One of the major criticisms of Marcello Lippi's second reign in charge of the Italian national team was his decision to stand, rightly or wrongly, behind the bulk of the World Cup winning squad of 2006 for the 2010 qualification campaign. Fabio Cannavaro, Gennaro Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta, Mauro Camoranesi, among others, all retained their places in la Nazionale despite the toll taken by the passing years on their games.
However, his decision to finally cut loose one vital component of the class of 2006 has divided opinion in the peninsula. Fabio Grosso may not have covered himself in glory as Juventus had their worst season since returning to Serie A but there is no denying that the Rome-born left-sider is a tournament player.
In 2006 there was no Paolo Maldini available to Lippi; the veteran's place in the team went to Zambrotta and then Grosso. The ungainly Palermo player did not initially win over Italian observers, who winced at his awkward touches. However, there was to be no denying that Grosso made the left-back spot his own and played a huge part in taking Italy to the world title. His burst into the box against Australia precipitated Francesco Totti's penalty; his wonderful curled goal took the Azzurri to the final itself, in which he scored the vital penalty in the shoot-out.
At Euro 2008, Roberto Donadoni initially started with Grosso on the bench but it was not long before the misfiring side once again turned to him. Although the world champions managed only a quarter-finals exit, they were unbeaten with Grosso in the line-up and he left Austria-Switzerland as one of his team's better players.
To describe Grosso's club form coming into those two tournaments as modest would be just about apt; in 2006, Palermo were a decent side but did not rip up any trees in Serie A. Grosso was at Lyon for Euro 2008, a club at which he never truly settled. But he did not let his international side down on the big stage.
Understandably, Lippi wants to make changes to the make-up of the Italy team for World Cup 2010. He now claims he owes no 'debts of gratitude' to his 2006 winners. They have been poor for the best part of two years; decrepit at times and yet he steadfastly ignored the up and comers. Why change now with less than three weeks to go?
Maybe it is because there are murmurings that the trainer will consider a 3-4-3 formation for the tournament itself; that would certainly suit Grosso's rival for the left-wing back spot, Genoa's Domenico Criscito, who occupies that position at club level.
Even so, was Grosso the right choice for sacrificial lamb? Juventus will supply the goalkeeper and two central defenders for Italy at the tournament. Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Fabio Cannavaro were good enough to lead the Old Lady to seventh in the Italian top flight to the tune of 56 goals conceded last season. That was more than relegated Atalanta. It does not seem just that Grosso is punished for his modest season while the over-rated Chiellini and the frankly embarrassing Cannavaro remained assured of their caps in the national team.
Italy will undoubtedly require a unscripted tonic at the World Cup; Grosso provided it twice in 2006 and gave a good account of himself in 2008. Graceful he is not but he has been among Italy's best big game players at the past two tournaments. Whether or not they are now a better team without him remains to be seen.
Become a fan of Goal.com India's Facebook fan page for all the latest news and insight into everything related to the beautiful game!