FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini is keen to use his experience to help the Azzurri youngsters after going back on his decision to retire from international duty.
Chiellini, 34, was one of a number of players who announced they were quitting the national team after November’s playoff loss to Sweden saw Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in nearly six decades.
However, he’s now back in the squad for the opening UEFA Nations League matches against Poland and Portugal.
“I did weigh up a few things, discussed it with my friends,” Chiellini said on Thursday. “I didn’t know if I would return, but I think that already by the next morning I had dragged myself away from that, I let all those thoughts go above my head.
“There is an atmosphere of calm, of great desire to do something, to look forward, to not think what happened. The enthusiasm that youngsters give you carries you along. Moreover, in Italy you cannot leave the national team. I hope that I will never be a problem for this group.”
Italy hosts Poland in Bologna on Friday then visits Portugal three days later. They are Roberto Mancini’s first competitive matches in charge and the Azzurri’s first since the playoff defeat.
In the absence of Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi – who are not quite retired from international duty and available if called upon – Chiellini has been given the captain’s armband.
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“I consider myself one of the captains of this team,” said Chiellini, who has worn the armband three times before. “There are others currently out of the side, like Daniele or Gigione, who are still playing.
“There are many young, talented players who I can perhaps help with my experience and the fact that I’m accustomed to playing at certain levels, to make them understand that something that you need in order to play with a bit more consistency. But there’s talent, it’s not true that it’s lacking.”
Chiellini needs four more appearances for Italy to reach the 100 mark, which would move him up to seventh in the all-time list for the Azzurri.
“I have never put limits on myself,” the Juventus defender said. “I’m happy to be part of this group. However, I would still be calm and happy if in October I wasn’t here.
“The number of appearances is a thought but not a priority. If I’m here it’s because I care. I like to take it day by day.”