Alessandro Nesta believes it is time for Italian football to go back to the drawing board after their World Cup disappointment was followed by just one Italian player, former Torino striker Ciro Immobile, appearing on the 2014 Goal 50 list.
Much was expected of the side Cesare Prandelli took to Brazil and hopes remained high when they opened their campaign with a 2-1 victory against England. However, successive defeats by Costa Rica and Uruguay sent them home after the group phase, with Prandelli resigning his position as head coach.
That came on the back of another fruitless season in Europe for Serie A clubs. It is four years since the Champions League trophy went to Italy, when Inter Milan beat Bayern Munich courtesy of a brace from Diego Milito.
Nesta, like Milito a Sony Team Ambassador during the World Cup, believes that for Italy to move forward the focus has to be on youth football. “It’s going to be hard, behind the old guard I don’t see many players up to the challenge,” he said. “It will take time, but in Italy it’s necessary to stimulate the activity of the youth sectors. Nowadays they’re too many foreign players on the youth categories too.
“I think the technical skills are still basic, fundamental. When you’re an eight-year old kid you have to learn only this, then later, when you’re older and your role is more defined, coaches may teach you tactics and so on. But the technique is fundamental.”
Not that Nesta wants to further dilute in the short term the strength of Serie A, which he ranks only fourth among Europe’s elite. “The Premier League is currently the best one, then comes the German Bundesliga, then La Liga – with two or three good teams, and not so many others – and after that Serie A,” he said. Immobile himself has moved to Borussia Dortmund, faced with the difficult task of replacing Robert Lewandowski.
There were other Italian-based players on the Goal 50 list, with Roma boasting the Bosnian Miralem Pjanic and Ivorian Gervinho, the latter scoring twice at the World Cup. Juventus’s coveted midfielders Arturo Vidal (Chile) and Paul Pogba (France) also featured, the former in ninth place, with Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), who has four World Cup assists to his name, in there too.
Asked if he could see his heir among the current Italian defenders, Nesta added: “I don’t think so, behind Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci there’re no young players with real prospects. Italian youth sectors didn’t care that much about defence in the last years.”
But Italian football, of course, remains close to his heart. He was asked which team he feels most closely associated with, Lazio or AC Milan. “I grew up at Lazio, while with AC Milan I won most of my trophies. They’re both important loves of my career and life,” he said.
And the best player he every played with? No hesitation. “Ronaldo,” he said, referring to the great Brazilian. “When he arrived at AC Milan he wasn’t at his best anymore, but he was still an amazing player.”