x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Something very un-Italian going on in Italian football

Some thoroughly un-Italian scorelines are beginning to define the Serie A title-race, at least.

Some thoroughly un-Italian scorelines are beginning to define the Serie A title-race, at least if you cling to the idea that football in Italy is about mean defences, tactical straitjackets and an economy of effort in attack.

Inter Milan and Roma shared eight goals in the weekend's standout fixture, while AC Milan, the league leaders, drawing 1-1 with Genoa, let three points turn into one for the second time in their last five outings.

Too much more of this and we should become as flexible as Cesare Prandelli, the national coach, in defining what counts as "typically Italian".

Inter, the reigning Italian champions, Coppa Italia, European Cup and Club World Cup holders, have been famously un-Italian for years, in as far as they achieved their recent successes with few native players in their squad.

When Mario Balotelli, the striker, played no part in Inter's Champions League final victory against Bayern Munich last May and was then sold to Manchester City, it looked as if Inter were becoming even more exclusively un-Italian.

But the club's activities in the last transfer window signalled a shifting emphasis.

Though players from Africa - Houssine Kharja, on loan from Genoa, is a Morocco international - and Asia - Yuto Nagamoto, the Japan left-back, has come in from Cesena - add to the exotic mosaic that is Inter, the serious outlays in January went on Italians.

Andrea Ranocchia was signed from Genoa for more than €12 million (Dh60m) and Giampaolo Pazzini, from Sampdoria, for not much less. Both are in the Italy squad to face Germany in an international friendly tomorrow.

Inter's Brazilian-born midfielder Thiago Motta was also picked for the first time by Prandelli, pending official confirmation of his eligibility for the Azzurri from Fifa.

The doubt springs not from the fact of Motta's passport - since his teens he has been an Italian citizen, as his grandfather was - but from the fact he has represented a national team from the country of his birth, Brazil, some eight years ago, in the Gold Cup.

Fifa rules stipulate that a dual-national can choose between his possible countries only if he has not played a competitive senior game for a different country. Motta argues that Brazil's 2003 Gold Cup side was an Under 23 squad.

There is a long tradition of so-called "oriundi", foreigners, playing for the Azzurri, going back to the Brazil-born Jose Altafini in the 1960s. Under Prandelli, Amauri, a Brazilian striker who only came to Italy in his 20s, has been capped.

In Motta, Prandelli sees the sort of competitive and mobile central midfielder he feels short of. Motta has an interesting background in the game.

Growing up in Brazil, he benefited from one of the world's most fertile football cultures, developing his powerful left foot.

At 16, he enrolled at La Masia, the fabled youth academy of Barcelona and, at 19, was making his debut in the first XI for the Catalan club.

He would win league titles there, and was in the squad that won the Champions League in 2006.

But Motta also had bad luck with injuries, accelerating a move to Atletico Madrid, and from there Genoa, from whom Inter signed him in the summer of 2009.

The dynamism and a touch of pugnacity that were apparent in his early years at Barcelona have been revived in Serie A, as has Motta's eagerness to advance from deeper positions and look for goals.

Against Roma, Motta scored his fourth in Serie A this season. It was important goal, too, Inter's fourth in the 5-3 win that took them clear of Lazio at third in the table, five points behind Milan with a game in hand.

Motta's club, with seven wins from their last eight league games, have a momentum right now, and Prandelli can study their games with much more than just an academic interest.

 

sports@thenational.ae