Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has challenged Serie A clubs to give young domestic talent a chance.
The Azzurri kick off the inaugural UEFA Nations League with games against Poland and Portugal over the next seven days – their first competitive matches of both the Mancini era and since the humiliating failure to reach the 2018 World Cup.
As such, there is a thirst for the next generation to come through and replenish one of world football’s historic heavyweights but Mancini is concerned the biggest names in Serie A are not doing the heavy lifting.
“I don’t remember a time when there were so few Italians playing,” said the former Inter and Manchester City boss.
“Certain young players that are on the bench are better than some of the foreign players that are starting.
“In the national youth teams, there are plenty of impressive youngsters and a good 19-year-old should be playing in Serie A.
“In other countries, the young players play. They have the courage to put them on the pitch.
“We must find some courage to play them and let’s hope that they are given more space over time.”
At the other end of the age spectrum, Mancini is refusing to rule out an international return for Daniele De Rossi.
Paris Saint-Germain star Marco Verratti remains sidelined with his latest adductor injury, while Roberto Gagliardini, Bryan Cristante and Lorenzo Pellegrini have struggled for regular game time at club level so far this season.
“I’ve spoken with him about it and he is available,” Mancini said of De Rossi, who was not named in his squad for the double-header.
“He knows that he can be called up at any moment to play a decisive match.
“The same goes for [Gianluigi] Buffon and all those that still play – even if our focus is on those who will be with us next year.”
Another big name short on match action is Mancini’s old protegée Mario Balotelli, who re-signed with Nice after being widely touted for a move to Ligue 1 rivals Marseille.
“Has he lost weight? Yes, eight or nine grams,” Mancini joked, before adding the striker’s journey back to match fitness will take a little time.
“I hope to see Mario do well in training, although it is clear that he won’t be 100 percent after playing just one game so far.”