Italy: Search continues for a striker continues as euro 2024 looms

Rome: Italian national team boss Luciano Spalletti has a lot to ponder in the next couple of months. The 65-year-old, still technically a current Scudetto winner having guided Napoli to the first crown in 33 years last season, has only been in the Italy job for nine months, but got Gli Azzurri over the line and qualifying for Euro 2024 just when things were beginning to look a little wobbly.

Spalletti’s only defeat came in the 3-1 loss to England at Wembley in October, no shame in that considering England will be considered one of the favourites to win the trophy this summer in Germany. Moreover, Italy under Spalletti scored 13 goals in six qualifying games, much better than the last official qualifying campaign under his predecessor for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, wherein Italy scored a mere 13 goals in eight games and failed to find the back of the net against Switzerland and Northern Ireland, which ultimately cost Italy participation in a second consecutive tournament.

However despite the goals flowing again under Spalletti, upon closer inspection there is a worrying theme emerging, and one that Spalletti will have to face up to sooner rather than later, just who is going to score goals for Italy at the Euros.

Italy’s top scorer in qualifying was a midfielder, Inter’s Davide Frattesi, with three goals. Next on the list was Federico Chiesa, Domenico Berardi — both forwards rather than traditional strikers — and Genoa’s Mateo Retegui on two. Ciro Immobile and Gianluca Scamacca both got one apiece. The top goal scorer in Italy’s group — Group C — was England’s Harry Kane with eight.

Italy, and by extension Spalletti, need more firepower if they are to have any chance of retaining their European crown. Yet the problem is where are the goals going to come from?
Italy have been missing a ‘bomber’ `(an Italian football term for a striker who scores lots of goals) for years, with Luca Toni arguably the last one. Toni’s last goal for his country came in November 2008. Toni finished his international career with 16 goals in 47 games and the last 15 years has seen Italy cycle through a plethora of strikers, yet none of them have managed to convince in the long term. Mario Balotelli has arguably come closest to emulating Toni, with 14 goals in 36 games, but his troubles got the better of him and although he’s only 33, hasn’t played for Italy since 2018. The likes of Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino, Immobile and Antonio Cassano had their moments, but it’s been clear to all for years that Italy don’t produce the talent in attack they once did.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, for every mercurial number 10 they produced, Italy also had an array of strikers to score goals. For every Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Mancini, Sandro Mazzola and Giancarlo Antognoni, there was Roberto Bettega, Paolo Rossi, Alessandro Altobelli, Gianluca Vialli, Christian Vieri and Pippo Inzaghi. Italy had so many options in attack during the 1990s that Arrigo Sacchi, Dino Zoff and Giovanni Trapattoni felt comfortable keeping Baggio at home, leaving Italy’s greatest attacking talent with a mere 56 caps. If Baggio was playing today, he would easily be the first name on the team sheet. Even players who struggled to win caps for Italy during that period, such as Gianfranco Zola, Beppe Signori, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Enrico Chiesa and Vincenzo Montella, would be automatic call-ups for Spalletti.