Since making his debut for the Azzurri back in 2004, Daniele De Rossi has been a mainstay for the Italian National Team, bringing the same unique balance of power, grit, style and determination to his country as he does his club. In the ensuing 11 years, De Rossi has earned a total of 101 caps and honors ranging from third place at the 2013 Confederations Cup, the all-tournament team at EURO 2012 and, of course, the 2006 World Cup.
At only 32-years-old, De Rossi figured to have an outside shot at making Italy's squad for the 2018 World Cup, at which time he'd be 35 and definitely on his last international legs. But that's a few years off, surely he would still be a lock for next summer's European Championships, right?
Well, not so fast, at least not according to Antonio Conte. Italy's new headman (though, we'll see if he can resist some of the high profile jobs possibly opening soon) has drawn a hardline when it comes to some of the Azzurri's more lauded veterans, namely De Rossi and NYCFC midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
After the unveiling of the new Azzurri kit earlier this week, Conte spoke about the values he hopes to espouse to his nation and the type of men required to fulfill them:
Since my first Press conference as Coach I've said I wanted a team that would make the Italian people proud. I wanted to transmit positive emotions, with a group that felt this shirt was like a second skin.
At the centre of our project is the game because this is essential for targeting important milestones.The individual isn't important. The other aspect at the centre the project is morality, with attitudes on and off the pitch.
I said that I would evaluate the desire of those who come here. These are words that I've already said, the concepts that I've already expressed. Some people got it right away and others needed time"
This is what I'm looking for, players that are available in 360 degrees. Another example is Verratti who played in Azerbaijan with the risk of getting hurt. Others would've raised the white flag to avoid missing a club match. When you pass through the gates of Coverciano, only the national team must exist
Obviously, there are miles of gray area in those words and any number of inferences we can make, but come on, seriously? Who bleeds and screams more for this crest than De Rossi? Conte's attempts to play hardball with Pirlo are a bit more realistic simply because of Marco Verratti's presence--he is Italy's playmaker of the future, there's no doubt about that—but who fills De Rossi's shoes?
Obviously it depends on the formation—Conte's Azzurri tenure has vacillated between his beloved 3-5-2 and the en vogue 4-3-3—but either way, would you really trust Claudio Marchisio to protect the defense over De Rossi? The fact of the matter is this, and it's just as it's always been: there aren't many players like De Rossi out there--his defensive acumen and intensity don't come at the expense of offensive contributions; that's not an easy recipe to replicate, national team or otherwise.
While I admire Conte's Azzurri mission statement, in this instance, at least as it pertains to De Rossi, I think this is just corporate talk. At the end of the day, when Italy is faced with the prospect of containing the best attacks Europe has to offer, he's going to want De Rossi on that wall, he's going to need De Rossi on that wall.