The former Manchester United striker has suffered a significant setback in his rehabilitation from a serious knee problem, leaving club and country with issues to considerCOMMENT
By Mark Doyle
Earlier this week, Panini made headlines in Italy by revealing that neither Antonio Cassano nor Giuseppe Rossi would feature in their Euro 2012 sticker album. Cassano, of course, still has every chance of forcing his way back into the Azzurri squad for Poland and Ukraine but we now know that Rossi’s dream has died – and in particularly devastating fashion.
The Villarreal forward’s place in Cesare Prandelli’s panel had been in jeopardy from the moment he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Liga defeat at the hands of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last October, but Rossi was growing increasingly optimistic of proving his fitness before the end of the season.
Then, on Friday morning, disaster struck. Rossi collapsed in training, and his club confirmed that the worst had happened - the same ACL that had sidelined him initially had ruptured once more.
In a wider context, the agonising news gives Prandelli a real selection headache for Euro 2012; Rossi had, after all, been one of Italy’s outstanding players during their qualifying campaign, having formed a terrific partnership with Cassano. The AC Milan forward's own health issues have been well-documented, and he now has six games to get back into the reckoning as he recovers from an emergency heart procedure last November.
So how will this setback affect Prandelli’s plans? Well, Parma’s Sebastian Giovinco is likely to travel and Cassano will almost certainly be included if he manages a return to action before the season's end. But aside from those two, there isn't another forward whose form can fully justify a place in the squad - highlighting the significance of Rossi's exclusion.
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Alessandro Matri started Italy’s last friendly, against the United States in the February, but he has featured only sporadically for Juventus in recent weeks - despite being their top scorer in Serie A. There is even the possibility that the 27-year-old could lose his spot to team-mate Fabio Quagliarella, who appears to have moved ahead of the former Cagliari forward in the pecking order at Juve after finding form at precisely the right time.
And what are the chances of Alessandro Del Piero earning a dramatic late call-up? Small, yes, but the Bianconeri legend is currently the flavour of the month and if history has taught us anything, it’s that Italian football fans love nothing more than a late campaign to have an ageing trequartista taken to a major tournament.
But the most difficult decision could lie in the lap of the enigmatic Mario Balotelli. Ill-disciplined and divisive he may well be, but the Manchester City striker is also prodigiously gifted – and, crucially, is desperate for a recall. That desire could well result in the 21-year-old being easier to manage, and subsequently create a potent weapon for Prandelli at the Euros.
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Still, the former Fiorentina boss could ultimately decide that if he is to include a youngster, he would be better served by calling on Fabio Borini. The 21-year-old Roma forward produced a tremendously exciting cameo on his international debut against the USA in February to suggest that he is more than capable of fulfilling the role of impact sub in Poland and Ukraine.
Borini's Giallorossi colleague, Pablo Osvaldo, cannot be discounted either, having racked up 11 goals this season. Elsewhere, Giampaolo Pazzini has featured regularly for Italy over the past three years, but he has endured a miserable domestic campaign, netting just five goals in 29 appearances for Inter. And then there is the case of the veteran, Antonio Di Natale. The Udinese hitman is 34 now, yet he has notched 20 goals in Serie A and is by some distance the most prolific Italian striker currently operating in the top flight.
Options are plentiful for Prandelli, but none are definitive. The feeling remains that an on-form, fit, and firing Rossi is preferable to the multitude of possibilities the coach is now pondering. His absence is not only detrimental to Italy's chances of making a positive impact on Euro 2012, but Villarreal's short and long-term future have been delved into uncertainty by the cruelest of setbacks a player could have the misfortune to face.
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How the Yellow Submarine wish this season was over; an execrable campaign bringing coaching upheaval, financial insecurity and on-field underachievement. Rossi's October injury influenced all three factors - their most bankable asset, the Italian was worth an estimated €35 million as Tottenham and Barcelona flirted with the valuation. That figure is a distant memory now.
Balancing ambition and bank accounts, for a club of Villarreal's stature, represents the going concern. The Europe-wide economic downturn impacted with severe consequences, forcing the sale of Santi Cazorla to Malaga to counteract the outflow of capital. Rossi, however, was not only retained, but provided with a bumper new contract until 2016; a ruse, perhaps, to maximise his sell-on potential.
With Rossi's latest setback, Villarreal have a player who will have been out of action for over 13 months by the time he returns, struck down by a career-threatening injury, and may never return to the exemplary standard he himself has set at El Madrigal since his arrival in 2007.
It is the final, embittered blow in the year from hell. Juan Carlos Garrido and latterly Jose Molina vacated the dugout because Rossi's gaping absence simply cannot be filled, and the only solace came from the opportunity to either welcome their star back into the fold next season, or utilise his reputation, however diminished, to fund the rebuilding process. Indeed, Goal.com exclusively reported last month that the club would entertain bids in the close season.
Now, club, country, and the unfortunate striker face up to further frustration, and another period of rehabilitation, one that is likely to define whether Rossi is able to reemerge anywhere close to a €35m-rated talent once again.