It's Easy to Explain Italy's Early World Cup Exit

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/06/2010 01:03:00 AM
I again forgot to write about this immediately after it happened: In a somewhat lengthy post I made sometime ago, I mentioned that Italy's reluctance or inability to stock its top club sides with domestic talent was a liability. Aside from the commonsense one of Italian club champions (and indeed, of Europe) Inter Milan having no Italian starters and thus violating the notion of truth in advertising, there's also the matter of arrested player development.

And so it has come to pass: the squad Marcello Lippi took to South Africa for a slaughter had, get this, zero players from "Italian" champions Inter Milan. (Not even Marco Materazzi to rile his opponents into headbutting him to get them sent off--but to be honest, he wasn't even starting for Inter anymore.) Meanwhile, only one came from second place finisher AS Roma, midfielder Daniele De Rossi. Italy, then, represents the counterexample to Germany which fields the best young players in many of its top teams to further nurture their talents. Many, of course, are now shining with the Mannschaft as the most dominant side so far in World Cup 2010.

There is a large difference between funnelling top players regardless of their heritage into the national team and stocking top club sides with foreign guns for hire who block the participation of promising young players wishing to gain experience at the top level.

Many commentators liken freedom of movement for footballers as a migration matter on par with free trade. However, my argument is that football is sui generis for (a) nations have their distinct styles of play; (b) clubs claim to represent the nations in whose leagues they compete; and (c) the national team is an important part of football that partially lessens the commercially ordained inequities of sport, thus garnering fan interest at local and international levels.

There are certainly Italian efforts to improve player performance by applying systematic evaluation like Milan Lab which is maintained by AC Milan, but it is a far cry from Germany investing in youth leagues throughout the nation and not just one major city to eventually funnel top talent into the Bundesliga and also the national team. Should Italy wish to remedy the malaise it now finds itself in, Germany's example looks like a good place to start.

Like England, Italy's penchant for relying too much on foreign players has caught up with it. At the end of the day, it is less expensive and more equitable to cultivate your own players than to hire them away after they've demonstrated their worth elsewhere. If more countries had followed the example of canny Germany instead of the dissipated United States, you would think this world would be in much better shape, whether in football or economics.