Will Italy's new broom sweep clean?

It is not as if a collective state of amnesia has swept the country since Italy’s early exit from the World Cup but at least it's a clean slate that awaits Cesare Prandelli as he begins his tenure in charge of the national team.

Thursday may have been a day the former Fiorentina coach will never forget – well, until he gets down to drawing up a list of players capable of restoring Italian pride on the international front.

At least expectations have been suitably realigned with the new world order, which leaves Italy in a similar position to those other fading football empires England and France.

However, the new man has the opportunity to create a fresh identity so get ready for the new buzz word in Italian football: Meritocracy. Players will be in the squad on current form, not just because they are household names.

Marcello Lippi tried this policy once in a friendly against Northern Ireland last summer ahead of the Confederations Cup – but once the World Cup qualifiers kicked in again, the ball-playing Giuseppe Mascara, Pasquale Foggia and Sergio Pellissier were immediately cast aside for a more prosaic approach.

Prandelli’s first task will be to ensure that he does not follow that tired and tested route to ultimate failure – and add to that unwanted number of one- or two-cap wonders.

His biggest worry must be that the young players will not get a chance at club level over the arc of a season to even merit a cap but there is no doubt that Mario Balotelli will finally make the breakthrough to the senior squad for the friendly against Ivory Coast in August.

There should be space for Davide Santon, who drifted off the radar following the Confederations Cup – but at least the full-back wasn't tainted with the same brush as those who travelled to South Africa this time around.


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Domenico Criscito, Claudio Marchisio and Leonardo Bonucci will have learnt from last month’s sobering experience - and then there should be room for Lorenzo De Silvestre at Prandelli’s former club and Bonucci’s central defensive partner Andrea Ranocchia, whose season was curtailed by a knee injury.

So already there are seven names that could breathe a bit of freshness into what had become such a stale set-up – and then of course there is Antonio Cassano. The people’s choice will be a mature 28 in a week or so, and the newly-married Sampdoria star may turn gamekeeper to keep the youngsters in line or least take the pressure of their shoulders.

Tradition will be maintained with the most capped player – in this case Gigi Buffon – wearing the captain’s armband but promoting Daniele De Rossi to vice-captain is the correct move, as will be paying more than lip-service to selecting players who may not have been born Italian but hold the requisite passport.

The press conference at Prandelli’s unveiling certainly gave hope that this would be a more approachable and humble Azzurri set-up compared to the torrid tail-end of the Lippi reign.

Of course it's not difficult to be amiable when you are attempting to make a good first impression: just look at Jose Mourinho on his arrival at Inter. But at least Prandelli starts on the right foot, well respected both within the game and amongst the media.

With a solid club record, an amenable personality and an ability to get the best out of even the most wayward performers the new Commissario Tecnico is at least in there on merit.

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