By Kris Voakes
This isn’t the first time the whole of Italy has seemingly wanted Francesco Totti back in a national team shirt.
Four years ago, his performances for Roma had the entire country talking about a possible recall for Er Pupone, and even his wife Ilary Blasi made it public that she thought he ought to come out of international retirement to go to South Africa. Totti later admitted that he would travel if given the opportunity, but Marcello Lippi’s snub appeared to signal the end of his Italy career once and for all.
Now, having recently turned 37, Totti is the talk of every town once more. His dazzling displays for a currently all-conquering Roma side thriving off the club captain’s leadership have been the greatest feature of an exciting beginning to the Serie A season, again bringing the prospect of a Totti return into the national consciousness.
The difference this time around is that current national coach Cesare Prandelli seems more than ready to entertain the possibility of recalling one of the most naturally talented players ever to pull on an Azzurri shirt.
In a week during which he has been called everything from “one of the greatest ever” to “immortal” the Goal World Player of the Week also received the endorsement of Prandelli, who announced at a press conference: “If we were nearing the World Cup, I’d call on Totti without a doubt.
“I hope that he can maintain his condition, as the priorities for the World Cup are related to athletics. I want players who are strong, as physical condition will be decisive.
|HOW TOTTI RANKS ALONGSIDE CURRENT ITALY CROP|
|2013/14||During Prandelli's reign||Italy record|
“I have to consider many things but, at the moment, Totti is in great shape. I will assess some players, such as Antonio Cassano as well, a month before the World Cup.”
And why not? Totti is quite simply the best Italian footballer in the world right now, and so a recall to the national set-up is a no-brainer. Some have suggested that it is a ridiculous move to bring in a 37-year-old when younger options are available, but since when has the business of football been about anything other than winning? And right at this moment Totti represents the Azzurri’s best hope of doing exactly that.
The suggestion that Totti’s return may take opportunities away from the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy and Lorenzo Insigne need to remember exactly what the aim is. Yes, giving experience to young players is important, but is it more pertinent than winning a World Cup? And besides, when the likes of Alberto Gilardino are still getting regular calls into the national squad, then there is clearly space for somebody of Totti’s quality.
Over the past few months there has appeared an increasing weight on the shoulders of Mario Balotelli for both club and country. At the moment, the former Inter and Manchester City man is the key figure for AC Milan and Italy, and at some point that needs to be addressed. The best way to neuter the issue is by Prandelli bringing in a player who gives him further options up top.
Some may see that as changing the team’s entire approach for the sake of bringing in Totti. Some believe that priority should be given to finding the right formation and the right formula within the pool of players who have been available for the past three years; those who have previously helped Italy to qualify for the World Cup in the first place. Some also point to the increased demands of tournament football, when games come every five or six days, rather than seven.
But if there has been one stand-out feature of Prandelli’s Italy it has been the way in which the coach has been willing to make changes to the set-up depending on the situation presented to him. If Totti is fit and available come June, then there is absolutely no reason why the commissario tecnico should leave him at home. Even in 2006, when he was only just recovering from a broken ankle, he was considered important enough to take to Germany. It was the right decision then, and taking him to Brazil is the right decision now.
If anyone can make the difference when it matters for Italy, it is Totti.