“Those who tell us to think carefully if we want to continue should look at who is still the focal point of this Nazionale. You have to judge people on what they are doing, not what they could potentially do.”
Gianluigi Buffon is never one to mince his words. Four days on from Italy’s surprise World Cup exit, the 36 year-old was ready to have his say.
“I often hear ironic comments on the ages of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli and also Buffon,” he continued. “Idle chatter passes by and the facts remain on the field - the players who break their bones for the cause are always the same ones, every time.
“If you are young and have the talent to become a champion, you don’t play for the Nazionale after three or four games. You have to earn your stripes in Serie A. Now after three good performances a player gets into the squad and takes everything for granted.”
Buffon’s attack was aimed at some of the younger and more inexperienced factions of the Azzurri squad.
The gambles Head Coach Cesare Prandelli had taken failed to have the desired impact and the veteran goalkeeper was seemingly questioning the wisdom of his selections.
Rumours of players not training properly, arguments between Buffon and Cassano, plus problems with the ever-frustrating Mario Balotelli seemed to back up the Juve man’s comments.
To see Italy’s campaign crumble from the inside is not only disheartened, but also a concern for whoever will replace Prandelli.
A lot of the players who have come in for criticism - Mattia Destro, Lorenzo Insigne, Balotelli and more - are supposedly the future. If they aren't respected and trusted by their peers then how can Italy move forward?
As good as Buffon, Pirlo and the like have been and continue to be, they cannot go on forever. Of the senior players, only Giorgio Chiellini and, perhaps Buffon and De Rossi will realistically make the next World Cup. There could be an argument therefore to have a complete rebuild and regeneration.
If the younger squad members are brought out of the looming shadows of Buffon and alike, they would be forced to mature. By continuing to rely on these almost mythical figures, it is easier for them to not accept responsibility.
To cast aside the likes of Buffon and Pirlo - while they are still at their best - would be incredibly brave and unprecedented. But with the Euro 2016 qualifying schedule looking favourable due to UEFA’s ridiculous expansion of the tournament, there may never be a better opportunity to ‘start again’. The aim, after all, is be ready in two years’ time, not now.
Whether this is the best way forward is unclear - it’s merely a suggestion. The main concern in terms of continuity and rebuilding is the likely replacements for Prandelli. Massimiliano Allegri and Roberto Mancini would not naturally build off the excellent foundations of passing and attacking football that have been put down over the last four years. They also come across as indecisive and sometimes divisive - particularly Mancini. The others options, such as Fabio Cannavaro, could turn the Nazionale into an ‘old boys’ clubs, given his relationship with the senior players.
What the future holds for Italy is uncertain. To see Prandelli’s reign fall apart was disappointing, but it shouldn't be discarded. Whoever replaces him must continue down the same path, but whether they do so with the same players remains to be seen.