As news filtered through of the definitive, 23-man Italy squad for the World Cup, public reaction confirmed that a third inevitability in life should be placed alongside death and taxes: complaints.
Given the plethora of talent available to Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli – a huge swathe with international experience to boot – whittling the final squad down was always going to be a process with its fair share of disappointments.
However, one such omission rang louder than most others. Giuseppe Rossi, who was threatening to run away with the Serie A Capocannoniere award when a knee injury nearly ended his season in January, was excluded in heart-breaking fashion.
The striker, who finished the season with 16 goals, was enjoying the best season of his career in Florence and his recovery from injury to place himself into contention for a place on the Italian plane to Brazil in itself is a credit to the character of Rossi, but he will once again miss out on a major tournament.
In a parallel, fairer universe, the 27-year-old would be excitedly waiting to take part in his third international tournament. An ill-conceived oversight by Marcello Lippi in 2010 followed by a season ending ACL tear in 2011 that robbed Rossi of a place in Italy’s Euro 2012 squad have conspired to ensure that one of Italy’s most naturally talented and exciting forwards, a third major tournament will be spent watching from home.
But should he have missed out this time? One of Italy’s primary attacking choices throughout qualifying for both Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it was a given that if Rossi’s fitness was 100 per cent, then his place in the squad would be guaranteed. His exclusion suggests that regardless of the work the former Manchester United man put in leading up to the squad deadline, Cesare Prandelli wasn’t convinced that Rossi would be fit and able to cope with the rigours of tournament football in Brazil.
That said, isn’t Rossi worth the risk? At the time of his injury, Rossi led Serie A’s top scorers with 14 goals in 15 games, a ratio that is superior to his compatriots that did make the Azzurri squad – including the now Borussia Dortmund bound Ciro Immobile. In fact his final tally of 16 goals in 19 games was still the best in the League on a goal-per-minute basis.
Rossi also managed to put together a month of football leading up to the end of the season with increasing minutes in each match. His longest spell on the pitch came in Italy’s final warm-up game before the squad announcement, where the striker managed to make it through 71 minutes without incident. With 12 days still remaining before Italy’s opener against England, wouldn’t Rossi have been ready by then?
Prandelli’s selections of Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne offer Italy useful tactical versatility, but there is no substitution for talent. Without Rossi Italy are a poorer side, and when fit and firing the former Villarreal man is the best forward in the peninsula, including Mario Balotelli.
It is a heart-breaking turn of events for Rossi, who will once again spend another international tournament uninvolved. But unlike in previous occasions, perhaps the saddest aspect of Rossi’s omission is that it didn’t have to happen at all.