Italy’s most recent squad has raised eyebrows due to it’s apparent lack of quality. The probable starting eleven for the side’s upcoming friendly encounter against England caused an even larger uproar and has led many to question the talent pool, Azzurri boss Antonio Conte has to choose from. This piece is the first of many in a series and will begin by evaluating the state of Italian goalkeepers.
One crucial aspect of any great team is having a great goalkeeper. Over the past major tournaments, football fans have witnessed some truly outstanding goalkeeping displays. At the 2006 World Cup, it was Gianluigi Buffon backstopping Italy to glory. In 2008 to 2012 it was Spain’s Iker Casillas who was at the top of his game. Now it appears it’s Manuel Neuer’s turn to steal the headlines. From Dino Zoff to Walter Zenga to Angelo Peruzzi,all the way to Italy’s current custodian Gianlugi Buffon, the Azzurri have always been notorious for producing top class keepers. With the quality of the players in the national team coming into question as of late, I will take a deeper look at Antonio Conte’s options between the sticks both now and in the future.
Let’s begin by the eternal Gianluigi Buffon. At 37 years young, the Juventus captain has not shown any signs of slowing down and relinquishing his role as Italy’s number one goalkeeper. In fact, Buffon has only conceded 13 goals on the season, a number only Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer can match. In addition to this, you will be hard-pressed to find a better leader in the locker room than the Juventus keeper. Moreover, over the last few seasons the Italy international appears to be in top shape and has put the injury problems that have plagued him in the past behind him. Despite not getting any younger, Buffon is still, very much,Antonio Conte’s best option at the goalkeeper position.
Another Italian goalkeeper who has proven himself to be more than qualified on the international stage is Paris Saint-Germain’s Salvatore Sirigu. Following his move to the French giants from Palermo, the 28 year old shot stopper has won a league title as well as a cup honor. After becoming his side’s first team goalkeeper, Sirigu has gained invaluable experience in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League. One main criticism of goalkeepers in the past attempting to replace Buffon, has been their lack of experience on the world stage. Given Federico Marchetti’s poor World Cup in South Africa after Buffon injured himself, this is completely understandable. In this respect, Sirigu is more than ready and has established himself as one of the top keepers in the world. When Buffon decides to call it a day, the former Palermo man will be seen as a lock to replace him.
Genoa’s Mattia Perin is yet another keeper who deserves recognition. In his first season in Serie A with Pescara, the former U-21 international displayed his ability such as his great reflexes and aggressiveness but also demonstrated his shortcomings as a young keeper. When the delfini got relegated, Perin then went to Genoa where he grew leaps and bounds as a player. In only his third full season in Serie A, the 22 year old now finds himself as a regular on the Italian national team. With Buffon aiming to play at one last World Cup in 2018, Perin will likely have to take a backseat for a bit longer. With that being said, the Genoa keeper still has age on his side. By 2018, he will only be 25 years old and nearing his prime as a player. He will then have to compete with a 31 year old Sirigu and perhaps others for the number one role. Should he continue his development as a player, you would fully expect Perin to be ready for the position. However, it is crucial, in my opinion, that he moves to a bigger club to play on the world stage with more regularity. Finding a suitor for the player shouldn’t be too much of the problem as his performances for Genoa have put top clubs in Italy and from abroad on alert.
While right now Buffon, Sirigu and Perin appear to be the national team’s goalkeepers for the foreseeable future, that’s not to say that other viable candidates will not emerge. Cesena’s Nicola Leali and Chievo’s Francesco Bardi both look like they have what it takes to play for the national team moving forward. At the tender ages of 22 and 23 respectively, they still have ways to go to be even considered for the position. Leali and Bardi are no strangers to representing Italy and have done so all the way from the U-17 setup to the U-21 national team and will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to do so in the future under Antonio Conte. Like Perin though, they will have to prove themselves on a bigger stage. Seeing that Leali is owned by Juventus and Bardi is owned by Inter, both keepers may get their shot to do so. In addition to Leali and Bardi, honorable mentions go out to Udinese wonder-kid Simone Scuffet and Atalanta’s Marco Sportiello. Last season, when a 17 year old Scuffet made his debut in Serie A, he took the league by storm with a string of top performances. After suffering a long term injury, however, the young keeper lost his place in the side to Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis. Due to the Greek international’s good form, he is yet to be dropped and Scuffet has watched his teammate from the sidelines. Sportiello, on the other hand, took full advantage of the opportunity Atalanta presented him. When Atalanta sold Andrea Consigli to Sassuolo without buying a replacement, many were left confused. The orobici then named Sportiello as their number one keeper and he has since cemented himself in that role. While it does not appear that he has the personality and talent to become Italy’s next great keeper, the 22 year old is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Historically, Italy has always had great goalkeepers donning the famous Azzurro blue. Moving forward, this looks like it will be the case as well as following Buffon’s inevitable retirement, there are a plethora of young keepers ready make the step up. Despite not producing as many talents as they normal would in the past, top Italian keepers are still present. With Euro 2016 around the corner, Conte may have to make a few uncomfortable selections in other positions, he will be feeling rather good about his options in goal. Overall, Italy fans shouldn’t lose too much sleep over the goalkeeping position as it appears they are well covered.
Have your say now: Do you think Italy are as secure in goal as I do or do you think Italy lack options in this regard? Let me know either @GCaltabanis_27 or @ItalianFD.
In the following segment of this series, I will take a look at the state of Italian defenders.