The 60-second story
Date of birth: February 16, 1988
Place of bith: Assisi, Italy
Height: 6ft 5in
Position: Central defender
Current club: Inter (166 apps, 9 goals)
Previous club(s): Arezzo, Genoa, Bari (loan)
International: Italy (20 caps, 0 goals)
As the careers of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro wound down, regular observers of Italian football rightly wondered where the nation’s next generation of great defenders would come from. The options available were nowhere near the standard regularly associated with the Azzurri, prompting Serie A’s top clubs to turn to foreign stars like Ivan Cordoba, Thiago Silva and Medhi Benatia.
The situation was so concerning that Inter president Massimo Moratti exclaimed that his club had “finally signed an Italian player” as Andrea Ranocchia joined the Nerazzurri in January 2011. The tall central defender had established himself as the one man who belonged alongside the Juventus trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, particularly as he had shone alongside the latter at Bari.
Ranocchia would play a major role as the Antonio Conte-coached side lifted the Serie B title back in 2008/09, staying there the following season before spending six months at Genoa. It was then that the Milanese giants handed over €19 million to bring him to San Siro – but sadly for the player, his move coincided with the 2010 treble winners' demise.
One by one, the players who had starred during Inter’s incredible Champions League victory followed Jose Mourinho through the exit, leaving behind a shell of a club that appeared to lack any real rebuilding plan. Having arrived just three days after Rafael Benitez was sacked, Ranocchia’s form suffered as the Nerazzurri cycled through a succession of coaches, with Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri, Andrea Stramaccioni and Walter Mazzarri all failing to deliver.
Each also brought his own tactical ideas: Gasperini and Mazzarri, for example, preferred a three-man defence, while the others – including current boss Roberto Mancini – reverted to a more orthodox back four. Ranocchia was handed the captaincy following Javier Zanetti’s retirement in 2014, but question marks remained, particularly as the player in question was often criticised for a perceived lack of effort.
“I always walk off the pitch with my shirt drenched in sweat,” Ranocchia said last summer, but it remains clear that, whether due to his own failings or simply poor coaching, he is no longer among Italy's best defenders.
Mancini’s appointment in November 2014 did little to prevent Inter’s slide down the table as they once again missed out on European football altogether, prompting heavy investment and a major shake-up of the squad last summer that has meant Ranocchia has lost his place in the side.
Why you need to know him
The arrivals of Jeison Murillo and Joao Miranda have transformed Inter's backline, which has been breached only 12 times in Serie A this term. The South American partnership is now clearly the club’s first choice, with Ranocchia having started just one league game thus far in 2015/16.
Mancini has compounded the player's woes by giving the captaincy to striker Mauro Icardi, a player who had failed to display any kind of leadership qualities in the past.
Those issues have left Ranocchia desperately looking for a move away, with his desire to win a place in the Italy squad ahead of this summer’s European Championship undoubtedly a major factor in that decision.
Serie A transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio believes Jürgen Klopp has identified the player as a good fit for his system at Liverpool, while Bologna, Sampdoria and Fiorentina are each believed to have made bids to sign Ranocchia on loan.
Standing 6ft 5in tall and possessing the ability to keep pace with almost every striker he has faced, Ranocchia has all the physical tools needed to become a fine defender. He is equally comfortable in possession, as evidenced by an average pass-completion rate of 86% per game last season, while he is also capable of coping with the physical demands that come with playing as a centre-half: Ranocchia won an average of 2.3 aerial duels and 2.2 tackles per appearance over his 33 appearances last term.
Perhaps most intriguingly, he has shone whenever Italy boss Conte has called upon him, showing none of the mental issues that have blighted his time at Inter.
Good decision-making is a vital attribute for any central defender, but Ranocchia has repeatedly shown that it's not one he necessarily possesses. His tendency to panic under pressure and commit crucial errors has cost Inter dearly, with his mistakes against Parma and Wolfsburg last year essentially handing points to Inter’s opponents.
The Coppa Italia quarter-final meeting with Napoli added to his catalogue of high-profile errors: Ranocchia tripped up at the most inopportune moment to allow Gonzalo Higuain a free run on goal, a mishap that ultimately decided the tie.
Mancini defended his skipper on that occasion, but by the end of May he offered reporters a much blunter opinion of Ranocchia. “Andrea has improved a lot,” the Coach told Mediaset Premium following a loss to Genoa, “but when he plays higher up the pitch he finds it difficult.”
“He will have to improve during pre-season,” the former Manchester City boss continued, but he has so far failed to offer the 27-year-old the opportunity to show whether or not he has done.
“He’s perfectly in tune with the spirit of Inter,” Javier Zanetti said of the new club captain just 18 months ago. He isn't the only Inter legend to speak highly of Ranocchia either, with Beppe Bergomi stating that “whenever he plays with continuity, he has done very well”.
“Andrea is a great guy and we all know his qualities,” the 1982 World Cup winner added, although he did also offer a word of caution by saying he believed Ranocchia “needs to feel that the fans and his coach have confidence in him”.
Did you know?
Born in nearby Assisi, Ranocchia’s career began in the youth sector of a Perugia side that featured the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Fabio Grosso and Fabrizio Ravenelli.
His duties as a ball boy gave him the chance to watch another member of that side at close quarters; Marco Materazzi rose to prominence at the Stadio Renato Curi before eventually handing Ranocchia the No.23 shirt at Inter.
“I stopped to let him wear it,” the older man told La Gazzetta dello Sport, while Ranocchia revealed that “Marco tells me I need to take some of his nastiness onto the pitch”.
What happens next?
It seems certain that Ranocchia will leave San Siro this month, with a temporary move in search of regular playing time almost inevitable.
Materazzi once again has offered his advice to his successor, telling FC Inter News that he “told Andrea to go elsewhere over the summer, as the fans never really loved him and unfortunately he arrived at Inter during a tricky time”.
“In my view, it would be best if he left,” the treble winner and former Everton defender went on to say. It is all but certain that Ranocchia will now do just that – but will Klopp be the man to breathe new life into him?
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