When choosing a player to profile from Italy's Euro 2012 squad, the name Christian Maggio doesn't jump out. It seems this article should be about the infallibility of Andrea Pirlo, or the antics of Mario Balotelli, or the fact that Cesare Prandelli finally gave Antonio Di Natale a chance. It could be about the fantastic club form of Sebastian Giovinco, or the return of Antonio Cassano, or why on earth Riccardo Montolivo is in the squad. So why Maggio?
The Napoli wingback really only cemented his place in the Italia squad in the final half of qualifying for Euro 2012. Prior to that, Prandelli tried various persons at right back, attempting to fill the hole left by Gianluca Zambrotta. With Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Marek Hamsik hogging the spotlight in Naples, it's easy to see why Maggio was overlooked until recently. He managed a spot on the World Cup squad in 2010, but only made one appearance, in the side's final loss to Slovakia in South Africa.
This time around, it's likely to be a different story. Although Ignazio Abate has had a decent season for AC Milan, it's almost a given that it will be Maggio starting at right-back. The position is where he began his football career, but his time at Napoli has prompted a shift to wingback, as Walter Mazzarri prefers a 3-4-2-1 formation. Using Maggio as a fullback will help Italy shed its reputation as a defensive side, should they allow him the freedom to fly forward.
In his four seasons with the partenopei, Maggio has blossomed as a player, becoming a solid foundation upon which to place the shiny sprinkles of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. He's not a goalscorer, nor is he a true cornerstone of defence. Instead he is the one that torments and troubles the opposition. Maggio's pace up the right wing and his ability to perfectly direct the ball toward an onrushing attacker will absolutely haunt the dreams of Spain, Ireland and Croatian defenders.
Maggio's indispensability to Napoli was easy to see this past season. During the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea, the wingback came off injured in the 36th minute. At that moment, Napoli supporters knew their dream of advancing to the next round was dead. Sure enough, Chelsea went on to win, 4-1. A Maggio-less Napoli then drew their next two matches, against Udinese and Catania. Maggio attempted a return in April, but came off in the 24th minute against Juventus, leaving his side to lose 3-0. When he was again healthy, Napoli won three of their four matches. Had Maggio been whole during that spring run-in, could Napoli have qualified for the Champions League once again? That's something Napoli fans really don't want to think about.
Now it's time for Maggio to truly prove himself on the international level. The partenopei players have become such a tight unit that sometimes it's hard to see their skills translate outside the club: Hamsik is nearly despised on the Slovakian side, Lavezzi is a sporadic presence for Argentina, and Cavani is only showing glimpses of his brilliance for Uruguay. Thus far, however, Maggio has had little trouble linking up with his compatriots, and his delivery should provide great opportunities for the likes of Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, or whoever Prandelli deems worthy to start up front for Italy. Is he the best defender? Perhaps not, but he is solid and his attacking prowess makes him a good choice to help Italy emerge from Group C.
National Team: Italy
Club Team: Napoli
Position: Right wingback / Rightback
Role in first team: An almost certain starter, although Ignazio Abate could see some time on the pitch.