Do World Cup flops Italy need to introduce a limit on foreigners in Serie A?

El Shaarawy Parolo Italy
There have been fresh calls for a nationality-based quota to aid the development of local talent — but it would be illegal, ineffective and xenophobic

Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup provoked understandable fury across the country. However, as both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have already shown, the principal problem with anger is that it clouds judgment.

So, when a clearly still irate Paolo Cannavaro took to Instagram less than an hour after the final whistle had blown at San Siro on Monday night, he made the mistake of lashing out at the right people but for the wrong reason.

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"Guys, we didn’t lose the World Cup today," he wrote. "We lost it 15 years ago when, thanks to incredible cashing in by those in the football world, Italy brought in flops from every area of the world to unfairly steal places from our lads."

Cannavaro was right to go after the major power-brokers in Italian football, but to suggest that the influx of foreign players was somehow to blame for Calcio's current predicament was as incorrect as it was ignorant. 

Paolo Cannavaro PS

Of the 454 players used in Serie A this season, 208 are Italian. That means that 45.81 per cent of the league's players were available for selection for the play-off with Sweden. 

One might think that a top flight with a majority of foreign players would be a major hindrance to fielding a strong national team — but it's not. 

Nearly 60% of the players in the Premier League are foreign, yet England cruised through their qualification for Russia 2018. Indeed, the Three Lions haven't failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1994, when their top flight was primarily comprised of Englishmen. 

More local talent playing regular top-flight football doesn't equal international success. It is a question of quality — not quantity.

Germany proves the point. Only 42.28% of the players presently plying their trade in the Bundesliga can be picked by Joachim Low — yet the reigning world champions won this summer's Confederations Cup with a second-string squad while their Under-21s were triumphing in the European Championship in Poland.

Home Players Big Five Leagues PS

Yet many Italians are now claiming that foreign players are — at least partly — to blame for Italy's woes. Even Gianluca Vialli agrees. 

When asked on Thursday by the Gazzetta dello Sport what he would do to cure the ills of Italian football if given a magic wand, the former Chelsea striker replied: "I would go to UEFA and I would ask for a special dispensation to make an extraordinary intervention: limiting the number of foreigners to encourage the clubs to invest in youth."

This is both a ludicrous and dangerous stance, particularly in Italy where immigration is a highly divisive issue. 

Vialli and Cannavaro want major change at the Italian Football Federation, yet their xenophobic views are shared by the organistion's current president, Carlo Tavecchio.

"In England, the non-European Union players must prove they’re worthy of playing in the Premier League," the FIGC president stated in 2014. "Here, in Italy, we have 'Opti Poba', who was eating bananas yesterday but is now a regular at Lazio."

Carlo Tavecchio PS

Tavecchio expressed that shocking opinion during his election campaign. One cannot now help but wonder if he triumphed in spite of his attitude towards foreigners or because of them, given there are now fresh calls for a nationality-based quota to be introduced. 

They will fall on deaf ears, anyway, at least in terms of players from the European Union. 

The Economic Community treaty "entails the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment", meaning all employees are entitled to work free of any restrictions on movement.

Of course, tighter controls could be introduced on non-EU players but, thankfully, there are those who appreciate that Italy's issues lie elsewhere.

"[The amount of foreigners] is not the problem," Torino president Urbano Cairo reasoned in an interview with Gazzetta on Thursday. "The number [in Italy] is similar to those of the other important European countries. 

"What we need to do is create the right conditions for the talents to emerge, by investing in their training and that of their coaches.

"I'm in favour of the second teams to get the boys to mature. And then it would be right to introduce a rule that obliges the clubs to allocate a share of the turnover to the academy investment."

These are the kind of ideas that would make a real, positive difference in Italy. 

At present, a Serie A side is only obliged to invest 10% of its profits in the youth sector. As the Gazzetta argued this week, it should be 10% of the total income. 

The lack of reserve teams in Italy is also a major issue, as it means that many talented youngsters go straight from the Primavera to the senior squad's bench.

And they are talented. The idea that Italy is no longer producing quality young players is a fallacy. 

Urbano Cairo PS

At the aforementioned U-21 European Championship, Italy field a starting line-up containing Gianluigi Donnarumma, Daniele Rugani, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Federico Bernardeschi, Mattia Caldara, Roberto Gagliardini, Marco Benassi, Andrea Petagna and Federico Chiesa.

The majority are also seeing regular Serie A game time — Chiesa (970 minutes), Benassi (929), Caldara (900), Rugani (900), Gagliardini (745), Petagna (599), Pellegrini (542) — while the 18-year-old Donnarumma is one of only 17 men to have played every minute of the season so far.

Incidentally, 11 of the other 16 ever-presents are Italian — and one of them is Cannavaro. If foreigners can't take the place of a middling 36-year-old centre-back, they definitely can't be blamed for blocking the path of Italy's most exciting youngsters. 

It is not foreigners who are picking the teams but men like Gian Piero Ventura — a coach who deemed it a good idea to play 4-2-4 against Spain in the World Cup qualifiers, and bring Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne on in midfield in Sweden.

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Those decisions were on the coach. And his appointment was on Tavecchio. And his election was on all of the major power-brokers in Italian football.

When Germany hit rock bottom after Euro 2000, they realised that the whole system needed to be overhauled. Now, they have quality youngsters performing before sell-out crowds in impressive arenas and winning titles with the national team.

If Italy don't follow the Germans' lead by taking advantage of this humiliating exit to tear up the whole system and start over, that's on them — not the foreigners.