Italy’s failure to qualify for World Cup 2018 was a new low for Italian calcio. Much like calciopoli, which left a black eye on Italian club football, the failed qualification marred La Nazionale’s storied history. Italy’s World Cup triumph in 2006 helped breathe life back into Italian football after calciopoli. Now, Roberto Mancini is looking to do the same by bringing Italy back to glory after the epic failure of Gianpiero Ventura.
Mancini has created a sort of Italian Calcio Renaissance, backed by a boatload of talent that the peninsula hasn’t seen since the early-to-mid 2000s. In those days it was Totti, Del Piero, Pirlo, Cannavaro, and a plethora of others who led the way to glory. Then the dark ages arrived.
Besides the 2018 disaster, Italy also failed to advance out of the group stage at World Cup 2010 and 2014. The Euros have been kinder, including a finals appearance in 2012, but much like the fall of the Roman Empire, which was a gradual decline that ushered in the Dark Ages, the decay of the Italian National Team was equally slow, showing cracks for some time.
However, just like the Medici, who helped bring about an Italian cultural renaissance by supporting Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci, Roberto Mancini is ushering in an Italian footballing renaissance, grooming the next wave of generational talents to emerge from Italy’s calcio bottegas.
The Azzurri are grooming a new golden generation—led by players like Federico Chiesa, Gigi Donnarumma, Nicolò Barella, Nicolò Zaniolo, and Sandro Tonali, among many others. The Azzurri are gathering an embarrassment of riches, one that could potentially challenge Europe's elite as soon as next summer and perhaps the world in 2022.
But where does Roma fit into this revival?
Roma and the Azzurri
World Cup 2006 to Euro 2016: A Decade of Ups and Downs
Before the arrivals of Monchi and EDF, Roma was sorely lacking in Italian talent. For the most part, there was little to speak of outside of the Roman contingent of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi, and Alessandro Florenzi. While players like Fabio Borini, Stephan El Shaarawy and Alberto Aquilani have come and gone through the years, Roma’s Azzurri representation at major tournaments has been somewhat limited since 2006.
The peak for Roma contribution was World Cup 2006. Totti was joined by De Rossi and Simone Perotta, making for a triumphant Roman trio. Totti, De Rossi and Perotta each provided major contributions to Marcelo Lippi’s side. Since then,however, Roma's representation with the national team has ran as low as one (De Rossi) to as many as four.
The high water mark was the quartet that took part in the the next major tournament: Euro 2008. Alberto Aquilani, Cristian Panucci, and Perotta joined De Rossi on the Azzurri side that lost to Spain in the quarterfinals. In the two World Cups that followed (2010 & 2014), De Rossi was the lone Roma representative. Sandwiched in between those two tournaments was Euro 2012, when De Rossi was joined by Fabio Borini. And in Italy’s last major tournament appearance, Euro 2016, Roma had De Rossi, Florenzi, and El Shaarawy in the Azzurri squad.
De Rossi was ever the stalwart in this era.
Monchi & Petrachi Make Roma More Italian
For all of the damage that Monchi caused at Trigoria, he did promise to bring in more Italian talent, a trend that has continued under his successor Gianluca Petrachi.
In the last three seasons, Roma has increased the number of Italians on the squad from four back in 2016/17 (Walter Sabatini’s last season as DS) to nine during the current season. That number will increase to 10 if Alessio Riccardi makes a senior side appearance this year.
Naturally, with an increase in the overall number of Italians in the squad, the better chance Roma has of increased representation on the national team. During that 16/17 season De Rossi, Florenzi, and El Shaarawy took part in the failed qualification campaign, but Roma's focus on Italians is starting to bear fruit.
Since the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign began in March, Roma has had eight players called up by Mancini, including Florenzi, Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Bryan Cristante, Gianluca Mancini, Leonardo Spinazzola, Antonio Mirante, and Stephan El Shaarawy, who has since left Roma. That is a huge uptick in Roma representation.
Euro 2020 & Beyond
Obviously, a player like Mirante is unlikely to receive another call but Zaniolo, Pellegrini, Cristante, Mancini, and Spinazzola all look to have long Azzurri careers ahead of them. Meanwhile, Florenzi is likely to continue being called in the near term with Italy’s right back situation not being much better than the Giallorossi’s.
Will all six of those players make the Euro 2020 squad? That remains to be seen. Injuries and form will ultimately decide that. Nevertheless, Roma has established a strong foothold in the national team set up. In fact, the eight players called up during the qualifying cycle in 2019 is the most of any Serie A club during that time span, besting Juventus (6) Inter (5), Cagliari (4), Napoli (3), Torino (3), Lazio (2), Atalanta (2), and Milan (2).
It can be argued that Roma’s contingent, as large as it might be, hasn’t contributed as much as players from other sides. And that is true. None of the six recent call-ups look like guaranteed starters. Nonetheless, all have started once in Italy’s four qualifiers since the new domestic campaign began.
Italy is well stocked with talent in the midfield with Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicola Barella being the preferred trio. So the fact that Pellegrini, Zaniolo, or Cristante hasn’t been able to get regular starts or a ton of minutes is more a tribute to Italy’s embarrassment of riches in the middle of the park than an indictment on the Giallorossi trio’s talent. Any of the three has the potential, along with Stefano Sensi or Sandro Tonali, to contribute in some capacity come the summer and potentially play an even larger role down the line.
At the moment, the Roma player with perhaps the best chance to start come Euro 2020 is Spinazzola. His duality at full back makes him an option on both the left and right. He will likely compete with Emerson on the left for a starting spot, but could also be considered on the right with Florenzi, D’ambrosio, and Di Lorenzo far from being world beaters.
Along the back line, Gianluca Mancini seems to be one for the future. The young center back started Italy’s most recent qualifier next to Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli—perhaps a sign of things to come for the Azzurri. With Chiellini out with a torn ACL and Leo Bonucci on the wrong side of 30, Roberto Mancini will need someone to partner Romagnoli in the not too distant future, and Gianluca Mancini will certainly be in the mix. He could even claim a spot at this summer’s tournament considering he has the ability to play at right back in a pinch.
Lastly, Florenzi will likely remain a part of the mix. He may not be great at any one position, but he offers Mancini flexibility. Additionally, he is one of the Azzurri’s more senior players, and one of the few with major tournament experience. So, no matter how crazy he drives you at right back, Florenzi will likely make the Euro 2020 roster.
Of course, further down the line, we have to consider Alessio Riccardi. The young Roman is considered the jewel of the Primavera squad and played at the Under 20 World Cup this past summer. He may not play for the senior side anytime soon, but keep an eye on him in the next few qualifying cycles.
Roma is becoming more Italian by the season. Assuming things remain on the current trajectory, expect Roma to remain well represented at Azzurri camps, and as they mature and develop, expect those players to contribute even more for both the Azzurri and the Giallorossi.
Note: All statistics are updated as of Italy’s last match during the October international break.