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Conte and FIGC dismiss Italian national squad controversy

Some fans and even coaches have been stirring up controversy over foreign-born players in the Italian national team. The FIGC isn't listening.

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

There's been some amount of controversy in Italy the last couple of days. Not over anything that happened on the pitch -- well, no more than usual at least -- but about who might be on the pitch for the Italy national side.

You see, two foreign-born but naturalized players have been granted their first callups for the Italian team. Franco Vazquez and Eder were born in Argentina and Brazil, respectively, and many apparently feel that that really isn't OK.

Inter manager Roberto Mancini insisted that such players being included was an affront to Italy. "The Italian national team must be Italian," he told the press on Monday. "Those who aren't born in Italy but have distant relatives shouldn't be called up. That's my opinion." Ironically, Mancini manages a team that was formed because they were tired of how overly Italian AC Milan was, but who cares about history, right?

Many former players, coaches, and media personalities have expressed similar sentiments. Some have insisted that such foreign-born players, known as oriundi, be banned entirely from the Italian national team, though FIFA regulations don't allow such restrictions.

Italy manager Antonio Conte defended his selections, pointing out that oriundi have a significant history with the Italian national team, and in international football in general. "I can say that I'm not the first, and I won't be the last to call up [foreign-born players]," an annoyed Conte said in a Monday press conference. "In the past there have been several players like [Mauro] Camoranesi, [Gabriel] Paletta, [Cristian] Ledesma, Amauri… Suffice to say that at the last World Cup, 83 players out of over 700 were oriundi. These are the rules."

Notably, Camoranesi played a big role for Italy in their 2006 World Cup win, and earned 55 caps for the national team during his career. The current squad includes another oriundi in Roberto Soriano who has gone unmentioned in this drama, likely because of his long career as an Italian youth national, and Thiago Motta is an oriundi who has been a regular in the national side in recent years, including their second-place berth in Euro 2012, when he got hurt in the final against Spain.

Vazquez is eligible to play for Italy through his mother, an Italian-born citizen, but he's also played much of his career in Italy and become a known player there. He accepted the callup despite rumors of interest from Tata Martino in bringing him in to the Argentine national side, indicating that he might just identify more with his Italian heritage and believe in his fit with the team.

While Eder lacks the heritage, he's played almost his entire senior career in Italy and naturalized as a citizen some time ago, making him eligible to be called up as he's never been much considered for the Brazilian squad after spending most of his career abroad. The 28 year old has enjoyed a breakout since joining Sampdoria a little over three years ago, and chose to stay on a path to potential inclusion in the Italian national side rather than make a career change that could have put him back on the radar for Brazil.

After the storm rose to a fever pitch, the FIGC rose to the defense of the targetted players. "Anyone with Italian citizenship can play for the national team," the president of Italy's football association said in a press statement following a Serie A league meeting. "The matter is closed. With an oriundo [Camoranesi], we won the 2006 World Cup, and Conte has absolute freedom to identify who can play."

The simple matter is that if a player is eligible to play for a national side and good enough to play for that national side, there's no reason they shouldn't. If Conte feels that Vazquez and Eder are the best men available for the jobs he has in mind, then he has every right to call them up. If some people feel that certain Italians should have gotten a spot in the squad instead, well, those certain Italians should have done more to earn a place over Vazquez and Eder.