Thursday morning (or evening, depending on your present location) has been a little slow on the news front, beyond Mattia Destro's 23rd birthday, of course, but there were a few intriguing quotes from Francesco Totti and Cesare Prandelli concerning this summer's World Cup. With only 86 days remaining before Italy and England square off in Manaus, the question of whether or not Prandelli will call Francesco Totti back to the national fold becomes more urgent by the day.
If Prandelli were to call me then I would be proud. I'd be happy, because the World Cup at Brazil would not come around again for me. But, I've always said that I will have to see how I am physically, if I would be alright or not. That's the main thing
We've discussed the prospect of Francesco Totti returning to the Azzurri for World Cup 2014 both tangentially and directly (see sidebar) many times over the past 18 months. Italy's failure to not only escape group play in 2010, but to not even win a single match, exposed to the world what many Italy fans had secretly feared; their once flawless formula had become stagnant.
The Azzurri's defense, the hallmark of their title run in 2006, suddenly look feeble and ineffective, conceding a group worst five goals. Italy's offense, while never quite has heralded as their back four, was lacking in leadership and even a simple target man. Rather than flowing from Andrea Pirlo to Totti to Luca Toni, Marcello Lippi's attack was comprised of left over, or simply overlooked, component parts from the previous World Cup cycle. Italy, though they may not have realized it, was stuck in the middle of a transitionary phase; still hanging on to the glory of '06, while not preparing for the realities of '10.
The Prandelli Paradigm
In the wake of their performance at the 2013 Confederations Cup, we evaluated the future of Prandelli's Azzurri squad, and found that it was lacking in certain Totti-esque areas.
And while Italy managed to save some face in the 2013 Confederations Cup, let us not forget that their mere inclusion was by default, since Spain was technically the reigning World and European champions. Despite advancing to the finals and the semi-emergence of Mario Balotelli as a global force, the Azzurri still seemed to be grasping for something, some sort of cohesion and some sort of link to merge the Azzurri of the past with Prandelli's vision for the future.
Queue the calls for Francesco Totti, who, even at 37 years old and with only 17 appearances, still leads Serie A with eight assists, while being a fraction off the lead in key passes per match. The point being, the areas in which Totti still flourishes--creating, scoring and generally being the tie that binds--are the same areas in which Prandelli's current squad falters.
While in Balotelli, Italy has a true striker capable of beating any keeper at any time, there is precious little around him, at least in terms of proven international commodities; to say nothing of his volatility. Sure, Alessio Cerci is lighting up the league this year, but he's far from an accomplished international, ditto for Ciro Immobile and even Giuseppe Rossi.
Which has led to...
Of course, there is one man who, Totti or no Totti, could lighten the offense load for Prandelli this summer, Antonio Cassano.
The doors have never been too closed or too open. After the European Championships, we have tried to look ahead. Antonio was 30 and from that perspective it was thought that other players could develop. If these players have not grown as expected, and if one players better at 32 than at 30, why not?...And Francesco Totti? Let him be for now, the last time we spoke he was injured
Really, Prandelli's penultimate quote is the key. For reasons as varied as the young men themselves, Italy's youth has not developed as quickly as many had hoped, leading to the calls for the plus 30 set of Totti, Cassano and Andrea Pirlo.
Beyond Balotelli, the men who should be leading the Azzurri offense this summer have simply been too injured (Giuseppe Rossi, Stephan El Shaarawy), too uncertain on the international stage (Alessio Cerci, Pablo Osvaldo), too young (Domenico Berardi, Mattia Destro) or simply overlooked in anything but friendlies (Alberto Gilardino, Antonio Candreva).
So, in a strange and somewhat unbelievable twist, might an amalgam of Italy's biggest personalities--Totti, Cassano and Balotelli--be the cure for what ails its national team?