Fresh faces appearing in the Italy squad is not an uncommon practice since Roberto Mancini became the Azzurri coach in May as he tries to rebuild the team after their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
There have been a few intriguing choices that the former Inter and Manchester City tactician has made in his previous national team squads, displaying a desire to grant opportunities to youngsters, footballers from provincial clubs, and those who are playing abroad.
For Italy’s Nations League clash with Portugal in Milan on Saturday and their friendly game against the USA in the neutral venue of Genk, Belgium, three days later, Mancini has selected three relatively unknown players in Sandro Tonali, Stefano Sensi, and Vincenzo Grifo to make their Azzurri debuts.
Despite only playing senior football in Serie B for Brescia so far in his short career, Tonali is a midfielder that has started to generate some hype recently and he has reportedly attracted the attention of Italian giants Juventus and Inter, Ligue 1 club Monaco, and Premier League side Chelsea amongst others.
The 18-year-old has been compared to Andrea Pirlo and anyone can see why with just one look at him. He has the same hairstyle, operates as a deep-lying playmaker, makes similar passes and movements, and he came through the Rondinelle youth academy.
Brescia are in a position to fight for promotion to Serie A and Tonali is one of the reasons for this. He celebrated his call-up for Italy by starring in the Leonessa’s 4-2 victory against Hellas Verona on Sunday, providing a long pass that resulted in the opening goal, scoring the second with a powerful free-kick, and assisting the third scored by Alfredo Donnarumma.
If Tonali is the latest Serie B starlet on the rise, Sensi was earning plaudits three seasons ago while he was at Cesena. After impressing on loan at Lega Pro club San Marino Calcio in 2014/15 scoring eight goals as a midfielder, the diminutive playmaker returned to the Cavallucci Marini and quickly established himself as midfield general in the cadetti.
Sensi joined Sassuolo permanently in the summer of 2016 after he had been acquired in January of that year but he struggled to establish himself in his first two seasons with the Neroverdi. Under the tutelage of Roberto De Zerbi, the 23-year-old is earning more playing time and he has adapted to the possession-based approach of the new tactician.
Although Azzurri coaches have been renowned for calling-up footballers that were born in foreign countries but have Italian ancestry, Grifo is a particularly intriguing case.
Born in Pforzheim, Germany to a Sicilian father and an Apulian mother, the 25-year-old has never played a single match of club football for an Italian team despite representing the Italy U-20 team four times in 2013.
The left-winger has so far played his best football at Freiburg, helping earn promotion from the 2. Bundesliga in 2015/16 and starred for them in their Bundesliga return the following season.
Grifo is currently playing at Hoffenheim and although he has played just six times in the Bundesliga so far, he starred in Achtzehn99’s 4-1 away victory against Bayer Leverkusen on November 3, scoring a goal and providing two assists.
Due to the dearth of superstars currently available to Mancini at the moment, the Italy coach has had to look at different types of players for his squad selections, regardless of where these players are from or which career paths they have taken.
They might not be the best options for the present but the obscure choices might suggest that the Azzurri tactician is looking for players that have the potential to make the difference in the future.