US-born Rossi becomes Italy’s focal point

A year ago, United States-born forward Giuseppe Rossi was dealt

one of the biggest disappointments of his career when he was cut

from Marcello Lippi’s Italy World Cup squad.

What a difference a year makes.

Under new coach Cesare Prandelli, Rossi has become the focal

point of Italy’s attack, and an extraordinary season at Spanish

club Villarreal has fed speculation that he could soon join

European champion Barcelona.

Rossi scored once, hit the post and set up several more chances

in Italy’s 3-0 win over Estonia in a European Championship

qualifier Friday.

”Rossi is now the player that every coach would like to have,”

Prandelli said Saturday. ”And like all great players he never

feels like he’s reached the top.”

Prandelli has known Rossi for more than a decade, ever since the

budding striker joined Parma’s youth system at the age of 12 – when

Prandelli was coaching Parma’s Serie A squad.

Rossi has spent most of his senior club career outside Italy,

first with Manchester United, then Newcastle United briefly and

another short spell back with Parma before establishing himself at

Villarreal over the past four seasons.

”He’s matured in Spain because that’s the ideal league for him

with movement and ball possession,” Prandelli said. ”We in Italy

these last few years have been a little too reliant on the tactical

aspects of the game.”

At 1.73 meters (5-feet-8) with excellent speed, vision and

control, Rossi fits the model of the modern strikers that have

fared so well at Barcelona, led by Argentina standout Lionel Messi

– the two-time FIFA player of the year.

Born in New Jersey to Italian parents, Rossi has dual

citizenship but always dreamed of playing for Italy, turning down

offers from the United States squad earlier in his career.

He may have regretted his choice of football country when he sat

at home and watched last year’s World Cup in South Africa on TV.

But getting cut from the squad clearly motivated him.

Rossi scored 32 goals in all competitions for Villarreal this

season: 18 in the Spanish Liga, 11 in the Europa League – helping

the club reach the semifinals – and three in the Copa del Rey.

Rossi has also scored three goals in his last four matches with

Italy, giving him a total of 35 goals in 62 matches for club and

country since Lippi informed him he wasn’t on the World Cup

squad.

”That’s a good average, but it’s always a result of the squads

that I play for,” said Rossi, who is developing excellent

chemistry with fellow Italy forward Antonio Cassano.

After Rossi set up several chances for Cassano against Estonia,

Cassano provided the pass for Rossi’s goal.

”Playing with Antonio is a treat. He’s a great player and he

provided me with a great ball for the first goal,” Rossi said.

”That’s the way I like to play football – keeping the ball on the

ground with short passes.”

While Rossi and Cassano complement each other perfectly on the

pitch, they appear far different off the field – Rossi is

introverted and well-mannered, while Cassano is the team clown and

known for losing his cool at whim.

Nicknamed ”Joe Cool” or the ”Americano” by Italian media,

Rossi speaks English, Italian and Spanish. He may soon learn

Catalan if he joins Barcelona.

”I’m not thinking about the market right now, I’m just thinking

about Italy,” Rossi said. ”There’s time for that.”