When Italy boss Cesare Prandelli released his selections for the national team ahead of their World Cup 2014 qualifying clashes against Armenia and Denmark, few will have been more satisfied than Andrea Ranocchia to be included in the 27-man list.
The 24-year-old defender has endured a chequered early part to his career. His breakout campaign on loan at Bari from Genoa in 2009-10 was halted by a season-ending knee injury, robbing him of contention for a place at the World Cup showpiece in South Africa, but that did not stop Inter from seeing his promise and snapping him up on a co-ownership deal just a few months later.
A year after, the Nerazzurri purchased the other half of his registration rights from Genoa, valuing the player at €19m in total and, despite some fine performances during his first half-season on the black-and-blue side of San Siro, his next was one perhaps better left forgotten.
Injury problems and poor form limited the stopper to just 15 appearances in all competitions. His performances were a mini-reflection of Inter’s 2011-12 – error prone, lacking quality and simply lost on occasion. He was anything but first choice under the Serie A side’s merry-go-round of Coaches that included Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and Andrea Stramaccioni during that campaign, playing second fiddle to veterans Lucio, Walter Samuel and even Cristian Chivu at times.
As a result, despite featuring prominently on the road to Euro 2012 in qualifying, he was dropped for the Finals in Poland and Ukraine. That is the past though and he is now hitting higher notes once more for his club.
Following another solid performance as the 10-man Nerazzurri held off Derby della Madonnina rivals Milan – to keep a clean sheet and earn a precious 1-0 victory that keeps them joint-third place in the League – Ranocchia has now started every Serie A match this season and he’s also featured prominently in the Europa League. He is looking fitter, more confident and a better overall defender, especially in Inter’s new three-man backline.
“Is my positive start to the season a message for Prandelli? No, it’s for Inter,” he explained in September. “If I continue to play as well as I have been doing this season then maybe Italy will come calling for me again.”
And his statement was as accurate as some of his excellent challenges this season. The Azzurri CT has given him another chance to prove his worth.
While Ranocchia is fantastic in the air and has a well-developed understanding of how to defend, he does have his limitations. His struggles typically emanate from a lack of acceleration or from tight situations with the ball at his feet. His short-range passing can be inaccurate and his kicked clearances sloppy when he is not fully focused.
However, the player’s recall is a perfect example of Prandelli’s meritocracy pledge in full effect. When he was performing poorly, La Nazionale’s tactician made the decision to leave him at home. Now that he is threatening to become one of Serie A’s top defenders once again he has been given the chance to show what he can do for his country.
For those who clamour for the likes of defenders at the level of Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta, you should stop living in the past. Those types of near-flawless stoppers are simply not available on the current Italian football landscape. Prandelli works in the present and that, for now, means Andrea Ranocchia.