The Italian national team recently started a new campaign after having earned a spot outside of this year’s World Cup. An astonishing disappointment that has not occurred in 60 years. Newly appointed head coach, Roberto Mancini, ushers in a new era of Italian football promising to be younger and more dynamic in an effort to reclaim the past years of Italian football glory. Many look to Lorenzo Insigne, the Neapolitan born winger, as the veteran to lead this group back to triumph, while others are just as quick to leave him on the bench and allow a new face to emerge. After an uninspiring 1-1 draw with Poland and an equally disappointing 1-0 loss to Portugal, the Italian national team has more questions than answers and Insigne has once again become the center of controversy surrounding the team.
Insigne has been compared to the greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi while having been proclaimed Italy’s new wonder-kid after dancing around Florentine defenders at the San Paolo in 2012 where fellow Neapolitan inched to the edge of their seat every time he touched the ball. The home town hero known as “Lorenzo Il Magnifico” had the opportunity to remind Napoli fans and Italians of that time long ago when Napoli hosted Fiorentina today and he did not disappoint. Scoring the game winner in a 1-0 victory at the San Paulo and looking the most dangerous man on the pitch, a striker version of Insigne was released in Carlo Ancelotti’s latest attempt at forming a new identity for the Partenopei.
While I would certainly not be so audacious as to compare Insigne’s quality to the likes of Maradona or Messi, there may be a connection to the latter that oft gets overlooked. Insigne like Messi is a reserved individual who prefers to stay out of the cameras and care for his family while away from the pitch. Whilst Messi prefers the right side of the pitch, Insigne chooses the left, as he, like Messi, enjoys dribbling to a more central spot where he can unleash his right foot or find a crossing pass to an onrushing teammate. Observing the skills of both players, one would suggest they are the ideal “trequartista” or “fantasista”. The Italian #10 that controls the play in the attacking zone. Yet, again like Messi, Insigne has struggled in the past when placed in a more central role. Both players have been the focal point of criticism for their respective countries as fans place the weight of each loss upon their shoulders..
Under Ancelotti, Insigne had appeared, until today, to be the square peg in the round hole. A team full of flexible players able to occupy different positions and roles in varying formations, Insigne was the fixed asset. A labeled player that fits one position and forces a manager to build the squad around him or without him. It seems after today’s match against Fiorentina, Ancelotti intends to not just build around Insigne but feature him. Lined up in a 4-4-2, Insigne played alongside, and to the right even, of Dries Mertens at the top of the attack and continued in that role even after Mertens was subbed out for pure striker, Arkadiusz Milik. This change by Ancelotti payed off as well, as Milik saw a beautiful through ball into Lorenzo, who scored the game winning goal.
We have witnessed the dysfunction of teams built around a single quality player with Argentina and Messi. While not built around him, Insigne seems out of place on the Italian national team where a lack of a true striker and quality midfielders dampens his ability to make plays. There is plenty of quality on this Napoli side however, and Insigne demonstrated his capability when paired with his skilled teammates. Players of quality will always rise to the occasion and have a purpose when placed in the hands of an adept manager.
While criticism and disappointment in the Italian team continues to swirl, we were instead gifted a lively performance that will perhaps cast doubt aside and silence the critics, at least, for a little while. Perhaps fans of the Italian national team should enjoy and appreciate the outstanding player Lorenzo Insigne is instead of chastising him for not being the player they want to see and, alternatively, question the manner in which he is utilized.