Marcello Lippi is a coach who knows what he likes and likes what he knows. When the somewhat stubborn Tuscan took charge of Italy for a second time in 2008, he immediately reverted back to the players which had won the 2006 World Cup under his tutelage. Nowhere in his team was this policy more evident than in attack where the likes of Vincenzo Iaquinta, Luca Toni, Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Del Piero continued to be selected despite a lack of form and/or fitness in some cases. Indeed, Lippi even attempted (and continues to attempt) to coax Francesco Totti back to the Azzurri despite the Roma talisman’s international retirement after the 2006 final.
However, in recent months it has become increasingly difficult for Lippi to ignore criticism of his staunch selection policy, particularly in regard to his forwards. Earlier this season there were calls for the Italian coach to select Juventus target-man Amauri after the Brazilian-born player announced his attention to apply for citizenship on the peninsula. Lippi’s refusal to select Sampdoria’s Antonio Cassano during a spell of inspired form in the autumn also drew a barrage of disparaging comment from the media and sparked a nation-wide campaign for the mercurial striker’s inclusion in the Azzurri squad.
The form of Amauri and Cassano may have faded rather alarmingly of late, but there are other factors which may force Lippi into making some attacking selections perhaps not in keeping with his traditional policy. Injuries to both Luca Toni and Vincenzo Iaquinta have limited the pair’s first team opportunities at Roma and Juventus respectively during the second half of the season. If neither return to action before the conclusion of the Serie A campaign it will be difficult for Lippi to make a convincing case for taking them to South Africa. Add into the picture the increasingly erratic off-field behaviour of Mario Balotelli, recent events seeing the Azzurri coach all but rule out the inclusion of the young Inter player in his squad, and it looks as if Lippi will be forced to make at least one left-field selection to complement the almost certain inclusions of Giuseppe Rossi, Alberto Gilardino and Antonio Di Natale.
The player that could best solve Lippi’s selection issues might well be Milan’s Marco Borriello. Having scored 10 goals in 29 Serie A appearances this season, Borriello is in excellent form and has been impressive for the Rossoneri in recent months as Leonardo’s side has mounted a serious Scudetto challenge. This consistency of performance precipitated the Naples-born forward’s call-up for the recent friendly against Cameroon, just his fourth cap and first appearance for Italy since 2008.
A busy, intelligent striker with a cool head in front of goal, Borriello may be unlikely to start for the Azzurri but could well prove himself invaluable as an impact substitute this summer. Still only 27 – relatively young for this ageing Italian squad – and with a wealth of experience gained at some of Italy’s biggest clubs, Borriello’s inclusion in the 23 for South Africa would be both a popular and pragmatic move. Lippi may be a man who sticks to his guns more fiercely than most, but taking Marco Borriello to the World Cup might just be one gamble worth taking.