Thursday June 2 2011
The Outsider

He's wanted by the world's best team, but Giuseppe Rossi isn't a regular starter for Italy just yet. Scott Fleming wonders why

He scored 18 goals in La Liga this season and is Barcelona's No 1 transfer target, with the newly crowned champions of Europe reportedly willing to part with €30m to secure his services. However, Giuseppe Rossi's place in Italy's first XI is far from assured.

If, as expected, he starts tomorrow night's qualifier against Estonia in Modena, it will be his 12th Azzurri start, and only his fifth in competitive circumstances. Italy has always had a slightly awkward relationship with its adopted son, never quite sure what to make of the kid from New Jersey.

He moved from the land of opportunity to the land of his forefathers – the reverse Corleone – at the tender age of 12, to join Parma's youth system. Just five years later he was on the move again, snapped up by Manchester United before Italy really had a chance to see what he was capable of.

A few appearances off United's bench and an ill fated loan spell with Newcastle later, Rossi returned to the peninsula, and to Parma, and this time around his ability became abundantly clear. Nine was the magic number, as the 19-year-old rattled in nine goals in 19 games during his loan spell in Emilia Romagna, almost single handedly saving Claudio Ranieri's Gialloblu from relegation.

That was the moment when Italy's elite clubs could and should have pursued the pint sized attacker, but instead it was left to Villarreal to prize him away from Manchester for a relatively paltry sum of £6.6m.

In the four years he has spent in the tiny city in the province of Castellon Rossi, he has matured into one of Europe's best strikers, and the folly of the Italian outfits that ignored him has been brought into sharp focus. In La Liga alone the Teaneck-native has netted a whopping 51 goals for the Yellow Submarines, compare that with the likes of Bernardo Corradi and Marco Di Vaio, other Italian forwards that tried to make it in Spain and sunk beneath the waves.

But what of the Azzurri? There remains a nagging sense that the 24-year-old's potential is untapped as far as La Nazionale is concerned. Even in the age of enlightenment that is Cesare Prandelli's reign as Italy Head Coach, Rossi has started just one competitive fixture, this during an era that could hardly be described as a golden one for Italian strikers, as evidenced by Alberto Gilardino's ability to sneak into every squad announcement.

Not that playing in a particular country should guarantee anyone a starting berth, but at a time when we're regularly reminded of La Liga's supposed supremacy over Serie A, perhaps Italy should be more accommodating to a striker who has scored with such reckless abandon in that League.

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