Bish's Briefs - The great demise of Italian defending

By 27 January 2010 07:09

Inter Milan stretched their lead over city rivals AC to nine points on Sunday night following a 2-0 win for which they played 64 minutes a man down after the early dismissal of Wesley Sneijder.

They were further reduced to nine men in stoppage time when Lucio was sent-off for a second bookable offence. A priceless win when many expected a resurgent Milan to end Jose Mourinho's eight-year unbeaten home record in league football.

It was a disappointing night for followers of the Rossoneri, including their many followers on these shores after David Beckham's return this month. His dream to add a Scudetto title to his Premier League and La Liga titles may have to wait another season - during which time Leonardo and the backroom staff at Milan need to address a significant problem affecting their side.

A look at the back four of AC on Sunday night highlights where their real flaw lies. Forget the average age of the side, there is no better place for an ageing footballer than under the guidance of the Milanello labs, but for a club whose history is built upon a foundation of stoic defending, the current crop do not fit the bill.

But are they part of a trend that is holding back their club or diminishing Italian football both domestically and internationally?

When I first started watching football, AC Milan were the finest club side on the planet. Between 1988-1994 they won four League titles, three European Cups, four Italian Super Cups & three UEFA Super Cups.

It was a side scattered with gold dust from three-time European Footballer of the Year Marco van Basten to the relentless running of Ruud Guillit. The savvy of Dejan Savicevic to the finesse of Frank Rijkaard. However, their success was built upon a back-four that contained two players so good that they retired their shirt numbers when they retired - both in their forties - Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

Between them they played nearly 1200 League games for Milan giving a combined 44 years of playing service. One club men who won thirteen League Titles and eight European Cups between them. Loyal custodians to their club, they were assisted by other great Italian defenders, such as Alessandro Costacurta & Mauro Tassotti.

On Sunday night as AC looked to close the gap on city rivals Inter to within striking distance, their back-four read : Thiago Silva, Giuseppe Favalli, Ignazio Abate & Luca Antonini. Shocking. Far from acceptable for a club currently second best in Italy regardless of the fact they were without Alessandro Nesta as his career continues to be blighted by injury.

As the Primera Liga and Premier League have usurped Serie A the one thing the Italians could still claim was that if you wanted to see defending (some people do) then they were still the league to watch.

Italians are football beings different to most - they take great pride in those off-the-ball kicks and grabs, standing on the heel of an attacker attempting a header, the shirt tugs, the pinches, the run-blocks and the cynical fouls.

However, as the generation of Maldini left football, and with the man who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup, Fabio Cannavaro, fast approaching domestic retirement, Italian defenders are being left behind. The days of 'Catenaccio' seem far, far away.

When they won the World Cup in 2006, Italy equalled the record of taking the title and conceding just two goals as done by France in 1998. One of those goals was from open-play, the other of course scored brilliantly from the penalty spot by Zinedine Zidane, but largely forgotten due to events later on that night. Are Cannavaro and Nesta (who missed the majority of the 2006 success) the last names in a great line of Italian defenders?

The man who took over the throne of Cannavaro is Juventus' 25-year-old Giorgio Chiellini - a fine prospect but the big fish in what looks a rather shallow pool. Luckily for Italy they will still be able to rely on the world-class talents of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for a few years yet - he turns 32 this week.

Italians art of defending is one of the great attractions to the game along with the brilliance of Brazilians, Dutch dexterity and Argentine artistry. It would be a shame for it to disappear from our game. Perhaps, just as on previous occasions when they have been written off, the Italians will stuff words back down people's throats. I for one, certainly hope so.



Source: DSG

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