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Where has the art of Italian defending gone?
During the 1980s and 90s, Italian defences were world-renowned as the toughest of the lot.
The word catenaccio became known in other languages and jokes about boring Italian teams winning 1-0 were all the rage.
The likes of Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini were hailed while Fabio Cannavaro was a rare defender to win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA world player after his stunning defensive displays helped Italy lift the 2006 World Cup.
Now everything has changed.
Cannavaro is coming to the end of the line after some stuttering displays for Real Madrid. Maldini, 40, is in his last season before retirement and only plays now and then when his weary body allows. AC Milan team mate Alessandro Nesta has missed the past two seasons with injury.
Milan have suffered accordingly and last Sunday’s 4-2 defeat at Juventus again exposed the huge hole in their defence.
In a bid to replace Maldini, Milan did not even think of looking within Serie A. Apart from Juve and Italy centre back Giorgio Chiellini, who impressed at Euro 2008, there is no top class Italian defender left.
Marco Materazzi and Christian Panucci are 35 and have had their critics while Fiorentina centre back Alessandro Gamberini is promising but nothing more. Andrea Barzagli plays for Wolfsburg…
Instead Milan are in the process of signing Brazilian defender Thiago Silva from Fluminense, but because of rules on Non-EU players, he can’t join until next season. The Rossoneri are so desperate for real quality, they are prepared to wait a year.
There’s one good thing to come out of the sudden dearth of good Italian defenders. Serie A, labelled as dull for many years, is much more exciting now as more mistakes mean more goals.
PHOTO: Juve’s Giorgio Chiellini is completely unmarked as he heads in against AC Milan during their Serie A match in Turin, Dec. 14, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo