Faced with stiff competition from the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Conte, Gennaro Gattuso and Daniele De Rossi, you can forgive Alessio Tachinardi for only managing a meagre 13 caps for his country.
Were he born a few years later, it’s a safe bet that the former Juventus stalwart – who spent a decade with the Old Lady before fitness problems began to take their toll – would have been a vital component of the Italian national team. Perhaps, then, he would have got the the individual praise his talent so clearly deserved.
In our timeline, though, the midfield schemer – in equal parts effective as a classic holding player breaking up oncoming attacks, and a stylish, forward-thinking Regina (that’s a deep-lying playmaker to the non-hipsters among you) – is remembered in Turin as one of a select few cult heroes, and in wider footballing circles as a mere cog in the all-conquering Juventus machine.
But the second interpretation ignores the part he played in his team’s success. Even in his early days, after joining the Biaconeri from boyhood club Atalanta in 1994, he was enjoying plenty of time on the pitch – including a substitute appearance in the 1997 Champions League Final against Borussia Dortmund.
And before long, he was a permanent fixture in the squad (if not always the first eleven), helping his side to six Serie A titles as the team from Turin opened up their lead over their Milan rivals at the top of the all-time Italian football charts.
Esteemed managers Marcello Lippi, Carlo Ancelotti and latterly Fabio Capello – whose combined trophy haul would take several museums to hold – all found use for the Italy international, despite having an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. It speaks to the fact that superstar players owe at least a part of their success to the work of lesser-known teammates who put in the hard yards – that’s why Zidane famously pointed out signing David Beckham was futile if his employers were going to sell Claude Makelele.
True: plenty of Tacchinardi’s appearances came from the subs’ bench. After all, if you need to close out a nervy 1-0 win, there are few better options to have waiting in the wings than a tidy midfielder who can chase down leggy opponents and calmly retain possession in the frantic dying moments. But he was also most assuredly a man for the big occasion, and formed a fine midfield partnership with the equally all-action Edgar Davids in 2003, as Juventus made it to (and then lost) yet another European final.
(2003) #JuveFCB 11'imiz:
— Juventus Türkiye (@Juventus_Tr) April 11, 2017
After that, his career began to wind down, when his team’s packed midfield (including the recently acquired Patrick Vieira) – combined with a few pesky injuries – started to limit his first team opportunities. He headed off on loan to Villarreal for a couple of years, where he helped them to the semi finals in their maiden Champions League campaign (are you noticing a pattern here?) before finishing his career back in Italy, with lowly Brescia.
Next to some of the great Serie A midfielders, it’s understandable that Tacchinardi gets lost in the shuffle, but the fact is that players of his ilk are so often the life-blood of their teams.