Upon the release of his 23-man squad, Conte had made what some consider to be shock omissions. Montolivo hasn’t been called for fitness reasons – though his performances this season have been uninspired to put it politely and Jorginho will certainly disappointed having failed to make the cut despite injuries to star midfielders Verratti and Marchisio. We’ve taken the time to assess the Azzurri squad in the lead up to Euro 2016.
The exclusions of Giovinco and Balotelli should upset no fan of the Azzurri. Conte already has a vast number of players in similar roles that are in better physical shape as well as not yet wasted countless opportunities to shine when called upon.
Pirlo’s absence is what we all saw coming but refused to believe. It can’t be ignored that il maestro’s decision to move to the MLS has clearly been his undoing with Conte obviously feeling that a player plying his trade outside of Europe will come at a cost of lacking in match-fitness relative to those still playing in the homeland. Age and stamina is another question that would undoubtedly have been considered before Conte made the call, perhaps worried that he wouldn’t have the legs to be sustainable for many games in such a short space in time. This aspect is where I am most critical, if Pirlo has been dropped for physical reasons, how is it that Thiago Motta has still made the call up? Aside from having the agility of a cruise ship, he has underperformed each time he has pulled on a blue jersey – none more infuriating when he came on as substitute in the final of Euro 2012 only to come off within minutes with a hamstring strain – this was an existing injury from a previous round and when asked how he was feeling he should have set his ego aside and said no good.
Already without their most experienced midfielders in Marchisio and Verratti, not to mention fitness concerns surrounding Daniele De Rossi. Could Conte not have found a proven performer on the big stage useful?
To extinguish question marks regarding the number of consecutive matches playing against Pirlo’s favour, it’s worth noting that these finals are being played in France, not scorching, humid conditions of the 2014 World Cup not to mention Italy has failed to get past the group stage in their last 2 world cup since lifting the trophy in 2006. Conte seems far too concerned plotting a squad for a campaign that will run all 6 matches when I can guarantee there will be many players who wont see more than 15 minutes of match time – whether it’s just the 3 group matches or 6 should they go all the way to the final. Yet it seems it wasn’t worth calling up a legend that is renown as being the coolest man in football on-and-off the pitch even if it is for so much as just to retain possession (a set-piece even).
Donnarumma is also a curious omission. Italy has its number one in Buffon - backing him up, Conte has selected Sirigu and Marchetti. Marchetti may have been in decent domestic form this season, but his poor performances when replacing an injured Buffon at the World Cup in 2010 can’t be ignored or forgotten. Sirigu on the other hand was exceptional when coming in to replace a tired Buffon in 2014, although he somehow lost his place to Kevin Trapp of all players despite having an excellent season prior. Gianluigi Donnarumma, much like his namesake was thrown in to the deep end at a tender age of 16. That’s the sort of pressure to make even seasoned professionals crack, but his performances to date have ranged from solid to spectacular for a struggling Rossoneri – this is someone who is allowed some time off during Milan’s preseason to sit his year 12 exams. Beyond being a genuine backup to Gigi, it surely must be worth bringing him along for experience purposes alone, just as Cesare Maldini brought Buffon to the 1998 World Cup – which took place in France interestingly enough. Perhaps for the reasons that he may be selected for the Olympic squad - odd considering that it doesn’t seem like there is much to gain in the experience not to mention Juventus have already refused permission for Paulo Dybala to participate, seeing the importance of the competition and wanting him to be in top shape come the new season. For future and present purposes, Donnarumma should be going to France.
The backline thankfully looks to be in good shape, all of whom have forged a solid understanding from the benefit of all playing for Juventus. In attack is where most concern will lie. The days of Baggio, Vieri, Inzaghi, Del Piero featuring in the same squad are long gone and Italy will just have to make do with what they have. Pelle is solid target man even if his goal scoring record is unspectacular, he still provides an aerial threat and is rather mobile for a man his size which will be a cause for concern for the opponent. Eder too is a decent attacker. Though having hit 12 goals in 19 games for Sampdoria, the Brazilian-born striker struggled at Inter scoring only once in 14 outings – though I feel that says more about Inter than the Eder’s ability.
With injuries to key players, the midfield will be a combination unseen before and it is anyone’s guess as to who will feature. The number of central and wide midfielders suggests Conte will certainly field his preferred 3-5-2.
It’s no secret that fans aren’t optimistic of their chances this summer, but as Buffon stated, “when nobody expects anything, you can surprise people”. Only time will tell.