Andrea Barzagli was inconsolable. His tearful statement, “In a few years nobody will remember anything about this Nazionale,” came in the aftermath of Italy’s penalty shootout defeat to Germany in the Euro 2016 Quarter-finals.
As it stands, the match in Bordeaux will be Barzagli’s last in the famous blue shirt. An international career spanning 12 years and 61 appearances, he was a 2006 World Cup winner.
“I’ll leave the Azzurri after the Euros. It’s right to give the younger players a chance.” Barzagli made that announcement late last year, after Italy had sealed their spot in France. The emotion of his post-match interview suggests he won’t go back. That is, unless Italy can change Barzagli’s mind.
The Azzurri were criticised before heading to France, but confidence grew after victory over Belgium. They expertly dispatched of Spain and fell agonisingly short against the Germans – Barzagli one of those to net in the shootout.
Antonio Conte moulded a group exhibiting tremendous team spirit. The Juventus defence consisting of Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, as well as Gianluigi Buffon, proved the pillars. They rarely featured as a unit for Juve in 2016 due to Chiellini’s persistent injuries, but called the best defensive unit by teammates and opponents, it was easy to see why. Perhaps the emotion of a strenuous month which Italy weren’t ready to see end got the better of the 35-year-old.
Now they start a new era under Giampiero Ventura. Reports suggest he does not want to make sweeping changes right away. That includes not losing Barzagli.
“Never say never,” Claudio Orlandini, Barzagli’s agent, said last week. “He started out with an idea, but thoughts can change. People in the national team asked him to stay.”
With good reason too. Not that Italy don’t have good youngsters on the rise, because Daniele Rugani and Alessio Romagnoli are just that. But with a qualifying date with Spain in October, the new coach wants as settled a team as possible.
Should Barzagli stick by his decision, Italy would be losing the best defender of the trio. The brains of the operation. Barzagli is rarely flustered and rarely beaten. He does not receive the plaudits of his partners in crime, but is just as valuable.
And that’s what Ventura sees. Whether he would go all the way to Russia remains to be seen, but the incoming tactician is hoping to keep a player who can still play a part in helping Italy get there.