Italy is a country which has earned the reputation of perfecting the defensive art. In that regard, Andrea Ranocchia is often seen as the square peg in a round hole. But though the Inter man is Serie A’s resident figure of fun, his days with the Azzurri are by no means depleted fully.
Yes, those who compared the attacking-midfielder-turned-defender to Alessandro Nesta and Franco Baresi early on were hoodwinked. Deceived. But such expectations have often swamped promising futures. It would prove no different for Ranocchia, who faltered when plugged into the broken machine that was the Nerazzurri at a tender age.
The Assisi native was viewed once upon a time as the future of Inter’s rearguard. Injuries, a period of playing second fiddle to the side’s treble veterans and an endless turnover of Coaches soon curtailed a promising start at San Siro though.
Despite these early struggles, this season began with renewed promise as Inter fielded a three-man backline and climbed up Serie A. Thereafter the Milan outfit slipped back into the familiar territory of struggling to contain opponents, and Ranocchia appeared to lose his way yet again after crushing defeats inflicted by Roma and Napoli towards the end of 2013.
Still, the stop-start nature of the defender’s campaign did not deter Cesare Prandelli from deploying him in tests with Denmark and Nigeria. And after being benched and then reinstated by Walter Mazzarri when a purported winter transfer to Galatasaray fell through, Ranocchia is now re-emerged as a contender to travel with Italy to the World Cup, after some fine performances of late.
The turn of March is indeed providing glimpses of the stopper’s former self. While Inter’s rearguard has been watertight as a sieve recently, this time blame cannot be pinned on the much-maligned figure. The sense of anticipation and confidence which was his claim to fame starring for Bari in 2009 are becoming evident again as he defends with authority.
Few relish a physical battle as much as the 6’5 behemoth - Ranocchia is a dogged marker. His average of tackles, clearances and interceptions each match this term already surpass those of Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. Yet such an imposing frame inevitably leads to a sluggish recovery against speedier opponents, the reason why his brighter displays tend to coincide with the extra cover three at the back provides.
Prandelli’s preference for four defenders does not eliminate Ranocchia from contention, however. It will fall mainly on full-backs such as Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate to ensure their comrade is not left isolated and picked off by the opposition. Meanwhile, Italy’s set identity plus the constant outlet Andrea Pirlo provides in midfield promise to minimise the misplaced passes or hashed clearances Ranocchia has become associated with.
Burdened with responsibility by his club from a fledgling age, the resurgent Genoa youth has sufficiently come to grips with the task of playing at the top to deserve a crack in Italy’s provisional squad. On the cusp of his prime at 26, he could confirm to be an able deputy come the final showdown in Brazil.