Andrea Pirlo, Neymar, Paulinho, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Luis Suarez. A stellar cast of players deemed by FIFA to be standouts of the 2013 Confederations Cup. Yet having watched all of Italy’s matches, I can’t help but feel they’ve nominated the wrong Azzurri player. Forgetting for a moment the popularity factor usually attached to these awards, there was a diminutive Italian who went from maligned inclusion to tournament luminary.
Emanuele Giaccherini’s place in the squad elicited the usual bewilderment. How could a player who features infrequently for his club be a national team regular? Then came further confusion as reports emanated from the camp ahead of the Mexico clash he would be fielded behind Mario Balotelli. I’ll admit to having a concern. Giaccherini responded with a solid showing in the opener and by the end of the tournament was in fine form. He admitted there was pressure, but felt it was the same for all players wearing the Azzurri shirt.
Given his performances over the five matches, Cesare Prandelli’s decision to include Giaccherini proved correct. His versatility is a characteristic the CT values and can be a deciding factor when settling on a 23-man squad. Whether as an attacking midfielder, winger or wing-back, Giaccherini went some way to winning over his detractors.
Giaccherini’s non-stop engine, agility, purposeful running and ability to take on players were all features of the fortnight. His capability to run at defenders with pace is a quality not found in many, if any, other Italian midfielders. Antonio Candreva - another to impress - is an exception. Giaccherini found the net against Brazil, his second international goal, and were it not for the woodwork would have added two more to his tally. These performances will have him in Prandelli’s plans for the next 12 months.
If he were to make the World Cup – a second major tournament after appearing at Euro 2012 – it would confirm Giaccherini’s incredible journey from Serie C2 struggler to Azzurri mainstay. He spent four seasons on loan in the fourth tier at a trio of clubs without much success. Giaccherini was recalled to parent club Cesena in 2008-09 for their successful Lega Pro Prima Divisione campaign. Another promotion followed and he made his Serie A debut in 2010 aged 25. An impressive first season in the top flight alerted Juventus and whilst purchased as a winger, he’s adapted to just about any midfield role during his two seasons in Turin.
Yet Giaccherini’s football dream very nearly failed to materialise. As a footballing hopeful his small stature meant question marks hung over his head. As a 16-year-old he ruptured his spleen after a clash with an opposing goalkeeper. He has broken his ankle and collarbone. And having struggled to make his mark, Giaccherini so nearly gave up the game to become a labourer.
For Cesena President Igor Campedelli, Giaccherini’s work ethic is what has taken him to this stage: “He is extraordinary because he has moral qualities - an iron will, fierce determination, an out of the ordinary spirit of sacrifice and an extraordinary humility. If in the summer of 2008 someone had said that in three years Giaccherini would be playing for Juventus, we would have all thought them mad. But he has become a Juventus player, more than that too, a major player in the team’s ranking in the League, because of his commitment and work ethic.”
Nowadays, Giaccherini faces different questions. They revolve around his Azzurri worthiness attributed to his lack of playing time. He made 23 Bianconeri appearances in 2011-12 and just 17 last term. So not a club regular, how can Prandelli continually call him to Coverciano? It’s a fair question. But those qualities displayed in Brazil are ones appreciated by a Coach. For Prandelli, Giaccherini is a ‘serious professional’.
Giaccherini responded to the questions before the Mexico clash: “If I play, then it means Cesare Prandelli saw me in good shape. I have a lot of stamina and pace, so I am good for pressing the opposition...It’s true I am only 1.67 metres tall and nowadays football is very physical, but I make the most of my other qualities - pace, technique and stamina.”
The likes of Pirlo and Neymar will receive the majority of plaudits, but Azzurri fans are starting to warm to a player who has scraped and clawed to be in the position he’s currently in.