By: Peter Nicolaides
Italy’s U-21 side began the tournament with a defeat to their Swedish counterparts, a result which may have been different had four ‘senior’ players been picked for the Euros
There’s a saying that there’s no substitute for experience. Money can’t buy it either. A goal and a man up going into the second-half against Sweden, the Azzurrini managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Had the likes of Marco Verratti, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia Perin and Mattia De Sciglio been there, the result may have been different.
Under UEFA rules for the competition, all players who fall into the U/21 category when qualifying for the tournament begins, are eligible to play in the competition proper. As such, the four above-mentioned players would have been eligible for being included in the Italian U/21 squad.
Against a 10-man Sweden, Marco Verratti would have been the ideal man to control the tempo of the game and dictate the play. Perin and De Sciglio would have provided calm and more experienced heads when others were losing theirs. With Sweden a man down and chasing the game, El Shaarawy would have been more than useful on the counterattack or taking the game to opponents a man short. Sadly, this never happened and won’t happen as none of these four players will feature in the remainder of the tournament.
Given SES’s injury-ravaged season, an extra run in a competitive tournament may have been exactly what the little Pharaoh would have needed. Given De Sciglio’s poor season with a dismal AC Milan side, a good run in the U/21 side would have done the Milan full-back the world of good. Above all else, there’s no substitute for international experience – which would apply to these four players.
Whilst fielding these four players would have taken an opportunity away for three other players, it would have been in the best interests of the senior side. History proves that not every player in any international U/21 side will go onto play for the senior national side, some might never play in the top-flight.
In 2011, Spain included 2010 FIFA World Cup winners Juan Mata, Javi Martinez and Pedro Rodriguez in their U/21 squad who retained the crown they’d won two years earlier by beating Italy’s U/21’s 4-2 in the final. Mata would even go on to play in the U/23 side at the Olympics – after having just won the Champions League and Euro 2012. Spain selected their best players available to them at U/21 and U/23 level, regardless of how many senior caps or senior tournaments those players had won or featured in. Spain won back-to-back Euro U/21 titles (2011 and 2013) with squads bolstered with players who’d won the 2010 World Cup or Euro 2012 with the senior national side, an example which Italy have yet to learn from.