Steve Wilson at Channel4.com makes a good point in asking this important question. We know, from past experience, that Italy does not traditionally give very young players a chance immediately in the National Team. I believe Baggio was 24 before he became a regular, and Del Piero 22. Rossi is 21 and now just getting his chance, but rarely will you hear of an 18 year old phenom making the team (Balotelli for example). Is this a good thing?
Personally I think it is.
I argue that it is because our young phenom's stay with the team for longer periods of time than phenom's from other countries.
I think the pressure of performing on the international stage at an early age might be too much for the immature minds of teenagers. The spotlight and pressure can often be too much and cause them to fold. Before they gain the necessary experience and maturity by performing for the clubs at the top level for several years, they shouldn't be burdened with being stars on the National Teams.
These kids need to make mistakes, and mistakes made at club level are much more innocuous than mistakes made at National Level where criticism is much greater. The criticism being much greater because the mistakes are much more significant. Consider that a National Team will have played an equivalent of one club season in the whole two years of qualifying and during a major tournament. National teams have less time to gel as a team than club teams, and mistakes can be much more costly.
Missing a sitter in a club game affords much more flexibility as there remains a full season to make up for the gaffe, but one mistake in a tournament can cost you the tournament itself.
Therefore, I think gaining the requisite experience at the club level is much more important before the burden of National Team performance hits the youth.
The other question is a matter of physical development.
Many of these kids are not fully developed before mid-20's and the additional strain put on their musculoskeletal structures can cause compounding injuries that reduce their shelf life.
Ronaldo and Michael Owen are two examples of this. Rooney could very well become another, as Messi if he is not careful. Why do you think that Barcelona is so adamant that he not be used in tournaments such as the Olympics, etc? They don't want to have to nurse him back from injury of being used too often. Much has to do with the fact that he suffers from a mild form of Hashimoto's disease, which affects connective tissue - a condition that caused Messi to leave Argentina and seek out treatment in Spain at a young age. Barcelona has nursed this boy from a young age, and therefore feel a strong responsibility for his well being.
That said, the mental and additional physical stresses placed on these players is not necessary.
Italy want their Balotelli's, Giovinco's to truly be the next generation, and to have them play a few full seasons in Serie A where they are competing at the top of their game is essential before they are given International duties.
That's my 2cents, and Steve Wilson of Channel4.com seems to agree:
Blog: Help the Aged
Christian Maggio is another late bloomer to be handed an Azzurri call, but Steve Wilson asks if Italy should be giving caps to youngsters instead
Is it better to be a late bloomer than a teenage sensation? If you are an Italian footballer the former is certainly just as appealing an option as the latter. Look at recent call-ups to the Azzurri squad and you will see a surprising number of older players making their debut, but not too many sparkling youngsters getting an early taste of La Nazionale.
Max Tonetto, debut aged 33 in March 2007. Cristian Brocchi, debut aged 30 in November 2006. Tommaso Rocchi, debut aged 28 in August 2006. Alessandro Gamberini and Andrea Dossena, both given their debut aged 26 in October 2007. Now in the current squad Christian Maggio is looking to make his bow aged 26 at the weekend, six years after his last Under-21 cap.
Contrast the approach of giving a shot to aging players in fine form with the attitude towards talented youngsters. Mario Balotelli and Sebastian Giovinco - both supremely gifted players but neither of them look particularly close to getting a phone call from Marcello Lippi. How many other nations around Europe would overlook such bright young things?
It is in Italy's DNA to lean towards the older end of the spectrum. You can see that in the long and established international careers of men like Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Dino Zoff and Alessandro Del Piero. Even current stars like Antonio Di Natale only broke into the set-up at an advanced age, and despite his precocious talent Antonio Cassano, at 26, has just 15 caps.
But is this trend really such a bad thing? It is easy to look enviously at England, where Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott have been thrown straight in, or at Spain or Germany, where Cesc Fabregas and Lukas Podolski are already crucial squad members. However, consider this - Italy are reigning world champions, have a decent side and still have the option to bring in these boys.
It would be different if the Azzurri were struggling to qualify for major events - or missing them altogether. Then the desperation to fling caps at any teen who shows the faintest hint of talent would be understandable. But, until there are serious problems on the pitch, we can be proud that Italy can afford to leave the youths at home. At least they will get their chance as late bloomers.
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In the modern game it is largely undisputed that any team left in the last 16 of the Champions League would beat any International side, even if that meant taking the players from the club side to field the national team. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one and for the purposes of this point, is the fact that players at club level enjoy far more time together and are a finer tuned and refined team than any national side can be.
Accepting there is a finite amount of time for players on the international stage to both gain experience and gel as a team, I would argue that fielding late bloomers over younger talents is a dangerous game. The Azzurri should qualify for the World Cup in South Africa without too much concern, certainly with enough comfort margin that affords an opportunity to blood some younger players in readiness for the inevitable contribution that will be required from them when the tournament proper comes around. Is it fair to expect relative international level novices, however gifted as players, to stroll into an international tournament and make a real impact?
The wheels are creaking on many of the World Cup winning players, and Italy will need the younger players who are yet to be afforded places in Lippi’s team to carry the fight in defence of that title. I just think it is only fair they are given a fighting chance to prepare before we judge them on the highest stage. I realise it is a delicate balancing act, bringing through the youngsters under the guidance of the more senior players, but we are not seeing any evidence of this at the moment. In reality the ‘late bloomers’ mentioned in the Blog don’t even have much European Club experience whereas the younger stars that have been overlooked largely play for clubs that are competing in the best club competitions and are training with better players on a daily basis. Let’s just hope Marcello has it all under his precocious control.
Youth over experience isn't always the best selection. There are positions where you need experience. For example, giving a CB his Azzurri debut in a World Cup match v Brazil isn't the smartest choice.
I believe that if you are playing well at the time then you should be given the chance to play - It's a good opportunity to see if they cut the grade at that level and the experience they will gain could see them become gems! Luca Toni was a late developer and he took his opportunities to cement his place and become a crucial element in the World Cup success, and although Di Natale was disappointing in the Euro's, he has proved that he is a consistent performer in qualifying games and I believe he's of real benefit to the side if he can keep it going until 2010.
In a relatively easy group as it seems, I think Lippi is confident enough in Italy securing their qualification and is rightly using it as an experiment to test out fresh blood (late bloomers as well as youth - lets not forget that in addition to the players mentioned in the blog, he has called up Rossi, Nocerino and Montolivo also) in a competitive environment as opposed to pointless friendlies.
I believe that when it comes down to the 2010 World Cup I think that you will see the core players or spine from from 2006 mixed with the correct balance of youth and players of the moment - but it's only right that those players they should get the playing time to gain the experience required. This experimenting could potentially cause an ugly qualifying campaign, but if Lippi can get the formula right by adding surprise elements to what we know we have already got, then surely Italy will reap the rewards and a new legacy will follow.
Onofrio Sanfilippo, Guildford, Surrey