After a summer spent under suspicion, Domenico Criscito is back in the Italy team and in the form of his life. Scott Fleming writes.
Recalling Domenico Criscito to the Italy squad last Sunday was, according to Cesare Prandelli, an easy decision to make. “A very easy one.” Easy is not an adjective you could apply to the last four months of Criscito's life though.
The target of a dawn raid at Coverciano in late May, Mimmo was handed an official notice of investigation by police probing the Calcioscommesse match fixing scandal, and consequently excluded from the Azzurri's Euro 2012 squad a matter of days before the tournament began.
“I am not taking Criscito because he would have been under pressure which no human being can bear,” Prandelli reasoned at the time.
As he watched Italy and his replacement Federico Balzaretti being lavished with acclaim on their way to the Final in Kiev, the grainy image of him stood in a restaurant car park with former Genoa colleague Giuseppe Sculli and some rather dodgy characters implicated in the scandal – an image his agent claimed the entire case against him was built upon – was splashed all over the media.
The Zenit St Petersburg full-back then flew out from Russia in mid-July to appear before the FIGC's disciplinary commission in Rome, only to be told they had no further questions for him. Then, precisely a month ago, on the same day that La Nazionale faced Malta, he was finally exonerated, the case dismissed due to lack of evidence.
“I am very happy, as this is a good day for me,” said the former Juventus stopper. “At the same time I remain very angry at losing the chance to go to the Euros. If I had gone to Poland I would have been able to put that nightmare immediately behind me. Instead I spent months in hell.”
Given those comments, you might expect the rapport between Criscito, Prandelli and the FIGC to be frostier than winter in St Petersburg. But despite likening himself to the Count of Monte Cristo in an earlier interview, the 25-year-old isn't out for vengeance.
“I don't consider this call-up revenge,” he stated on Tuesday. “Rather a recognition of what I am as a player.”
Indeed he hasn't just returned to the squad, if reports are to be believed he's returned to the starting line-up for tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Armenia, edging out Balzaretti. If that is the case, then it isn't a sympathy vote, nor a welcome back gesture from Prandelli. Because during those 'months in hell' that he described, Criscito somehow managed to produce some of the best football of his career.
In August, during the biggest club game Russian football has to offer, Spartak Moscow were awarded a penalty against Zenit. In an amazing sequence of play the penalty was saved, the rebound blocked on the line, and a goal scored up the other end. Both the block and the assist for the Zenit goal were provided by Criscito. Luciano Spalletti's side went on to win 5-0, the Italian left-back playing a big part in three of the goals.
All sorts of words will be thrown around when Criscito takes the field at the Hrazdan Stadium in Yerevan, redemption and revenge among them. More important than any of that however, is the fact that Italy have recovered a very fine player.