As fans and media alike shortly begin the inquisition into Italy’s second successive group stage exit at the World Cup, one common theme linking the failed 2010 and 2014 campaigns stands out at as the controversial omission of striker Giuseppe Rossi.
Back in 2006, the decision of New Jersey born-and-raised Rossi to spurn the USA in favour of the country of his parents’ birth was seen as both a coup for Italy and a devastating blow to his homeland.
A highly-rated prospect at Manchester United at the time, having signed for the club at 17, the then-20-year-old, however, struggled to establish himself at Old Trafford, with loan spells at Newcastle United and Serie A side Parma failing to convince the club of his potential.
Ultimately sold to Villarreal in July 2007, it was a move which would prove ill-advised for the Premier League outfit, as Rossi soon kick-started his career in La Liga, growing into one of the most promising goalscorers in European football by the time of the 2010 World Cup.
Coming off a 17-goal season and having starred at the Confederations Cup the previous summer, the youngster was duly named in Marcello Lippi’s 28-man provisional squad, seeming set to be given the chance to shine in South Africa until his surprise omission from the final 23.
Rossi would thus have to watch from home as Italy crashed out of a group containing Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, leaving many wondering what could have been if the dynamic attacker was leading the line for the Azzurri.
Fast-forward four years and the same sentiment is largely applicable. Since 2010, the 27-year-old’s injury problems have been well-documented, with three serious knee procedures severely limiting his playing time, but it’s hard to deny Rossi’s talents when he is able to showcase them on the pitch.
Having moved to Fiorentina in January 2013, the American-born frontman saw his first lengthy spell of football since 2011 during the first-half of last season, leading Serie A with 14 goals in 15 games by the turn of the year to show his past fitness problems had far from hampered his abilities.
When the latest knee injury hit in January, looking to rule Rossi out for the rest of 2013-14 and almost certainly ending his chance of making it to Brazil, the Viola forward even made a miraculous recovery to return in time for the final month of the campaign, putting himself firmly back in national team manager Cesare Prandelli’s summer plans.
Named again in the provisional squad, Rossi would suffer the same fate his time around as in 2010, however, with Prandelli not convinced he would be able to cope with the rigours of tournament football having so recently come off a lengthy layoff.
What followed of course was a substandard set of displays, as the Italians struggled to find the net in their final two group games against Costa Rica and Uruguay, following the unconvincing 2-1 opening win over England, being sent home at the first hurdle for the second World Cup in a row.
Arguably the most talented and skilled forward at the team’s disposal, fans are once again left to contemplate what the man, often compared to Alessandro Del Piero in the past, could have provided in Brazil.
Even if not 100% fit, there are certainly grounds to suggest that Rossi would have been worth taking to the World Cup to at least act as a lively threat off the bench, especially considering how hugely ineffective Antonio Cassano looked in his 65 minutes of playing time.
With Italy’s attack so painfully toothless, it’s simply disappointing to see a player so talented, who should have been competing in his third major international tournament, again miss out on the chance to impress on the bigger stage.
One can only hope now that Rossi manages to maintain a clean bill of health to finally get the chance to become the team’s talisman for the 2016 Euros and beyond.