Is Alessandro Nesta about to make a dramatic return to the World Cup fold?

When Italy coach Marcello Lippi recently visited Milanello, everyone noticed that he sat down to lunch not only with Milan’s Germany 06 heroes Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta, but also with the 33-year-old, 78-times capped Nesta.

Zambrotta later confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in Italian football: namely that Lippi has asked Nesta to return to an Italy team for which he has not played since featuring in Italy’s 2-0 2006 World Cup first-round win over the Czech Republic in Hamburg. After that game, Nesta picked up an injury which effectively ruled him out of the rest of the tournament. Since then, he has been in self-imposed international retirement, based, he says, on the need to harbour his energies.

Lippi’s reasons for wanting Nesta back are obvious. For many years, Nesta, at his best, has been just about the most complete central defender in Italian football.

Right now, after missing out on almost the entire 2008-2009 season because of a serious back problem, which in the end required surgery, he seems to be back to his best.

Until recently, however, he has appeared reluctant to come out of his “retirement”, arguing that it would hardly be fair that he should take the place of someone who played throughout the South African qualifiers. Lippi has tried to reassure him on that front by saying that all the Italian senators would be glad to have him back in the team. It is a point underlined by Zambrotta, who adds: “Given the way Alessandro is playing at the moment, his terrific form, it would be a real shame not to have him in the team.

I know he has scruples about this but he should understand that everybody wishes him well. He shouldn’t create problems for himself about this, his return to the team would be welcomed by everybody.”

One small question remains: if he does come back, then whose place does he take? Current Serie A form would suggest that the two best Italian central defenders of the moment are Juve’s Giorgio Chiellini and Nesta.

So where does that leave Italy’s “Captain Courageous”, Fabio Cannavaro?

In reality, Lippi will almost certainly not drop Cannavaro but will see Nesta as luxury central defensive cover and someone who could step in alongside Cannavaro at the expense of Chiellini. Watch this space.