Given his key role at Paris Saint-Germain, it is easy to forget that Marco Verratti will still only be 23 at the time of Euro 2016. For such a young man, it seems odd to suggest that his emergence as Italy’s key player is long overdue, but this is a player signed at 19 by one of the world’s richest clubs, and whose considerable talents demand that Italy should build their team around him.
Verratti moved to Paris in 2012 and has been a first-team regular ever since, featuring in almost 50 games in all competitions in 2014-15. This season has been frustrating for the diminutive Italian, with injuries limiting his appearances, but Verratti’s importance to PSG is clear, with him forming a formidable midfield trio with Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta.
Verratti’s absence through injury for much of this season has given young Frenchman Adrien Rabiot significantly more game time, but it is worth remembering that Rabiot has frequently been frustrated by his lack of action when Verratti is fit. Rabiot himself is a sought-after prospect, and is regularly linked with the likes of Juventus, Manchester United and Arsenal. If Verratti can keep him out of the PSG team when fit, it is hard to see why he has not already become a much more influential player for the Azzurri.
Injuries this season have undoubtedly played some part in this, but Antonio Conte’s decision to coax Andrea Pirlo out of international retirement has also been detrimental to Verratti’s development with La Nazionale. After the failure of the 2014 World Cup, Italy ought to have built a new team around Verratti. This opportunity was missed, and Verratti figured in only five of the 10 qualifiers for Euro 2016.
But it is not too late. Verratti’s immense potential can still be unleashed at the tournament itself. Conte has frequently discussed the midfielder’s potential, but that suggests he doesn’t realise Verratti is ready for a starring role in a major tournament for Italy.
Conte has often been loyal to players he managed at Juventus in his Italy role, which partly explains his desire to select Pirlo. It must also be difficult to plan for life after Pirlo, the focal point for Italy for over a decade. But Pirlo is now older, playing at a lower level, and less motivated. Verratti is young, playing in one of the best midfields in Europe, and determined to become Italy’s key man.
Few would claim that Verratti should not be in the Italy squad for the Euros, but it is by no means certain that he will be a first-choice starter. It is easy to imagine Verratti sitting on the bench as less talented midfielders are selected ahead of him. This would be a huge mistake on Conte’s part, as Verratti is one of the few truly outstanding Italian players currently available for selection.