Rose is a student of art history and a football enthusiast based in London. While persuading her to explain why Da Vinci saw fit to paint his frescoes on dry plaster, we got to talking about one of our favourite players, Filippo Inzaghi, who was left out of the Italy Euro '08 squad earlier this week by Roberto Donadoni.
There is a film of Milan’s triumphant bus ride through their city after the Champions League victory last year. In it, if you look, you can see Marco Borriello, busily taking pictures of himself with the other players. He must have known by then that he was being sent out on loan after a season in which he was suspended for failing a drugs test for the most idiotic of reasons, having never really been a serious player at Milan.
A year later, things are very different. After a successful year at Genoa - well, until a couple of months ago - Borriello is going to Austria as part of the Italian squad. Pippo Inzaghi, scorer of the two goals that won Milan the Champions League final, is not. Despite a run of form at the end of the season in which he scored 11 goals in twenty one games, Donadoni felt that he could do without Inzaghi on this occasion. “It’s not his age,” he said, vaguely “it’s for technical reasons.”
I’ve watched a lot of Inzaghi’s interviews, struggling with my not even basic Italian and his extremely fast delivery, I’ve read a lot about him as well, and I may be wrong, but his statement when he found out that he wasn’t included, apparently the same way as every one else, is one of the few times that I’ve ever seen him express a negative feeling in the press. The Channel 4 website said that Inzaghi was bitter about his omission: a quick way of dismissing him, because fans aren’t interested in players who aren’t in the squad, but in players who are. It’s going to be del Piero, di Natale and Borriello celebrating in Vienna on the 29th of June, after all.
Inzaghi knows as much about the vagaries of football as anyone else, it’s not the first time he’s been left out of the Italy team for a major tournament. He wasn’t picked in 2004, and at that time he was suffering from injuries that looked likely to mean that he would retire at 31. In the event he did return to playing, and has had the most successful three years of his career. There have been disappointments for him in club football. In the 1999 semi final of the Champions League, he scored two goals for Juventus, only to see Manchester United score three. Inzaghi was inconsolable, on his knees, weeping with his face in the ground like a child.
But there have been triumphs as well, of course. Although he played only briefly in the 2006 World Cup, he did score a goal, out-thinking Peter Cech, which is an achievement in itself. Most of the successes have come with Milan; not only in terms of medals but by scoring the goals that make the boys in the curva love him. John Dahl Tomasson may have got the last touch on the ball for the goal against Ajax in the Champions League in 2003, but everyone knew that it was really Inzaghi’s.
Goals like that one, and a similarly late, ugly and overwhelmingly important one against Lyon in the 88th minute of another Champions League game in 2006 are what Inzaghi does best of all. It’s one of his most admirable qualities as a footballer. “He keeps believing to the end,” Kaka says about him “and never gives up”. Inzaghi plays the game in his mind as much as on the pitch, and although this can infuriate his team mates, as he sometimes appears to forget they are there, it also means that he never stops seeing possibilities, until the final whistle, he thinks that he can score.
There’s another film of him from a few months ago, jumping on a less than enchanted Ronaldo after scoring a goal in training. Ronaldo has appeared sick of football for the last few years, never regretting the loss of that genius he had in his youth, once it had bought him what he wanted. Inzaghi is the opposite. He’s never had that effortless ease. He has to work and think for every goal. He does it, it seems, because he loves football. After the Champions League final, he stayed on the pitch for as long as possible, kicking a ball around with his brother, not wanting the game to end.
It’s been a difficult week for Inzaghi; his 100th goal for Milan, scored against Udinese on Sunday was essentially meaningless, as Milan failed to reach the fourth Champions League spot. He seems to be a man of habitual optimism, however; remembering that when he came to Milan in 2001 they were in the UEFA Cup, and that the following season they won the Champions League. According to the Gazetta dello Sport, he kept hoping for a place in the Italy squad until it became clear that it wasn’t going to happen. Inzaghi would have liked a telephone call to tell him, perhaps even a thank you, since it is possibly the end of his international career, but Donadoni doesn’t work like that.
No doubt he’ll recover. “I’m going on holiday,” he said in an interview on Sunday, ”to get ready for another season.” During the break he will celebrate his 35th birthday, a formidable age for a striker at his level of the game, and it looks as if it is going to be a long summer, unless he goes to the Olympics as an over-age player, which is a possibility.
I hope he has a good time. Next season there are goalkeepers to vex, defenders to beat and officials with whom to debate the niceties of the offside law. He needs to get his rest while he can, after all, who knows what can happen, and it’s only two years to the next World Cup.
[Ros: Like Pippo, I am in the wilderness myself, although he is on some fabulous beach vacation somewhere, and I am visiting temples in Kerala. A week or so before I'm home. ]