The hope is to be able to count on Gigi Buffon for the upcoming friendlies against Argentina and England while Mario Balotelli is constantly being monitored and Marco Verratti is regarded as an asset for Italian football. These were some of the views expressed by Luigi Di Biagio during an exclusive interview with Alessandro Antinelli shown on Rai 2’s Il Sabato della Domenica Sportiva’.
The first thoughts naturally turned to Davide Astori. “In his own simple way, he was a key player,” said Di Biagio. “There are players who might not play so much but they’re much more important than those who’ve played in 200 matches and Davide was certainly one of these.”
Di Biagio has clear ideas ahead of the friendlies against Argentina (23rd March in Manchester) and England (27th March in London). “They’re tough games on paper but we need to show positive signs and look to get results. My aim is to bring enthusiasm back to the side, the whole movement and the country with the group a bit depressed about what happened. The guys have incredible enthusiasm as they’re ready to go again and I won’t have problems in this regard.
As was said recently in the press conference, he’s not interested in being defined as a caretaker. “I know what my role is and I have to look to do well in it. Today, the National Team needs a selector but also someone who goes on the pitch to make the guys understand what needs to be done. I feel like I’m a bit of one and a bit of the other and I’ll look to show it.
Always in his element in working with emerging young talent, Di Biagio knows that the advice and examples set by veterans can help those who are new to their Azzurri careers. This is also why he’d like to call Buffon up for the next friendlies. “I hope that Gigi comes with us. He’s taken some days to think about it and we’ll speak to one another in the coming days to understand what he wants and then I’ll decide. I have to be clear here and say that nobody is doing a favour for Buffon, I need him because he can set an example with his conduct on and off the pitch. This isn’t a parade for Gigi, but these are two exciting matches against great opponents. It’s not true that all players are the same, he’s different from the others for me.
The National Team will also have to start again with the talent of Marco Verratti who has previously been criticised for not being at his best in international football. “I trained him in the Under-20 National Team with Insigne, De Sciglio and Perin. He’s one of the strongest players in Italian football, perhaps for the National Team more is expected from him compared to the others so he’s been judged in a very harsh way. He’s an asset for us and he’ll be an important player in these next two games. I think that he needs to think about playing and enjoying himself, he needs to be relaxed with Italy and think about doing what he knows how to do.”
The Coach reiterated that doors are open to all. That includes Mario Balotelli who has not featured since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil barring a cameo in the Conte era. “We’ve sent the preliminary call-ups to a lot of different players. He’s followed by myself and all the staff and it wasn’t by chance that I went to see him play for Nice on Friday. I don’t know if he’ll be called up, he’s under the magnifying glass. He’s done good things but he needs to score and show good behaviour and then I’ll decide.”
Di Biagio is following with interest as two teams compete in a head-to-head duel for the title. “I believe that a lot will depend on the match between Juventus and Napoli. I hope that Juventus can go far in the Champions League. I really like how Napoli play, how the players move and how they’re organised. It’s almost impossible for a National Team to play like that because you have a lot less time to work with the team. But, we need to create an identity and that’s what I’ll look to do with the advantage of having known these guys for many years.” Special mention also went to the work being done by Gasperini, Simone Inzaghi and Gattuso. “The position of the Lazio midfielders is very interesting as they don’t give a point of reference. Atalanta always want to attack the opponent, they play expressive football that has achieved some significant results. With Rino (Gattuso), he’s done incredible things and he’s shown to everyone that it’s not true that Bonucci can’t play well in a back four.”