MATT BARLOW: Italy use the ‘Irish granny’ rule made famous by Jack Charlton to land new striker Mateo Retegui from Argentina… PLUS, Theo Walcott proves his talent again
- Italy have turned to an Argentina-born striker to solve their attacking problems
- Roberto Mancini has called up Boca Juniors star Mateo Retegui for the first time
- Elsewhere, lawmakers should look at the rules about stuttering penalty run-ups
As Gareth Southgate grumbled about the limited number of England players in the Premier League, Italy boss Roberto Mancini was calling up Mateo Retegui for the first time.
Retegui is 23 years old, born in Argentina and scoring goals for Club Atletico Tigre on loan from Boca Juniors, but nowhere near the thoughts of World Cup-winning boss Lionel Scaloni, who called up 33 players for friendlies against the Central American might of Panama and Curacao.
He qualifies to represent the Azzurri through an Italian grandmother and Mancini, always blessed with supreme vision and the ability to find the centre forward when he played, is now adopting a stance akin to Jack Charlton’s recruitment drive for fresh Irish talent.
It is not an entirely new problem for Italy. Long gone are the days when they produced a stream of quality strikers like Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Christian Vieri and Roberto Baggio.
Or, for those with longer memories, players like Paulo Rossi, Roberto Bettega and Alessandro Altobelli. Or going back a generation further to Gigi Riva, one of the greats.
Italy have called up Boca Juniors’ young striker Mateo Retegui (pictured) for the first time
The 23-year-old has scored 37 goals in 46 games for Tigre since joining on loan in February
Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini has used the ‘Irish granny’ rule to bring Retegui into his squad
Mancini has relied upon Ciro Immobile but the Lazio striker is out injured as the European champions begin the defence of their title against England in Naples on Thursday.
Giacomo Raspadori is also absent and Gianluca Scamacca in the squad but not playing regularly at West Ham.
In Serie A, as in the Premier League where Southgate says there are as few as 28 per cent eligible for England, those spending money on talent from abroad focus on key positions through the spine of the team, and particularly at centre forward.
Scan the wealthiest Italian teams and you see strikers from Nigeria, Argentina, Bosnia, Serbia, France, Belgium, etc. Take away Harry Kane and Southgate faces similar issues, selecting from options at Brentford, Aston Villa, Newcastle and Roma. None of them in the Champions League.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that England are awash with full backs and wide attackers because that’s where opportunities arise, around the edges of the teams as full-backs and wing-backs or 20 minutes on the wing in the head-spinning era of five substitutions.
It is much more difficult to displace the expensive centre forward or centre half or central midfielder.
Back to Retegui, who represented Argentina at Under-19 and Under-20 level, but has not been able to establish himself at Boca. Most of his career has been spent on loan, first at Estudiantes where Juan Sebastian Veron was then club president and is now vice-president, and then at Talleres Cordoba.
Last year, he joined Tigre, a club in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires and goals flowed. ‘He has goals in his blood,’ said Veron, who played with Mancini at Lazio and advised him to take a closer look at a player he thought would suit the way he likes to play.
Gifted attacking star Mancini was always adept at finding centre forwards in his playing days
The rule was pioneered by England icon Jack Charlton while he was in charge of the Irish team
Retegui stands over six feet tall, with physical presence and a committed style. His data is strong in all attacking areas, including aerial duels.
Above all else he scored 19 goals in 27 league appearances as Tigre finished seventh last season, and six in his first eight games of this season, which started in January, and although they languish in the bottom half of the table his goals and Italian heritage are attracting European scouts to an Argentinian backwater.
His father Carlos, who coached Argentina men’s hockey team to a gold medal at the Olympics in 2016, has become his agent and revealed Udinese tried to sign Mateo in January.
AC Milan are on his trail in their search for a successor for Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and there has been contact from several other clubs in Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League.
If Mancini throws him into the fray in the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Naples, where the passions of Italian and Argentinian football collide like nowhere else, they will all have a better idea of how Retegui might cope in European football.
No interest in Retegui but Napoli striker Giovanni Simeone, 27 years old and the eldest of Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone’s three footballing sons (all of them strikers) has been recalled by Argentina.
The youngest brother Giuliano is scoring goals freely for Real Zaragoza, on loan from Atletico, in the second tier of Spanish football. The middle brother Gianluca is playing for Xerez in Spain’s fourth tier.
Diego Simeone’s son Giovanni has been recalled by Argentina, who have no interest in Retegui
Trundle wheels at the ready after a blaze of long-range goals. Sporting’s Pedro Goncalves evoked memories of Nayim from the halfway line, beating Aaron Ramsdale from 46 yards in the Europa League at Arsenal.
Jonny Otto’s against Leeds measured at 41 yards, the longest in the Premier League for more than five years.
Still nothing to eclipse Alfie May, however, and the incredible volley from out wide on halfway for Cheltenham at Peterborough, on the Saturday before last.
There has been a blaze of long-range goals, including Sporting’s Pedro Goncalves’ strike here
Goalkeepers, now pinned to their lines on penalties by VAR, are becoming irate about stuttering run-ups. As it stands, players can feint all they want during the run-up but not on the final stride before the kick.
Kai Havertz maximised it with a heavy pause on the penultimate stride against Everton on Saturday, and he is not the only one. It might be time for IFAB’s lawmakers to revisit the rules.
Theo Walcott celebrated his 34th birthday by reminding the nation he still has pace to burn – too much for Clement Lenglet, Ben Davies or Ivan Perisic.
After years of torturous debate about his best position he might have found it, playing up front in a two for Southampton under Ruben Selles, and scoring his first goal for nearly two years.
Theo Walcott celebrated his 34th birthday by reminding the nation he still has pace to burn
Much was made of Tony Bloom’s perfect day last week as the Brighton owner doubled his team’s derby win against Crystal Palace with his horse Energumene winning the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
The following day, his ‘other’ club Union Saint-Gilloise continued their impressive season by reaching the last eight of the Europa League.
They are second in Belgian league and unearthing eye-catching talent in conjunction with Brighton, including centre-back Siebe van der Heyden and striker Victor Boniface, who feature among the best performers in the Europa League this season.
Chris Hughton is bracing for his first games as manager of Ghana, a double-header against Angola in Afcon qualifying, starting on Thursday. One of the good guys is back on the touchline after a year in the role as Ghana’s technical advisor.
While one of football’s good guys, Chris Hughton (right), is in the dugout in charge of Ghana
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