The Captain and The Cup

Posted by Julian De Martinis

Cesare Prandelli revived an old controversy this week by discussing Francesco Totti's chances of being called up to the final Italy squad that will head to Brazil to play in next summer’s World Cup.

On the surface this really isn’t anything new; since Totti's retirement from the Azurri in 2006, there have been two camps of tifosi on his returning. One says that he retired by choice and shouldn’t be recalled, regardless of form, to make way for younger players. Others argue that 2006 was a long time ago, the past should be forgotten and a country should go to tournaments with their best players, regardless of age.

-Buffon backs Totti for World Cup

Prandelli's words suggested he’s in the former camp, stating that if the World Cup were today, he would take Totti. Lest it be forgotten, that Francesco Totti is 37 years old. If he were to be called up, it almost certainly wouldn’t be as a starter. On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore how brilliant Totti has been since Zdenek Zeman took over as manager last year, reviving the captain on the left wing and letting him show running skills he hadn’t displayed for years to match the creative skills he has always had.

This season, he’s not lost a touch under Rudi Garcia and leads Serie A in assists with six in seven matches.

In short, if the World Cup were today, few players would be anywhere near as deserving of a call-up as Totti. Despite his brilliant form, part of that is due to a steep decline in those who have taken up a spot on the front line for Italy in the years since 2006. Alessandro Matri has failed to click at all in a Milan shirt and Giampaolo Pazzini is injured. Antonio Cassano looks revived at Parma after a failed experiment at Inter, as two goals and two assists in seven appearances indicate, but he’s at his third club in three seasons and hasn’t aged nearly as well as Totti, despite being six years younger.

Mario Balotelli is certain to be Italy’s starter but comes with bags and bags of his own luggage. Otherwise, Giuseppe Rossi seems to have the goalscoring knack and personality so far this season that would suggest a plane ticket to Brazil is a given at this point, but even he is coming off of a long-term knee injury.

Looking at the rest of the call-ups from the recent Italy squad, it’s not impossible to see Prandelli turning to Totti. Lorenzo Insigne is a fantastic talent and arguably the only player with Totti’s trickery and passing, but the rest -- Pablo Osvaldo, Alberto Gilardino, Alessio Cerci -- are either in different positions or just not as talented.

Surely Totti would be a better option to come off the bench against tired defenses than Gilardino or Osvaldo. There are other young talents to consider as well, such as past and present Roma strikers Fabio Borini and Mattia Destro, but competition for places/injury have kept those two very subdued so far this season.

Yet, the issue remains that this debate simply won’t go away. From a selfish, Roma-centric point of view, Totti going to the World Cup would mean more games in a long season and less rest time over the summer (though the counter-point here is obvious: without European football, Totti is already playing fewer games than he would otherwise, but the counter-counter-point is: good. He needs to stay healthy).

From a youth perspective, calling up Totti would be myopic if it meant that a younger player that could gain valuable experience in the side doesn’t get called up instead.

Finally, underlying all this remains the fact that it’s October and despite Prandelli’s hypothetical qualifying statement, the World Cup is not anytime soon. The call-ups that will be made in late spring should ultimately reflect the form of the players at that time and will absolutely reflect their health.

Then again, the last time Totti was called up it for a World Cup he was not even expected to recover from an ankle injury, and that didn’t turn out so poorly.

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