Italy may be sporting one of the youngest squads in London, but early returns from this spring show there is clearly potential.
June 16, 2016 by Lorcan Murray in Preview with 0 comments
There is a storm building in Europe — spinning in the streets of Salzburg, ploughing across French fields, and lurking in Swedish parks — and it’s heading straight for London. With WUGC nearly upon us, it is time to learn a bit more about some of the men’s teams who will be competing in England next week, squaring off against the best the world has to offer.
A Blow Up In Bologna
There are few places in the world where the furnaces of renovation burn as fiercely as on the Italian peninsula. The Romans revolutionized warfare, the Renaissance reinvented art, and Casanova… The point remains that passion is the fuel behind Italy’s consistent cultural contributions to the world. Unfortunately, the potential of such an energy source is matched only by its volatility.
Italian Ultimate’s governing body FIFD (Federazione Italiana Flying Disc) typically installs the leadership of its national squads one year before the European championships. There is an established criterion all applicants must satisfy from which the best candidates are selected. It is a meticulous process because, generally, leadership is appointed for two-year cycles, encompassing the European tournaments and the subsequent WUGC. This helps maintain a consistency for national squads and provides the best opportunity for them to succeed on the biggest stage. This tradition of foresight made it all the more surprising when the Italian Open leadership blew up at the start of the year.
From a distance, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused the sky to start falling, but there are clues amongst the ash: player fatigue from the previous year, dates clashing with important exams in Italy, and, most crucially, the heightened cost of attending and preparing adequately for the tournament. These factors all contributed to the squad losing several important players and eventually, the majority of the team leadership. By the time the dust settled and the FIFD was able to examine the extent of the damage, they found themselves knee-deep in January. Five months out from the biggest battle in international ultimate’s history and the Italians were leaderless.
So they needed to build something strong, and they needed to do it quickly. FIFD approached Andrea Temporin and John Terninko to offer them the job, a patronage the two men gleefully accepted. A daunting undertaking for anyone, but what is pressure if not passion and expectation driving you forward? The first task that lay in front of them was stabilizing the top brass; despite the squad losing the majority of its leadership and veterans, a few remained. Team manager Luca Miccoli had not turned his back on the republic. He has held his office as manager since Sakai in 2012 and provided a steadying hand during the transitional period.
Next on the agenda was rebuilding the squad. Italy conducted possibly the most recent tryouts of any attending team, with two trial weekends in February and March, respectively.
“After the resignation of the previous staff and the many drops out of athletes… we did two days of tryout to select the best athletes still able to come to London,” said Temporin.
The squad that was finalized in late March reflects the talent pool available to the selectors. The average age of the Italian Open team is now under 24. They have only three players on their squad who were alive before the nineties, and one player who commits the offensive foul of being born in 1997. Despite the influx of fresh talent, the squad still subscribes to the traditional Italian club representation. The majority of the players are based in Bologna, playing for ‘La Fotta’, ‘Redbulls’ or ‘051’. Their ranks are bolstered with talent from Parma’s ‘Voladora’ and ‘Cotarica’ of Rimini lending three and four representatives, respectively.
Given the youth of the team, inexperience is inevitable. Most of the players represented the Italian Junior team, a few of which also enjoyed tours with the U23’s in Toronto and London. However, only 12 of the players on this squad have played for Italy at the highest level before. While some of the neophytes may not be truly aware of what awaits them in England, the leadership definitely is. “It’s gonna be really interesting, for us as well, to see how these young men will do at top level!” said Temporin. “So, honestly, it’s really unpredictable how can we finish.”
Early excursions into international affairs have seen the Italians come out looking strong. Winning the Nations Cup in April and coming second in May’s Confederations Cup were positive indicators of this young Italian outfit’s place in Europe. In their third and final warm-up tournament, the hotly contested Windmill Windup, the Italians finished sixth. Tough losses to eventual winners Bad Skid and tournament favorites Great Britain provided useful notes before WUGC, while the confidence gained from their decisive victories over the likes of Sweden and the Netherlands should prove invaluable.
Players to Watch
The oldest player in the Italian side, Morri will make his fourth appearance for his country in London. If there are standard charges of inexperience to be leveled at this team, Morri is ready to answer them. Versatile on both sides of the disc, he has the intelligence and poise to make big plays throughout the week. As testament to his offensive virility, he took home the golden arm award from Sakai with 45 assists.
With the departure of the more established elements of the side, Francini’s role has gone from ‘one of’ to the main handler, a responsibility the young man is well accustomed to on younger national teams. Wicked fast in every sense, he tends to be hitting full stride before his marker has finished saying “one.” Expect to see him routinely initiate and terminate possessions.
One of the youngest players on the squad, 20-year-old Gasperini is the fresh face of Italian ultimate. He has captained several Junior teams and is a vice-captain on this Senior iteration. He plays with the cunning of a veteran and the throws of a child raised with a disc in his hand.
What To Expect
‘Destruction is a subtle form of creation,’ to paraphrase the late Graham Greene. While the veterans may have left the Italian squad, the fighting spirit has not. Several of the players on this team were a part of the Junior squad that placed fourth in WJUC 2014. The younger aspects of Italy Open don’t just have potential, they have confidence. This is reflected in their success in the Nations and Confederations Cups in the past two months. The Italians know there is an echelon above them, essentially the top six, with the likes of USA, Japan, and GB residing in it. But to everyone else, they are a tough out.
In closing, allow me to contort another of Greene’s famous lines: “A story has no beginning or end, one chooses the moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”