To think Gabriel Paletta’s name would be in contention for a World Cup place a year ago was inconceivable. Even more so that it would be in relation to Italy’s squad. Thanks to his – and Parma’s – superb form, the central defender has been thrown into the mix for Cesare Prandelli’s backline.
As the Ducali’s 17-match undefeated streak lifted the club to heights not experienced in more than a decade, it also placed their stars under the spotlight. Antonio Cassano is a possibility for Brazil. So too Marco Parolo. Then there’s Paletta.
His is the most curious tale. A native of Longchamps, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Paletta represented his country of birth in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships. That Argentina side, also containing Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, lifted the trophy. A move to Liverpool didn’t work out and so Paletta joined Boca Juniors. All the while he was off the international radar.
He joined a Gialloblu side on the rise in 2010. They’re now on course for a third consecutive top-half finish. The ever-reliable Paletta does his job without fuss and is a set-piece threat at the other end.
Paletta’s great-grandfather left the peninsula and Gabriel has jumped at the chance to represent Italy at senior level. “I grew up in Argentina. My loved ones are there, my son Sebastian was born there. But I feel Italian if I think about my great-grandfather’s dream. He wanted his kids to go back to Calabria with some extra money in their pockets, to say he’d done what he’d set out to do. In a certain sense, wearing the blue [of Italy], would complete his journey.”
In his favour is Prandelli, a Coach open to the inclusion of foreigners of Italian descent – the controversial Oriundi.
Paletta impressed last month when thrown in at the deep end against Spain. He looked comfortable on debut alongside Andrea Barzagli, giving little – if anything – away against a Spanish outfit which put Italy under extended spells of pressure. It only strengthened Paletta’s bid.
Prandelli has tinkered with a Juventus-themed three-man defence, but favours playing four defenders. This may not suit Leonardo Bonucci, but means Paletta is right at home. Nonetheless, he has exposure to a back three at club level. The 28-year-old gives Prandelli options.
He is most comfortable playing alongside another central defender, as showed versus Spain. Paletta marks tight, can read the play and is tough to pass. He also knows the setting, having played on Brazilian soil in continental competitions during his Boca spell.
Yet as it stands, the Spain friendly is Paletta’s only international exposure. With such little time until the squad is announced, there’s an element of risk including a player so inexperienced at the top level in a cut-throat month of action.
Paletta will be hoping his versatility and positive first impression will give him the nod as he aims to become the latest in a long line of Oriundi to don the Azzurri shirt at the World Cup.