"Italy, this is the apocalypse"
13th November 2017: Italian football stood in ruins at the Giuseppe Meazza.
In a stadium steeped in football history, named after Italy's greatest ever footballer in fact, a once proud Gli Azzurri had been decimated.
The apocalypse had come.
The four time champions of the world had been unable to qualify for a FIFA World Cup for the first time since the actual dawn of time...well, since 1958.
Unable to beat a Sweden team made up of: Robin Olsen; Mikael Lustig, Victor Lindelof (who was seven years old at the time), Andreas Granqvist (who was 300 years old at the time), Ludwig Augustinsson; Viktor Claesson, Sebastian Larsson (yeah, the one that hit free kicks for Sunderland for a while), Jakob Johansson, Emil Forsberg; Marcus Berg, Ola Toivonen.
Unable to even score one measly goal in two hours against the aforementioned Sweden team.
In the aftermath of the defeat, the Italian populace demanded change, and they got it; as three of the four horsemen of the apocalyptic failure were swiftly eradicated:
- The 'Red Horse' Gian Piero Ventura - a man who 'took the peace' out of the national team by subbing on Daniele De Rossi instead of Lorenzo Insigne (when ITALY VERY CLEARLY NEEDED A GOAL) - was sacked.
- The 'White Horse' Carlo Tavecchio - a 'conquerer bent on conquest' and power, but with little regard for anything else - resigned from his role as FIGC president.
- The 'Black Horse' veterans - a group of 30,000,000-year-old footballers who had deprived younger players of opportunities - decided that it was finally time to retire.
But one horseman escaped unscathed. The one that Italian football seemingly had to get rid of. The one that had been the root cause of Gli Azzurri's steady decline since the 2006 FIFA World Cup:
The 'Pale Horse'.
The 'Pale Horse'.
"Like an actual horse?"
No? I'm still doing the 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' thing; so a horse from the Italian football apocalypse.
"Oh right...I thought you'd finished with that?"
No, I'm still doing it.
"Ok. Carry on then."
The 'Pale Horse' was the archaic structure of Italian youth football which hadn't produced a genuinely world class talent in well over a decade. And due to this dearth of talent, never seemed capable of producing a Roberto Baggio, an Alessandro Del Piero, or even a Filippo Inzaghi, ever again.
It was clear that a German inspired 'Das Reboot' was needed in order to revitalise youth football on the peninsula.
- €48m yearly expenditure on youth development.
- 366 regional coaching bases.
- 52 'centres of professional excellence' (painfully corporate talk here I know).
You know, the works.
But it didn't happen. Italian football didn't undergo a top to bottom restructuring. Calcio is basically the same as it's always been. The 'Pale Horse' is still alive and well (and probably made some sort of a cameo appearance in Red Dead Redemption 2).
Yet despite this, when you fast forward 18 months from that disastrous night at San Siro, you'll find that - without the aforementioned mass restructuring - the Italian national team is seemingly on the cusp of a golden era.
A golden era brought on by sheer miraculous luck, rather than a measured 'Das Reboot'.
As somehow - through what could only described as divine intervention - Italy has stumbled upon a forward capable of dragging its national team out the deepest of nadirs and up into an orgastic future.
Gli Azzurri found its saviour: Moise Kean.
A 'miracle' birth according to his mother:
"His birth was a miracle. The doctors told me that I could not have other children, I cried and prayed. Giovanni [Moise's older brother] also asked me for a little brother.
"One night I dreamed of Moses. He came to help me and after four months I was pregnant again."
Kean's rise to the top of the Italian game is also akin to a miracle, an immaculate conception in fact - as there is nothing structurally in place to develop such a talent.
While Germany's production of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Leroy Sane etc. was explicitly the result of a factory-like mass production system which churned out world class talents at the push of a button; Moise Kean has just, sort of, appeared out of thin air.
And instantly thrived.
Bursting onto the scene at Juventus, a club that have notoriously spent big instead of trusting its own youth system in recent years, Kean has taken every small chance to impress and done just that: impressed. Immensely so.
The forward became the first player born in the 21st century (yes, you and I both feel old reading this) to make a UEFA Champions League appearance in 2016, and the first to score in any of the top five European leagues in 2017.
Now in 2019, after being deservedly called up to the senior Italian national team for their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers, at the age of 19 Kean became the second youngest goalscorer in Gli Azzurri's history by scoring in wins over Finland and Liechtenstein.
So far Kean has passed every test, even ones he shouldn't have to deal with - the racist abuse he endured during a recent win over Cagliari - with flying colours. He has showcased his god given eye for goal, technical prowess, and - most impressively - maturity beyond his years.
The forward is everything Gli Azzurri had been looking for; and more.
It seems that Italian prayers have finally been answered.
Through immaculate conception, a new star of Italian football has been born.
A footballer capable of turning a whole footballing nation's fortunes around.
Italy, this could be the resurrection.