest level. Plus, he's used to a four-man back line, as Palermo usually plays a 4-3-1-2 formation.
The 26-year-old has earned his first cap for Italy during this season, and hopefully will convince Lippi to call him when it really matters this summer.
Center Back: Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan)
Nesta has recently made it clear that he's not interested in coming back from his international retirement, so don't expect him to see him at the World Cup.
It's a shame because it's pretty much the same as Buffon: when fully fit, 34-year-old Nesta is still a fantastic defender, easily amongst the top five in the world.
Personally, I'm persuaded that Lippi didn't try hard (and early) enough to get Nesta back. Of course, when you can count on Cannavaro and Legrottaglie who cares about Nesta...ehm, right...
Center Back: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
When you'll look at Lippi's World Cup squad in June, you could probably count at least five Juventus players that won't truly deserve their call up.
Well, Giorgio Chiellini is NOT one of them. The former Viola has been a beast for the whole season, establishing himself as the most reliable Italian defender of his generation.
Chiellini's tough tackling, strength in the air, and fighting spirit will be absolutely vital for the Azzurri in their drive for five.
Left Back: Domenico Criscito (Genoa)
23-year-old Criscito should be undisputed first choice at left back, no question about it.
Classy Mimmo started his career as a promising center back, then switched to left back at Genoa, becoming a key player in Gasperini's total football and one of the most consistent defenders in Serie A.
Criscito's versatility means he's more than competent at centre back, left winger and holding midfielder as well. Seriously, how could you possibly pick Grosso over him? Because that's what Juve did, and Lippi will probably do the same this summer.
Deep-lying Playmaker: Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
Aged 31, Pirlo is still in his prime and is rightly considered a key member for both club and country.
One of the few 2006 heroes still performing at the highest level, a fully fit Pirlo should be undisputed first choice for any team in the world.
When you think of the deep-lying playmaker position, you just think "Andrea Pirlo."
Central Midfielder: Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma)
This is another no-brainer.
De Rossi is simply one of the top MFs in the game. There's just nothing he won't do in the heart of the midfield: tough tackling, smart passing, accurate shooting, powerful headers, and basically anything needed to win games.
With him and Pirlo, even Lippi's actual midfield won't look that bad.
Central Midfielder: Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina)
Fiorentina's skipper Montolivo should be the one completing such a fantastic midfield.
Once regarded as a talented though inconsistent trequartista, Riccardino has developed into an all-around, box-to-box midfielder and is now one of the most versatile players in the whole Serie A.
You will see him dashing, tackling, and tightly marking his opponents, but when attacking he will play with the skills, technique and flair of an old fashioned No. 10. No magic tricks here, just Riccardo Montolivo.
Fantasista: Antonio Cassano (Sampdoria)
And here comes the pain.
Probably the most gifted Italian player since Roberto Baggio, Cassano has not a single chance to make the squad under Lippi.
While everyone in this world is aware of Cassano's past issues with discipline, behavior, and attitude, we haven't heard of any "cassanata" in a long time. Actually Cassano has been a true leader for a successful Sampdoria team, both in and off the field.
An offensive facilitator whose mere presence makes his team playing better, Cassano can create scoring chances for himself and his teammates with his flawless technique, outstanding dribble and pin-point passes. He's simply one of those players you want to have in a World Cup squad.
Can you imagine England not calling Rooney? Argentina doing without Messi? Or Netherlands without Robben? Well, in Italy we don't need to imagine. How lucky.
Left Winger/Inside Forward: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)
You can't keep the Capocannoniere out of this squad.
32-year-old Antonio di Natale has always been a consistent performer for Udinese through the years, but this season he exploded for an impressive 26 goals (in 33 matches), being the undisputed top scorer in Serie A.
There may be bigger names amongst Italian forwards, but World Cup is all about talent and form, and right now you can't get much better than Totò di Natale.
Striker: Marco Borriello (AC Milan)
My choice for the center forward position would be Marco Borriello.
The former Genoa hitman has finally won a starting place at Milan and is currently first choice ahead of Huntelaar and Inzaghi.
A powerful striker, strong in the air, and endowed with a cultured left foot, Borriello would be an ideal target man for the national team. Marco scored 14 goals this season, a good tally considering he missed several games through injury.
If he can stop thinking about his former girlfriend Belen Rodriguez and his archrival Fabrizio Corona, Borriello could be a star even at the World Cup stage.
Second Goalkeeper: Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli). A reliable second for Buffon, De Sanctis had a good season for Naples' Azzurri and has been a consistent keeper through his whole career.
Third Goalkeeper: Salvatore Sirigu (Palermo). The Rosanero team had a great season, and young shot-stopper Sirigu definitely played a big role for them.
Center Back: Alessandro Gamberini (Fiorentina). La Viola didn't have the best of seasons, also because Gamberini missed many games through injuries. Gambero remains a strong, solid centre back and if he can stay healthy he's clearly World Cup material.
Center Back/Fullback: Daniele Bonera (AC Milan). A reliable defender who can play anywhere in defense, Bonera's international experience and versatility would definitely come in handy in a World Cup
Right Back/Right Winger: Davide Santon (Inter). Actually 19-year-old Santon didn't have a brilliant season, struggling with injuries and poor form. Nevertheless, he's still one of Italy's brightest talents, and honestly I'd take pretty much anyone over Lippi's first choice right back Zambrotta.
Left Back: Federico Balzaretti (Palermo). After failing to establish himself at Juventus and Fiorentina, Balza became a key player for Palermo, and has been one of the most consistent Serie A defenders for the last two years.
Defensive Midfielder: Massimo Ambrosini (AC Milan). Imagine Milan's captain: a tough tackling, ever present force in the midfield, possibly playing the best season of his career.
Now imagine his backup, a third choice, aging midfielder who has lost most of his pace, acceleration and stamina. That's a fair description of Ambrosini and Gattuso.
So, who would you pick? The efficient captain or his out of form backup? That should be an easy one, unless your name is Marcello Lippi.
Central Midfielder: Claudio Marchisio (Juventus). A versatile, dynamic midfielder, 24-year-old Marchisio should be a starting force for both club and country for years to come.
Central Midfielder: Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool). Injuries prevented Aquilani to show his value to Liverpool fans, but the former Giallorosso is still a quality player and definitely worth a call up for Italy.
Striker/Winger: Fabrizio Miccoli (Palermo). The pocket striker led Palermo to a fantastic season, scoring 18 goals so far and displaying a number of clutch performances against traditional Italian powerhouses.
Easily one of the best players of this Serie A season, Miccoli already knows he has no chances for South Africa. Can anybody explain us why?
Striker/Fantasista: Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal). The young Italian-American has the talent and potential to become Italy's next superstar, and this World Cup could be a great chance to prove that.
Striker: Luca Toni (AS Roma). Since joining Roma, Toni has regained a more than respectable form, and showed he can still score goals. A 1.95m striker who can hold up ball, flick long passes, and win dangerous free kicks could definitely be a useful weapon coming off the bench.
Just Missed The Cut
Goalkeeper: Federico Marchetti (Cagliari). Promising keeper, played well this season and probably deserves being Italy's third GK as much as Sirigu.
Center Back: Leonardo Bonucci (Bari). The young defender led a surprisingly solid Bari defence, and could very well be part of the World Cup squad.
Full Back: Marco Cassetti (AS Roma). An ever present force in Roma's excellent season, the versatile Cassetti would make a good backup for Italy.
Midfielder: Gaetano D'Agostino (Udinese). Struggled with injuries and poor form, but he's still the best Italian regista only behind Pirlo.
Winger: Marco Marchionni (Fiorentina). Constant injuries limited his performances during this season, and actually during his whole career. Such a shame.
Striker/Fantasista: Francesco Totti (AS Roma). A true football legend. Watching him play is still a pleasure and in Roma's unique system he's still an effective performer, but honestly he hardly moves on a football pitch and you can't afford that in a World Cup.
Striker: Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina). Gila is a proven international class striker and his 128 Serie A goals at only 27 years of age will tell you that he can score like no one.
He's just not that effective when he doesn't feel he's undisputed first choice, and basically when he's not coached by his mentor Cesare Prandelli. Which in my view doesn't make him the most suitable choice for a World Cup squad.