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Roma's Rising Influence on the Italian National Team

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Roma is more Italian than in recent seasons, but is the club becoming the standard bearer for la Nazionale among Italy’s ‘sette sorelle’?

AS Roma v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Just under two years ago my colleague here at CdT, bren, published a piece entitled “How Can We Make Roma More Italian?” The piece came to be after watching a match between Milan and Atalanta that featured a dozen Italians. At the time, in December 2016, Roma featured Francesco Totti during his swansong, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, and Stephan El Sharaawy. Former sporting director Walter Sabatini, an Italian himself, seemed to avoid purchasing Italian players like the plague; often bringing in foreigner after foreigner.

Fast forward to the current team, and Roma have a roster that is more Italian and slightly more Roman than the 16/17 squad. Roma now have four Roman’s on the roster. De Rossi and Florenzi remain, while Lorenzo and Luca Pellegrini have been added. Those four make up the largest contingent of players playing for their hometown team in the league.

The lone non-Roman Italian from the previous roster, El Shaarawy, also remains. However, he’s now joined by Bryan Cristante, Davide Santon, Nicolo Zaniolo, and Antonio Mirante. This pushes current number of first team Italian players to nine; practically enough to field a starting XI. The irony in all of this is Roma has become more Italian under current sporting director Monchi, a Spaniard.

Meanwhile, just last month Italian national team boss, Roberto Mancini, bemoaned the fact that there aren’t enough Italians featuring for Italian clubs. With Mancini’s comments in mind and the increased number of Italians and Romans in the fold at the Olimpico, I began to wonder, “Are Roma becoming the new standard bearer among the big clubs in terms of featuring Italians?”

Earlier, I referenced the 16/17 season because that’s when the original CdT article was published. However, I will be using 15/16 as a previous point of reference for teams since Euro 2016 was the last relatively successful Azzurri squad.

How Do They Compare?

AS Roma v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Roma

The 15/16 of the Roma squad, similar to the 16/17 squad, featured the same four Italians: Totti, De Rossi, Florenzi, and El Sharaawy. However, Roma were well represented at the 2016 Euros with De Rossi, Florenzi, and El Sharaawy all making the cut.

Just this past weekend Roma started a line-up that featured five Italians (De Rossi, El Sharaawy, Santon, and both Lorenzo and Luca Pellegrini), while Florenzi and Cristante made appearances off the bench. This means seven Italian played for the Giallorossi in a single match. It’s been quite some time since Roma have had seven Italians on the roster, let alone appearing in one game. Thus, the increased Italian presence isn’t just for show because of regulations requiring homegrown players or limiting non-EU players. The current Italian contingent are contributing more and more each week.

Roma look like they will have a decent influence on La Nazionale in the coming years, as well. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Florenzi are both part of Mancini’s current squad. Meanwhile, Cristante and Zaniolo were called up last month, and Luca Pellegrini seems to have the prospects of an Azzurri future down the line.

Juventus v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Juventus

Just a few years ago, when Italy made a run to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 under Antonio Conte, there’s no question that the National Team was Juventus heavy. The 23 man roster featured six Juventini. This was double the next best represented teams, Lazio and Roma, who each had three. Juve were not only the standard bearers in terms of their performance in the league, but also in terms of their contribution to a fairly successful national team. Meanwhile, nine Italians received considerable playing time for the Scudetto winners during the 15/16 season.

Fast forward to today and the situation has changed a bit. In fact, just last month Italy fielded a starting XI without a Juventus player for the first time since the late 90’s. Why the drop off? Well, it is probably due to the fact that Juve just aren’t featuring as many Italians. Even though they have 10 on their roster, the only Italians who play consistently are Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Federico Bernardeschi. Consequently, those three, along with back-up goalkeeper Mattia Perin, are the Juve players called up by Roberto Manicini this week.

Partly due to injury and partly due to an increase in foreign stars (ie. Ronaldo, Cancelo, Matuidi, Can), Juve has seen a significant drop off in minutes played by Italians. This could change slightly when players like Mattia De Sciglio and Leonardo Spinazzola return from injury, but for now it seems like Roma have Juve “out-Italian-ed” on a game-by-game basis.

SSC Napoli v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Napoli

The second most successful team over the last few seasons in Serie A has been Napoli. However, when it comes to contributions to La Nazionale, Napoli has been mostly a one-man show. The main reason for this is that Napoli’s roster is bereft of Italians. Back in 15/16 Napoli had five Italians that made 15 or more total appearances with Lorenzo Insigne being the only member of Conte’s Euro squad.

As low as five players sounds, this season the number is even lower. Currently, Napoli only carries four on it’s whole roster. Insigne is the only regular starter. He should be joined by keeper Alex Meret once he returns from injury. Meanwhile, Simone Verdi is a rotation player and Simone Luperto provides depth on defense. Napoli have become the antithesis of what Mancini wants from Italian clubs.

PSV Eindhoven v FC Internazionale - UEFA Champions League Group B Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Inter

Inter is another team who has lagged behind in terms of Italian players in recent years. Going all the way back their historic treble winning season in 2009/10, Inter have only carried a small number of Italian players. That trend continued into Euro 2016 when Eder (a naturalized Brazilian) was the only Inter player on Conte’s roster. During that season, only Danilo D’ambrosio played in more than 20 games for Inter, while Eder (14 appearances), Davide Santon (13), and Andrea Ranocchia (10), who was shipped out in January, also saw game time for a team that was ironically managed by Mancini.

Italian representation in Nerazzurro continues to be limited during the current season. Only three players, D’ambrosio, Matteo Politano, and Antonio Candreva have featured regularly for Inter. Meanwhile, Ranocchia and back up keepers Daniele Padelli and Tommaso Berni have yet to see the field.

AC Milan v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Milan

Back during Euro 2016, Milan were the big team setting the standard among big teams in terms of Italians featuring in Serie A. In fact, ten Italians played in at least 20 games for Milan that season. Additionally, another five Italians saw at least some game time for the Rossoneri. There was no comparison among the big teams. However, that number didn’t translate into Milan representation on Conte’s squad. In fact, only fullback Mattia De Sciglio wore azzurro at Euro 2016.

Milan are still setting a fairly high standard this season. Seven Italians have featured regularly for the Rossoneri, while they carry another five Italian outfield players and their third keeper on the roster. Additionally, once Mattia Caldara and Andrea Conti get right physically then that seven could jump to nine. With, four to five Italian players starting on a regular basis, and another few seeing consistent playing time, Milan still seem to be giving Italian players the best chance among big clubs. The caveat is that even though they are playing the most Italians, Milan don’t always have the most called up to the National Team. Currently, Milan have two players on the current Italy roster with another couple missing out on this week’s matches to due to injury.

Malaga CF v SS Lazio - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images

Lazio

Roma’s city rivals, Lazio, are another team that are not currently setting a gold standard in terms of conceding minutes to Italians. In fact, their numbers are on the decline. Back in the 2015/16 season, Lazio had four Italians who were regular starters and another two who received consistent playing time. This allowed for the team to have three members on Conte’s Euro 2016 squad: Antonio Candreva, Marco Parolo, and Federico Marchetti. This was on par with Roma and more than the two Milan clubs combined.

However, times have changed on the northern side of the Olimpico. In the current season, the number of Italians featuring regularly is down to three. Down the middle of the park you can find perennial capocannoniere threat Ciro Immobile, Parolo, and new addition Francesco Acerbi. Outside of them, you will find five other Italians on the roster, who are nothing more than filler at this point in the season.

SS Lazio v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Fiorentina

The last of the “seven sisters”, Fiorentina, hasn’t had much Italian influence in recent years either. Back in 2015/16, the only regular starters were Davide Astori and Federico Bernardeschi. Meanwhile, Manuel Pasquale and Giuseppe Rossi were part of the rotation and the two backup keepers saw a few games. Consequently, only Bernardeschi was called up for Euro 2016.

In the current season, the Viola have seen a slight uptick in terms of regular starters. The aforementioned two has increased to three. Federico Chiesa, Marco Benassi, and Cristiano Biraghi all start for Fiorentina. However, outside of them, there isn’t much else to speak of outside of Federico Ceccherini and Riccardo Sottil, who add depth to the roster. On the bright side from a Fiorentina point of view is that Chiesa, Benassi, and Biraghi are all part of the national team picture under Mancini, so the team’s influence on La Nazionale has increased.

US Sassuolo v Genoa CFC - Serie A Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
FC Internazionale v Cagliari - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Provincial Sides Continue to Rule the Day

In terms of teams that feature the most Italians, the big sides of Italy are no comparison to some of the smaller provincial sides. This general rule doesn’t always ring true, as some sides like Udinese and the current version of Atalanta are very limited in the Italian department. However, many feature a large number. In recent season, Sassuolo has often consistently had nine or ten Italian starters and continues to start a line-up that features a majority of Italians. This season, Parma has followed suit after their promotion to A. The Gialloblu regularly start eight or more Italians on a weekly basis.

Despite playing so many Italians, sides outside of the “seven sisters” often have very little representation on the National Team. For example, at Euro 2016 the only Italian teams represented outside of the seven discussed above were Bologna (Emanuele Giaccherini) and Torino (Ciro Immobile).

That has changed slightly under Mancini as he tries to build a competitive side before Euro 2020 qualifying. Cagliari (Nicolò Barella and Alessio Cragno), Genoa (Domenico Criscito), Sampdoria (Gianluca Caprari and Lorenzo Tonelli), Sassuolo (Domenico Berardi), Torino (Salvatore Sirigu), and Udinese (Kevin Lasagna) are all represented on the roster for tomorrow’s match. Meanwhile, SPAL (Manuele Lazzari) was also represented in September. This means that 14 of the current 20 Serie A squads have been represented on La Nazione since Mancini’s tenure began.

This raises some questions. Is this trend because Mancini has no other choice but to call up players from smaller teams or because he’s validating their commitment to Italians? Additionally, is this a result of the lack of Italian players getting regular playing time on the big clubs? Are the smaller sides of Serie A producing better talent than in the past? It’s probably a combination of all these factors. It’s also early in his tenure so Mancini has to explore all options at his disposal. Mancini knows he needs to bleed in some young talent with an eye for Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022.

Where does Roma rank?

In the end there’s no question that the big teams can’t compete with the smaller sides in terms of sheer numbers of Italians on their rosters. However, as evidenced by the make-up of the National Team roster, the big sides still possess most of the top Italian talent. The big sides will almost certainly never get back to having seven or eight regular Italian starters in this global age. To compete with the best, yet still support the wellbeing of La Nazionale, they will have to find a combination of Italians and foreigners that will be competitive in Serie A and Europe.

Currently, I’d say that Roma ranks near the top of the big teams when it comes to giving Italian players a chance. Milan still rank top, but Roma has closed that gap with the trend we’ve seen this season in Di Francesco’s lineups. I’d say the Giallorossi have probably overtaken Juve. The Bianconeri have few Italians getting regular playing time despite them still having a fairly high number of Italians on the roster. It’ll be interesting to see if Monchi continues to bring in Italians players from other clubs and promotes Primavera players, especially Romans, like the Pellegrinis. If this trend continues it’ll only be a matter of time before Roma becomes the standard bearers for the Italian National Team.