Tuesday June 7 2016
Dear Lorenzo Insigne

An open letter to Lorenzo Insigne, penned by Andrea Tallarita, in which we ask the player to take responsibility as Italy's last fantasista.

Dear Lorenzo Insigne, do you remember what the customary expression is for a young, promising player who loses his way? They say that he is 'burned'. Suppose that an 18-year-old scores a couple of wonder goals: suddenly everyone – the fans, the Press, the directors – starts piling praise and pressure on him, calls him 'the new Zinedine Zidane' or 'the new Marco Van Basten', and as often as not the kid collapses. Either he never reaches his full potential, or he returns to his true level, which turns out to be mediocre. Sometimes 'the next Zidane' doesn't even make it to being the next Alberto Gilardino.

This is not your case, of course. You're almost 25, and all these years people kept overlooking you. The big upcoming striker was called Giuseppe Rossi, or Sebastian Giovinco, or Mario Balotelli. They were always the Mr Next, while you stood there, at the end of the line, at the bottom of the food chain, grateful when you were given 15 minutes at the end of a friendly against Luxembourg. You, the unburned.

Or maybe not the unburned. For a kid who clearly carries football in his DNA, it sure took a long time for you to get noticed. Two years in Lega Pro, one in Serie B, always on loan, teeth clenched and no headlines, taking lessons from the marginalised visionary of Italian football, Zdenek Zeman. Then the return to Serie A, and the rupture of the cruciate ligament: more youth gone to waste. Yours was no fairy tale, Lorenzo. You got burned all right.

Speaking frankly, we'd expect someone with your profile to have a lot more anger inside them. People who come from the bottom seldom have the patience for niceties. Zidane's head-butts, Luis 'the shark' Suarez and his biting – do you think any of that is 'madness', or 'impulse', as they call it? No, Lorenzo. You come from the same place as they did and you know what that is.

And yet you don't fit that mould at all. You're a soft-spoken, camera-shy young man, a poor public speaker, the kind that pulls the rim of his cap down in front of the fans. You look vaguely like Peter Parker before he got bitten by the spider, nerdy glasses and unimposing stature and all. If there's any hell inside you, it's buried somewhere very deep.

Perhaps all of the anger goes into the game, which would explain how you managed to score 12 goals and make 10 assists in Serie A this season. Alongside Roma's Miralem Pjanic, you're the only player in the championship to make it into double digits in both categories, and one of a very select handful in Europe. Combine that with your extraordinarily low centre of gravity (seven cm shorter than Leo Messi), which makes your switches in direction near impossible to follow, and we have something very special indeed. We have a fantasista, a number 10.

Italy have been struggling to find a player like that since their World Cup victory in 2006. The last great interpreter of the role was Francesco Totti. After that, we had only rust and broken promises. Balotelli could have been a star (still can, really), but he's not that type of footballer anyway. A fantasista is more than just a player of great skill, he's the director of an orchestra. He's the one who can score, dribble, pass, create, inspire. This year, that role and that responsibility are yours.

It has to be you, Lorenzo. We don't like to shine the spotlight your way, because we know you hate it. But if not you, who else? Federico Bernardeschi? He's a great kid, but still a kid, and everyone knows it. He hasn't been burned, not by football and not by life. Stephan El Shaarawy? He's a very interesting winger-attacker with a good nose for the goal. He could be of great use to Antonio Conte. But, like Balotelli, he's not the all-rounder type, and therefore not a fantasista.

We may be wrong about all of this, and we'd only be too happy. Imagine if, come July 10, El Sharaawy's true talent emerges and he pulls off the Goal of the Century. Imagine if Bernardeschi's game suddenly explodes. Stranger things have happened in football. We promise you, we won't be protesting.

In the meantime, like it or not, Lorenzo, you are Italy's fantasista. You alone have the numbers, and you alone have been consistently excellent at the highest levels. Also, you alone have such grace in motion, and the eagle eye to read the game from almost anywhere, threading passes and assists that nobody else imagined. This doesn't make you Italy's best player – that would have been Marco Verratti, if he'd been able to come along. But you're the one we'll turn to for the spark of inspiration, or madness, or genius. You're the fire in the ocean-blue shirt.

This is a formal welcome to you as Italy's new fantasista, Lorenzo. We hope you'll make that title yours. If you don't, we really can't see the Azzurri going anywhere in Euro 2016. The attack is their weakest department, even accounting for the defections in the midfield. The poachers are run-of-the-mill, and the creative players all have giant question marks hanging over their heads. Without a fantasista to crack open defences and get balls into the box, the Italians are going to be what they absolutely cannot afford to be: predictable.

Italy are lost, Lorenzo. It's not a nice thing to say, but that's the truth, no matter what Antonio Conte's bluster may lead you to believe. They've been groping in the dark not in the last two years but ever since 2006, when the last great fantasista returned his number 10 shirt. For too many years the sight of these ghostly Azzurri has been pitiful. They are like a chess grand master with dementia, like heavy metal with no drums, like an angel without a halo. Take them by hand to a place where they can see the light. Remind them that their colours were once worn by Valentino Mazzola, Gianni Rivera and Roberto Baggio. Remind us too, we are beginning to forget.

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Have your say...
I wish someone soon gets interested in buying Insigne, he is a liability for Napoli, but realistically speaking, no one sees anything in him, and rightly so, he is so over rated, and very limited footballistically speaking, the only thing he can do, is run with the ball from the left flank, and try to bend a shot with his right foot, some times it worked, but most times it never did. I simply do not understand why sarri insists on playing him, and leaving out much better players on the bench.
on the 17th June, 2016 at 1:41am
@Andrew LeP Your ideas make sense but if you have followed Juve this season they were exposed quiet a few times defensively by using a 4312 formation Allegri even tried out a 433 at times but that didn't work either. Looking at our talent which went to France none could adequately cover the playmaker position Insigne would be the closest but as i said before everything would have to go through him and he isn't capable of carrying the team. SES and Florenzi could play in a 433 but neither DDR nor Candreva have played well enough this season to warrant a starting position DDR even admitted to being surprised at his selection. As for Jorginho he is the only one that has a decent season. And Zaza he is a risk for sending off honestly said.
on the 11th June, 2016 at 3:20am
@al dino in a 433 or a 4312, would fit this team better and utilize florenzi candreva zaza el sha alot more than what hes doing now. hes basing his formation off the juve defense, which i dont blame him, but we have attacking potential and with these players, a more direct approach can be more comfortable and not using jorginho is a sin. in a ancelotti style 442 (433) insigne zaza candreva and florenzi de rossi jorginho. this team can play some great football and with our bench, were covered
on the 9th June, 2016 at 5:50pm
@Andrew lep I can see your point of view but as i said Insigne isnt able to carry the entire team which is required of him if Conte were to change the formation to fit Insigne's natural position. The players we have simply are not suitable to play in a formation that would fit Insigne. Also Insigne hasnt shown that type of leadership or quality to be a protagonist at the international level. But dont get me wrong Insigne is too good to be staying at home so the only option is to use him as a sub
on the 9th June, 2016 at 9:35am
As a napoli/insigne fan, I have to slightly agree with @al dino. the last 2 months of the season his performances werent the same, maybe scared to get injured? But in no way will I agree he hasnt shown what he is capable of, he had mazzarri and benitez who used him more for his stamina and ability to do everything rather than his talent, and sarri realized that and this year he exploded. he cant be a leader, but italy should be using him as a 1 of the focal points, not a 352 with giaccherini
on the 8th June, 2016 at 6:47pm
@ Di Rocco sorry i didnt realize that one game against Juve justifies a starting spot at the International level. I stand by what i said earlier Insigne doesnt have what it takes to be a central point for the Azzurri every time he has started for Italy he didnt live up to the expectations. However he did have quiet a few good games coming from the bench.
on the 8th June, 2016 at 10:10am
@Al Dino - So when his two goals took down Juve to win the Coppa, did he not show up?
on the 8th June, 2016 at 1:37am
Insigne hasnt shown what he is capable of for the past 4 years. People have expected more instead in the tough matches he disappears and btw. He isnt able to carry an entire team on his shoulders like Muller for Germany, Baggio or Totti for Italy. Sorry but the fact that he plays for Napoli makes no difference he simply isnt capable of being a leader in a starting line up.
on the 7th June, 2016 at 11:57pm
Wow didn't realize he was 25. I thought he was much younger. He is only 4 years younger than Giovinco, same age as Balotelli. Frankly even this year there were periods of inconsistency. He is our sole creative hope but will he play? He probably will because Italy will need goals when falling behind.
on the 7th June, 2016 at 6:11pm
Conte only cares about stealing Italian players and taking them to England, Insigne is one of the best players he has but won't give him any time because he plays for Napoli. Forza Napoli with Insigne we will show the Serie A next year what Italy missed out on this summer!
on the 7th June, 2016 at 4:28pm
The thing is I feel Insigne needs to start as he really is the only player capable of the flair this italy side needs. However, judging the style of play that Conte will most probably play, I can't see him starting. Maybe he will become an impact/sub kind of player.
on the 7th June, 2016 at 3:33pm
come gives us some useful reports from the camp -- like Motta is injured and gone home. Insigne needs to start IMO and DDR also instead of Motta... He's to pedestrian and will be bystander like he was against Germany. The tempo certainly increased when he came off yesterday and the players were better at the pace.
on the 7th June, 2016 at 2:47pm
Conte wont use him unless it's when they have to chase a game in the last 10 minutes. Clearly should be in the starting line -up. Will have a great chance when Conte is gone.
on the 7th June, 2016 at 12:30pm
Insigne talent is wasted by Conte, hardly used in the qualifying and by the looks it sat on the bench over Giaccherini
on the 7th June, 2016 at 10:49am
Lovely piece by Tallarita ...... FORZA AZZURRI ......
on the 7th June, 2016 at 7:39am

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